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FILEY: Geographical and Historical information from the year 1892.

Wapentake of Dickering - Petty Sessional Division of Bridlington - Poor Law Union and County Court District of Scarborough - Rural Deanery of Scarborough - Archdeaconry of the East Riding - Diocese of York.

This parish is situated on the coast, at the north-eastern extremity of the Riding, and includes, for ecclesiastical purposes, the townships of Gristhorpe and Lebberston, in Pickering Lythe, North Riding. The total area of the parish is 8,311 acres, and of the township of Filey 833 acres. The rateable value is £10,060, and the population in 1891 was 2,463. Colonel John Philip Osbaldeston-Mitford, of Mitford Castle, Northumberland, who is lord of the manor, and Humphrey Brooks Firman, Esq., of Gateforth Hall, West Riding, are the principal landowners.

The town is delightfully situated on the shore of a small bay, to which it gives a name, 7½ miles south-east of Scarborough, 12 miles north-north-west of Bridlington, 44¼ by rail north of Hull, and north-east of York. Half a century ago it was an insignificant fishing village, with 700 or 800 inhabitants; it is now a prosperous and fashionable watering place, for which purpose it is admirably adapted. The bay opens towards the east, but is protected from the north-easterly winds by a remarkable ridge of rocks, projecting from a narrow tongue of land nearly half a mile into the sea, and forming an excellent natural breakwater. This is known as The Bridge, or Filey Brigg. Camden, who is, however, an untrustworthy authority on place-name etymology, says : - " As the shore winds itself back from hence, a thin slip of land (like a small tongue thrust out) shoots into the sea, such as the old English called File, from which the little village of Filey takes its name." We shall refer to another and more probable derivation presently. This remarkable ridge of rock is composed of coralline oolite, and calcarious grit, and crops out here from under the overlying dilluvial deposit at an angle of about 45½, stretching in accordance with the general direction of the strata of this county in a south-easterly direction. On the north side, where the rocks slope gradually to the water's edge, lie scattered about hundreds of large boulders, and, though some of them weigh from 40 to 50 tons, they have been tossed by the force of the stormy waves to a height of 20 feet. This ridge, with its well-worn path along the top forming, perhaps, "the finest sea walk in England," is the favourite resort of visitors, and no grander spectacle can be witnessed than that presented by the waves as they break upon these rocks during a storm. The Brigg, however, is not always a safe place on these occasions, and danger also lurks in the ground swell to which the coast is subject, when there is no storm overhead. A gentleman and his wife met with their deaths from this insidious wave, as the following inscription affixed against the cliff relates: - " In memory of Charles Paget, Esq., of Ruddington Grange, Notts., J.P., formerly M.P. for Nottingham, and Ellen, his wife, who were swept off Filey Rocks, by a wave of extraordinary volume, and drowned on the 15th of October, 1873." At the time of the fatal occurrence they were standing near the second cave, a spot rarely covered at high tide, and at the time it only wanted an hour and a half to low water.

About half way along the Brigg another ridge of rocks juts out, in a southsouth-easterly direction, called the Spittals. It is about 200 yards long by 30 broad, and is visible only at low water. "It is generally supposed," says the author of "Rambles round Filey," "that these rocks are not a natural ridge, but remains of a breakwater built by the Romans, who, there is every reason for believing, used this bay during the time they were in possession of our island." From the eastern extremity of the Brigg, which can be reached at low water, good views of Scarborough cliffs and castle and the noble promontory of Flamborough may be obtained. Another interesting feature of the Brigg is the caves which the action of the water has worn in the rocks. "The best time for visiting these," says the " Guide to Filey," "is when the tide is ebbing, as there is considerable danger of being surrounded by the rising tide. On no account should the visitor endeavour to climb the cliff, as several such attempts have proved fatal. If care is taken to have time enough to return an hour before high water, the most timid need have no cause for alarm, but may enjoy in perfect peace the wonders of the shady retreats, their great curved rugged sides, and heavy masses of overhanging rocks."

The bay is protected on the south by Flamborough Head, thus affording a safe shelter for ships of any burthen, and only requires the construction of a sea-wall to convert it into a secure harbour of refuge for vessels during a storm. The beach, which is sandy and well adapted for bathing, forms the segment of a circle, surrounded by high perpendicular cliffs; those to the northward of the town being mostly destitute of vegetation and of a conical form, to the southward they gradually decline in altitude until they unite with those at Speeton. There is scarcely a spot around the coast of the little bay that does not possess its interest for the visitor, whether he be a mere sightseer or a student of nature. If the former, he may gaze and gaze, yet never be satiated with the ever changing beauty of the ceaseless waves as they break over the rocks, or spend their fury in a mantle of spray upon the cliffs; and after the storm has abated, he may pick up many beautiful specimens of the spoils of the sea. The geologist will find ample scope for investigation, and the fossil hunter may fill his satchel with the relics of a former world - ammonites, belemnites, crioceratites, and fossil crustacea. The rocks that lie scattered about are covered with corallines and marine algae of many hues and varieties, and in the little rock-pools that are left after the tide has receded, are innumerable anemonies, madrepores, and other creatures of the sea.

