The earliest mention of a settlement at Sandsend occurs in a document dated 1200 AD. However, it is known that the Vikings found it a good landing place as early as 876AD and planted their standard, a raven, on Raven Hill. Before them the Romans knew the district and Ptolemy wrote about Dunnum Sinus, the bay of Dunsley, in his great classical works.
Sandsend did not exist at the time of the Domesday Book being part of the manor of Lythe, but it is said that a heathen temple existed, built for the worship of Thor, god of Thunder, and East Row was called Thordisia; a name first recorded in 1135 which remained until 1620 when cottages erected for alum workers became known as East Row.
Sandsend a village of two halves, was formally a village of contrasts, one rural the other formerly industrial. Although today the visitor and resident alike would be hard put to picture to the village under a pall of smoke, grime and stench with which it then suffered. That it is a village of two halves came about through its situation on two distinct becks. The north most from Whitby being named Sandbeck and the nearest Estbek, which is the watercourse that is first crossed on the coast road from Whitby three miles away. The high tongue of land which separates the two is called The Riggs.
The village and environs today owe their appearance to the alum industry that began in the early part of the 17th century. It is recorded that the Alum Works at Sandsend and Mulgrave attained a reputation for production and quality that far outstripped that of any existing competitors in Yorkshire, which was then the centre of this important trade.
The story of alum in the district is a fascinating one and well worth a study itself not least because corruption, mismanagement, piracy, smuggling and bad practice played a huge part in the history of the alum trade on the North East coast, It is known that the workmen's conditions in Sandsend were terrible. Described as, poor snakes, tattered and naked, ready to starve for want of food and clothes. Many were not paid wages for month after month.
Estbek House itself played a key role in this story. It was erected in the 1750's to 1770's for the use of the manager of the Alum works, who also had his offices here too. In the absence of early records it is not known who erected the property. But the mines, and indeed, most of the villages were under ownership of the Earl of Mulgrave. It is probable that he was responsible for its building; which would also account for the lack of early deeds.
The alum industry went into decline in the 19th century, and was exhausted at Sandsend by 1870, long after it has ceased in other areas. The history of Estbek House for the next 25 years or so is unclear. However, for the greater part of the 20th century Miss Brunton ran the property as a private boarding house. She was employed by the Admiralty at Estbek House, her guests came by 'Invitation only'.
Architecturally Estbek House is a grade II listed regency building, described as two and a half stories high and basement, built of course square stone with herring-bone tooling, of which the lower courses are much larger. Two bays across, of extra wide proportion, eight steps lead to a replaced central six panel door under a late 19th century quasi-classical pedimented door case with an oblong fan light. At roof level, under a modern pan tiled covering, there are stone copings and shaped kneelers; tone chimney with cornice bands, and moulded eave cornice.
Inside, while there has been much recent improvements and investigations revealed original features that included reused timbers in the roof construction, visible in Florence. The woodwork to be seen includes what appears to be a ships spar, and beams showing grooves that may have been originally used in the construction of earlier wall partitions.