In the early years of the 20th Century when Filey had only just emerged from its status as a small fishing village, before holidays abroad were within reach of ordinary folk or popular with the upper classes, a summer holiday at a Yorkshire coastal watering place could only be afforded by the wealthy upper and middle classes, although some mill workers saved up all year to pay for their annual week at seaside towns in Lancashire. Many aristocrats preferred Filey to the more fashionable or sometimes slightly garish resorts of the Yorkshire coast and they would take a villa on the front for the summer.
Maybe there was something special in Filey's healthy air, for the death rate was extremely low and many of the well-to-do came to Filey to retire. One such was Mr. Claudius Galen Wheelhouse, the famous Leeds surgeon, founder of the Leeds School of Medicine (which became Leeds University), who died at his home, Cliff Point, on 9th April, 1909, at the age of 82, after almost 20 years as churchwarden of St. Oswald's Church of England. He was the first to receive the honours degree of Doctor of Science from Leeds University and in 1897 was awarded the gold medal of the British Medical Association. His father had also been a surgeon, Mr. James Wheelhouse of Snaith. He had written books on surgical subjects, and despite his advanced age he was still a consultant at Leeds General Infirmary. A few years before his death he had resigned from the Presidency of the local Conservative Association and Club, but still presided, as a Magistrate, at the weekly Petty Sessions. His interest in lifeboat work began long before his retirement, stemming from his own rescue from shipwreck in the yacht of the then Duke of Newcastle, to whom he was acting as medical adviser, and he was chairman of the Filey Lifeboat Committee. Until George Forrest Frank, the Filey freelance journalist, mentioned the fact in a valedictory article, published on 12th April, 1909, by the Leeds Mercury, it was not generally known that about 60 years earlier Mr. Wheelhouse had walked to Jerusalem, taking excellent photographs, which he printed on half sheets of ordinary notepaper, and these were later bound into his personal copy of his published journal. He was as proud of the photographs as of the walk itself, for this was in the very early days of photography.
By strange co-incidence, another fine old Filey character, Mr. Edward Ward, chief boatman at the Filey Coastguard Station, and an ex Chief Petty Officer of the Royal Navy, entitled to wear the ribbons of the Baltic, China and New Zealand wars, as well as those for good conduct and long service, was involved, when he was in his first ship, the Rosamond, under Capt. Foote, cruising off the Syrian coast in 1849, in the rescue of the passengers and crew of the Duke of Newcastle's yacht. Neither old gentleman realised this until the day when Mr. Ward, then in his eightieth year, called upon Mr. Wheelhouse seeking his signature, as a magistrate, to some naval papers, and noticed a photograph of the Duke's yacht.
Mr. Ward's naval career, going back to the days of sailing frigates, began with him, as a boy, chasing slave traders in the African tropics, often up yellow-fever ridden creeks in open boats away from his ship. Since returning to home waters and joining the Coastguard Service, he saved many lives from shipwreck on the Yorkshire coast.
Another fine old salt who found safe anchorage as caretaker of the Filey lifeboat, was John Wheeler, whose grandfather was boatswain of Nelson's Victory, killed at the Battle of Trafalgar. His father served for over 50 years in the Royal Navy, finally becoming Chief Officer of Coastguards at Filey when the Service was first established. Over a dozen close relatives of John Wheeler were killed or drowned at sea.
He himself began his sea-going career in the Scarborough brig, Little London, carrying coal to Dieppe and Le Havre, and general goods to the north from London. He then served on three more Scarborough brigs, William and Matthew, May and Tamworth Castle, before joining the crew of the Hull barque China, which was wrecked on Anticosti Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. All the crew got ashore safely but they had no food and it was five days before they were rescued by a Canadian government ship which took them to Quebec. There they found two transports awaiting crews to take the 66th Regt. to London. Wheeler signed on with one of them, the Flora, and had two months pay to draw when he arrived in London. He went to the Shipwrecked Mariners Society Office, where he was given a rail pass to Hull. There, by presenting his papers signed by the RN Lieutenant of the government steamer, he was able to draw the pay that was owing to him from the owners of the China.
After this he went into steam, in the Baltic and North Sea trade, eventually becoming second mate of the Raithwaith Hall, owned by the northern firm of Pyman. At the age of 55 (1888) he settled down to become a herring fisher, but his vessel was run down about 30 miles off Flamborough Head, and sank, being cut in half. All lives, but nothing else, were saved. Then he did a bit of shore fishing but otherwise sat in the sun, smoking his pipe and taking care of the lifeboat.
These are just some of the long living men, whether old mariners or retired professionals, who benefited from Filey's healthy air at the beginning of the century.
articles by my grandfather, George Forrest Frank,
published by the Evening News, the Evening Post, Lloyd's Weekly
News and the Leeds Mercury, 1908-1909.