There can be little doubt that Filey was a place of some importance during the Roman occupation of this country, and, though it has only struggled into existence as a watering place within the last fifty years, its bathing facilities were probably known to, and appreciated by, the luxurious Romans fully sixteen centuries ago. There is reason also to believe, as we have before stated, that those early conquerors and civilizers of Britain had a harbour here, but whether this was the "well-havened bays' of Ptolemy, or the Portus Felix of the Romans, antiquarians have not been able to decide. Two roads led to it one from York through Aldby Park, the other through Sledmere, Hunmanby, and Reighton, traces of which may still be seen. The presence of a Roman station here had long been believed, but the fact was established beyond dispute in 1857, when the heavy floods washed down large portions of the cliff, exposing the remains of undoubted Roman work. The station has, since then, been thoroughly explored, and the foundations of a Pharos, or light-tower, and other buildings laid bare.

Just before the Norman Conquest, Filey, with twenty-two other parishes, formed part of a manor belonging to Earl Tosti, the brother of King Harold and subsequently it was granted to Walter de Gant, whose father, Gilbert de Gant, had accompanied the Conqueror, his uncle, to England. The chief seat of the manor was Hunmanby, from which it also took its name. It remained in the possession of the Gants till the reign of Edward III and has been held by the ancestors of the present owner since the 17th century.

The town consists of two parts, known as Old and New Filey. The latter, as its name implies, is of recent date, having been almost wholly built within the last fifty years for the accommodation of visitors. It contains several terraces of large and handsome houses. Facing the sea is the Crescent, a row of very elegant buildings delightfully situated on the cliff, and commanding an extensive and beautiful view of coast scenery. Opposite the Crescent are spacious gardens, artistically laid out, and open to the inhabitants of the Crescent.

Old Filey is situated on the edge of a deep ravine, which until recently formed the boundary between the North and East Ridings. The parish church and a few houses stand on the north brow of the ravine, and were consequently in the North Riding, whilst the rest of the town was in the East Riding. In 1889, by an arrangement between the County Councils of the two Ridings, the boundary was re-arranged, and that portion of the township of Filey which lies on the north side of the ravine was added to the East Riding for all civil purposes. Through this ravine there flowed a small stream,which was deepened and converted into a covered sewer about fifteen years ago. From this stream, according to a writer in the Leeds Mercury Weekly Supplement, the place derived its name. The sharp descent caused a series of waterfalls, which in turn made a pool or lac (lake) where it fell, and the five lacs furnished the Angles with an appropriate name. But as Beverlac has become Beverley, so Fivelac became Fiveley and then Filey. The ravine was purchased by the Local Board a few years ago, and converted into a picturesque dell. The slopes have been laid out in terraces, and planted with trees and shrubs, beneath which are pleasant promenades. A carriage drive has been formed, leading from the Scarborough road to the beach, and giving easy access to the sands. Crossing to the old church, which was before somewhat difficult of access from the town, an iron bridge of one span has been constructed, at a cost of £400, and the road leading from the railway station planted on either side with trees.

The town was thoroughly drained in 1857, at a cost of £2,000, and has been lighted with gas since 1852. Two or three years later, a company was formed to supply the town with water, and in 1859 the two companies were incorporated, with a capital of £10,000 in £5 shares. A second reservoir, with a capacity of upwards of six million gallons, was constructed in 1886. It is situated on Hunmanby Moor, and is supplied by five springs which issue from the Wolds. A Local Board of Health, consisting of nine members, was formed in 1868. A small market for butter, eggs, poultry, meat, and vegetables is held here on Fridays.

