Prior to 1828, "The Black Horse Inn" was in fact "The White Horse".

Shortly after the dissolution of Whitby Abbey in 1538, the entire precinct was leased to Richard Cholmley who then purchased it in 1545. The Chomlmley family coat of arms depicts a white horse and griffin. It is from this coat of arms that The White Horse, and The White Horse & Griffin a little further down the street, took their names.

It is unclear whether these were two separate establishments at the time of Cholmley's purchase. The evidence for their origin as a pilgrimage centre suggests that they might originally have been part of a single, larger 'complex'. By the 18th century however they were most certainly separate, but co-operating in operating a most ingenious scam:

During the eighteenth century, both establishments acted as termini for stagecoaches. Both had stables with horses for rent but shared a common coach-yard.

Before setting out on the long journey to Whitby (10 days from London) it was normal practice for a gentleman to send a letter ahead containing a bank note, as payment for a room and a horse, to be made available to him upon his arrival.

From time to time, a less careful individual might simply address the letter to The White Horse, Church Street, Whitby and would be greeted upon arrival with the news that his letter had not been received. The infuriated traveller would have little choice but to pay again for his night's lodgings with the intention of taking up the matter with the local magistrate in the morning.

The following morning, our gentleman would be guided to a lawyer who would bring his grievance before the magistrate. Of course the lawyer was also in on the scam so it was left to the Magistrate to point out that if he were to walked but few yards further along the street he would no doubt discover his room and horse awaiting him at the other White Horse. Having already paid twice for his accommodation our gentleman would now be presented with a bill from his lawyer.

The scam was brought to an end in 1828 at which time it is documented that it had been in operation for a hundred years. The solution came when a Magistrate, who had no doubt long since run out of patience with it, used the power granted to him by the recently introduced licensing laws to insist that the names be changed. No change: no licence. Thus The White Horse became the The Black Horse Inn and remains so to this day.