Mr. W.A. Headlam was involved in numerous aspects of life in Whitby, too many to record here but it could be said he embodied the best of many of the late Victorian characteristics in his many activities in both the business world and the many social movements in which he was assiduously engaged. His interest and support in the construction of Whitby War Memorial Cottage Hospital endowed Whitby with facilities which were sadly lacking in the days long before the State took an active responsibility.
He was also Chairman (for many years) with Whitby Merchant Seamen's Hospital Houses, Church Street, established in 1675 with contributions from Whitby ship-owners and burgesses - an institution which has been a blessing to many former seamen, his son William (pictured - right), was also Chairman for over 50 years. He was a staunch member of St. Hilda's church on the West Cliff and presented a magnificent organ as a memorial to his eldest son, John, a lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps who at the age of nineteen died on active service on 30th May 1918.
His maritime activities were so numerous that at his funeral there were so many representatives from shipping companies, dockyards, plus local businesses, banks, Freemason representatives and many local associations which he supported, that the church was filled to capacity.
Despite his apparent wealth and well-being there were to be tragic occasions which had to be endured by both he and his wife. That so many were killed in the First World War did little to compensate for the loss or lessen the grief of the relatives left.
Later in March 1930, his second eldest son Leonard, was killed in an unfortunate accident on Blue Bank (a notorious hill in this area) whilst driving his racing car, an early Alfa Romeo. He was on his way to participate in races on the Brookland Circuit.
The photograph shows him standing alongside his entry car in a previous meeting; with him is his co-driver Robert Wheatley, a local man, (note also his younger brother, William, to the far right). As this particular era of racing has long since passed, enthusiasts will find the photographs of historical interest. The late William Headlam, the youngest brother was also a racing car enthusiast owning an Aston Martin. It is said the brothers often raced in friendly rivalry.
Both won awards of considerable esteem; Leonard was first in the RAC International Tourist Trophy Race in Ulster (1929) and William came first in his Aston Martin in the RAC 24-hour Grand Prix at Spa, Belgium (1936).
Both the Headlam sons were well educated, Leonard entered Corpus Christi College in Cambridge and gained an M.A. William attended St. Peter's College in York but did not go on to take a degree, probably as the death of his brother signalled only too clearly that he would be of more use in the company and to his father than spending several years in university. From contemporary accounts it appeared Mr. W. Aaron Headlam was an ailing man and his death was not entirely unexpected and was probably accelerated by the tragic death of his second son.
It would seem that William had no other recourse, if the companies were to continue successfully than to assume his position as sole managing director of the two companies.
That he continued to manage them skillfully is an acknowledgement of his business ability, despite the heavy losses sustained by the company's shipping in the early part of the Second World War. His attempts to enlarge the company after the war can only be regarded as commendable but, as explained above, world trends dictated the end of British Maritime concerns.
Throughout its history the company was fortunate in having, on the administration side, capable men of good ability who understood ship management and continued their life long careers dealing with the various and intricate demands which involved the transportation of cargoes, upkeep of shipping, crew recruitment and wages, payment of port expenses, surveys, insurance, charters and in fact many other affairs of maritime importance. To mention all the office staff by name is impossible in a booklet of this size or even to discuss the role of the captains who figured so prominently at various times, particularly those who distinguished themselves during the Second World War.
Mr. W. Headlam however, appeared to have recognized their value as the Company's Record Book contains many newspaper cuttings referring to the careers of such men.
Mr. W. Headlam's entries reflected a certain nostalgia, a recognition of an era fast disappearing and never likely to be repeated.
As regards Whitby, will we never again, have an industry that gave the town such a prolonged period of sustained employment? - the only comparable one would appear to have been the Whaling Industry, which co-incidentally had a similar time duration.
After the commencement of hostilities in 1939 Mr. W. Headlam had acquired Raithwaite Hall and the surrounding land so that after the bombing of Flowergate and the shipping office Mr. Headlam decided, as it was impossible to work in the very badly damaged office, his whole concern should be transferred to Raithwaite Hall the next day, that being 27th September 1940. The Hall thus became the registered office of the company till the liquidation of the companies 1994. The Hall was previously the home of the Pyman family, sail and steamship owners throughout the 19th century and the early part of the 20th.
Beneficiaries from the Will