The church, which is dedicated to St. Oswald, is an ancient cruciform structure, consisting of chancel, clerestoried nave, aisles, trausepts, north and south porches, and a low massive square tower, rising from the intersection of the transepts, and containing three seventeenth-century bells, bearing the initials of the founder, S. S., of York. It was erected in the reign of Stephen, under the auspices of the monks of Bridlington, to whom the rectory of Filey had been granted by Walter de Gant. The nave is the oldest part of the structure, and still retains some of the original Norman work. The arcades that separate it from the aisles are Transitional Norman, and contain six arches, each resting on piers alternately circular and octagonal, except the two westernmost, which are clustered, as are also the pillars that support the tower. The clerestory windows are semi-circular headed single lights. The pillars that support the tower, and the transepts and chancel are Early English, the transition form Norman to Early English is seen in the south porch. The church underwent considerable repairs in 1839, at a cost of £1,500, and in 1885-6 it was thoroughly restored at a cost of over £5,000. The aisles and transepts were rebuilt, the nave re-roofed and furnished with oaken benches, and a new east window inserted. The chancel descends by two steps from the nave, and was elaborately furnished with richly-carved oak stalls in 1889, at a cost of over £200. The ancient sedilia, on which the officiating priest and his attendants sat during certains portions of the mass, still remain, as also does the piscina. There is another triple sedilia, as also a piscina, in the south transept, and a piscina in the north one, indicating that each transept was formerly a chapel. The pulpit is of oak, finely carved, and was presented by Henry H. Unett, Esq., in 1886, in memory of his father and brother; and the brass lectern is a memorial of Mrs. Eliza Unett, who died in 1874. On the wall of the south aisle is a rude effigy, apparently that of a female, but thought by some to represent St. Oswald, the patron saint of the church. There are several monuments and inscriptions, most of which commemorate different members of the Beswick family, who, until recently, resided at Gristhorpe Hall, in this parish. There is one to the memory of John Wilkes Unett, Esq.,the original projector of New Filey, who died in 1856, and of his second son, Lieut -Colonel Thomas Unett, C.B., who fell at the siege of Sebastopol whilst leading the British column to the final assault, 8th September, 1855. An obelisk was erected to his memory in St. Philip's Churchyard, Birmingham, his native place, by public sub- scription. A new organ was erected in 1882. The font is circular and ancient. The registers date from 1572. The living is a new vicarage, returned at £100 per annum, but recently augmented with £5,000 by Miss Clark, of Filey. It is in the gift of H. Brooke Firman, Esq. (who has two turns) and Colonel Osbaldeston-Mitford (who has one turn in three), and is held by the Rev. Arthur Neville Cooper, M.A., Christ Church College, Oxford.

The church of St. John the Evangelist, a chapel-of-ease to St. Oswald's, is situated in New Filey, and was erected in 1870-1, at a cost of over £3,000. It is in the Geometric style, and cruciform in plan, consisting of chancel, nave, and transepts, which are furnished with open benches of pitchpine, to accommodate 500 persons. The east window is a memorial of Admiral Mitford, who died in 1870.

The Wesleyan Chapel, a handsome stone structure, was erected in 1876, to supersede the chapel built in 1839, when Filey was little more than a fishing village. The style is Early English, and the plan comprises nave, transept, porch, and a clock tower, with spire 90 feet high. The chapel will seat 650 persons. Attached is a schoolroom, capable of accommodating 150 children, with classrooms, &c. The total cost, including the purchase of the site, furnishing, &c., was about £5,000.

The Primitive Methodists erected their first chapel in 1823, and enlarged it in 1843. In 1870 the old chapel was superseded by the present handsome brick structure, erected at a cost of £3,165, and subsequent improvements have been effected at a further outlay of £241. An organ was added in 1882, at a cost of £400. There are 650 rented sittings, and 140 free; these, however, do not represent the capacity of the chapel, as there is sufficient space in the nave and the gallery round its three sides for the accommodation of 900 persons. Beneath the chapel is a large Sunday school, with six class-rooms for society classes. Adjoining the chapel are two good houses for the ministers, and another, in the rear, for the caretaker.

The Town Mission, originally introduced as the Christian Army, holds services in the Albert Hall, formerly the old Primitive Methodist chapel, on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Saturdays.

The Church of England School, comprising two departments (mixed and infants), is a neat structure of brick, with freestone dressings, erected in 1873, for the accommodation of 150 in the mixed department, and 95 infants. The Wesleyan Schools were built in 1857. On the ground floor is the infant department, with accommodation for 150, and an average attendance of 70; above is the senior department, with similar accommodation, and an average attendance of 120.

The Conservatives and Liberals have each a club and reading room in the town; and there is also an Institute in connection with the Parish Church.

A Lifeboat has been stationed at Filey since 1823; it is in connection with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. New premises have been recently erected. The Coastguard Station is situated on the cliff.

About half-a-mile north of the town, and on the edge of the cliff, is the Spa Well, the water of which is said to be efficacious in dyspepsia, scrofula, and nervous diseases. It was formerly much frequented by visitors and invalids; but a dispute arose some time ago respecting "the right of way's to it, and it is now very little used. The water tastes somewhat like sea water, and yields, by analysis, the following results per pint

Fishing is still pursued to a considerable extent; cod, ling, skate, and haddock are taken in the spring, and herring from the beginning of August till the middle of October. Crabs and lobsters are plentiful on the north side of the Brigg. There are several fish-curing establishments.

The townships of Gristhorpe and Lebberston are included in the North Riding.

[Description(s) from Bulmer's History and Directory of East Yorkshire (1892)]


  • Transcript of the entry for the Post Office, professions and trades in Bulmer's Directory of 1892.

Scan, OCR and html by Colin Hinson. Checking and correction by Peter Nelson.