Wapentake and Petty Sessional Division of Dickering - County Council Electoral Division of Flamborough - Poor Law Union, County Court District, and Rural Deanery of Bridlington - Archdeaconry of the East Riding - Diocese of York.
This parish comprises 3,083 acres of land occupying the extremity of the promontory to which it gives the name of Flamborough Head. This rocky projection is the termination of a ridge of chalk running seaward from the Wolds, and from the head a most extraordinary and charming sea view is obtained. The cliffs, which rise perpendicularly to the height of 800 to 450 feet, have withstood for ages the fury of the ocean, whilst to the south the sea is gradually encroaching on the land, and has scooped out the wide bay of Bridlington. Yet even here are visible the slower though not less sure effects of the erosive action of the waves. At numerous points in the face of the cliffs the softer rock has yielded to the action of the water, forming caverns, arches, and miniature bays; and here and there rocks have been isolated and rise out of the waters in strange fantastic shapes. The King, The Queen, and The Matron, are names given to three of these isolated rocky pillars from a fancied resemblance to the human form. They were once attached to the land, supporting gigantic caves, the roofs of which have long ago fallen in. Still more interesting are the caverns, three of which, from their greater extent, have received distinctive names. The largest and most striking one, Robin Lythe's Hole, is situated under a projection of rock near the North Sea landing-place. The cavern is dimly lighted by two openings - one on the land side, the other looking out on the sea. The former, which is approachable at low water, is the general entrance. For a short distance the passage is low and narrow, then it speedily widens and rises to a height of 60 feet. Approaching the other opening there is a magnificent view outwards, the sea roaring, lashing, foaming, and breaking in spray on the rock beneath. The interior aspect from this spot is truly majestic. The roof is a dome, nearly 50 feet in altitude, formed of arches carved and fretted in a thousand inimitable ways, and here and there in the chalk rock are layers of spar, which the moisture keeps continually wet and shining. The floor has the appearance of a regular flight of stone steps, and, on first entering, should be trodden with care, as the eyes, having been dazzled with the whiteness of the rocks, cannot for some little time penetrate the "tenebrose gloom." This caution is necessary, as the visitor might step into one of the several pools of water scattered over the floor. There is some doubt as to the identity of Robin Lythe, from whom the cavern has obtained its name. According to one tradition he was an honest mariner, who was driven into the cave by the fury of a tempest and providentially saved; but according to another he was a pirate or smuggler, who made use of the cave as a place of concealment for himself and his plunder. Another cavern bears the name of The Dove Cote, from the rock pigeons which breed here; and the Kirk Hole was so named from a belief which formerly prevailed that it extended as far as the church, three quarters of a mile distant.
The ledges of rock which project from the face of the cliffs are the haunts of myriads of sea-fowl that breed here during the season. Amongst them are found guillemots, puffins, razor bills, kittiwakes, various kinds of gulls, gannets, and stormy petrels; and daws, rooks, blue rocks, starlings, and a few other species of land birds may be seen in their company. Bigland, quoting Hinderwell's History of Scarborough, says, - " It is a high satisfaction to those who delight in the wild, the grand, and the sublime, to view from the sea in calm weather this immense region of birds, and the diversified scenes of the stupendous promontory. At the report of a gun the feathered inhabitants are instantly in motion. The eye is almost dazzled with the waving of innumerable wings brightened by the rays of the sun, and the ear is stunned with the clamour of a thousand discordant notes. The strange dissonance of tone resounding in the air from so vast a collection, accompanied by the solemn roar of the waves dashing against the rocks and reverberated by the caverns, form a concert, altogether rude and extraordinary, which affects the mind with unusual sensations." These birds were formerly slaughtered wholesale by visitors in search of "sport," but, fortunately, for the preservation of our wild birds, the law has stepped in and made it illegal to destroy them during the breeding season.
The soil is a strong clay, resting on sand and chalk, and the surface generally elevated and treeless towards the extremity of the promontory. The estimated extent for rating purposes is 2,834 acres, rateable value £4,278, and the population 1,288. Mrs. Cottrell-Dormer, who holds the manorial rights, W. Ogle, Esq., Derby, and the Rev. C. Foords, Derby, are the principal landowners.
In the reign of Edward the Confessor the lordship of Flamborough belonged to Harold, Earl of the West Saxons, and afterwards King of England, who was killed at the battle of Hastings. Subsequently it came into the possession of William le Gros, Earl of Albemarle and Holderness, founder of Scarborough Castle, and one of the leaders at the battle of the Standard. It was afterwards held by the Constable family, which is said to be descended from the Lacys, Constables of Chester. This office was a very important one in feudal times, giving them both high rank and authority, and soon the family became known as Constable. Sir Robert Constable, of Flamborough, was knighted with 300 others at a great Whitsuntide festival, in the 34th Edward I., to augment the splendour of the court and the glory of his intended expedition into Scotland. The family flourished here for many centuries, and from it sprang a line of celebrated warriors and statesmen who inter-married with the Fitzhughs, Skipwiths, Camberwiths, Gascoignes, Staffords, Wentworths, St. Quintins, Stricklands, and many other noble families. Their connection with Flamborough ceased a little over two centuries ago, when the manor was purchased by Walter Strickland, Esq., as appears from an inscription on a mural tablet in the south aisle. It still remains in the possession of his descendants.
The village stands at the foot of a descent near the centre of the promontory, four miles east-north-east of Bridlington, and two miles east of Flamborough station, on the Scarborough, Bridlington, and Hull branch of the North-Eastern railway. It was once a place of some note, but its importance has long since vanished, and it now ranks only as a large village, whose inhabitants are chiefly engaged in the fishing trade. Some writers have claimed for it an antiquity extending as far back as the time of the Romans, and assert that the station Prætorium, mentioned in the Antonine Itinerary, stood here or hereabouts. There are better reasons, however, for supposing that Flamborough Head was the Ocelum Promontorium of Ptolemy, though by some this honour is assigned to Spurn Head.
The church, dedicated to St. Oswald, is an ancient stone edifice consisting of chancel with aisles, nave with north and south aisles, north porch, and a small turret at the west end containing three bells. Who its founder was, or the date of its erection, is unknown, but as the oldest parts are in the Norman Transition style of architecture there can be but little doubt that it was built between the years 1140 and 1200, the period usually assigned to the Norman Transition style. It was given by William Fitz-Nigel, probably soon after its erection, to the Prior and Canons of Bridlington, which gift was confirmed by Popes Eugenius III. and Celestine III. After this appropriation the clerical duties were performed by a stipendiary curate, to whom a yearly salary of £16 was allowed. The Constables were benefactors to the church. Robert Constable de Flaynburg gave one oxgang of land and other donations to the support of two altars therein; one that of St. Thomas, the other that of Mary Magdalen. The church was restored in 1868, previous to which time it had a ruined and weatherbeaten appearance owing to the damp and age. The nave is divided from the aisles by four pointed arches resting on octagonal columns. The two eastern ones were enclosed and used as a schoolroom prior to the erection of the national school. The south aisle of the nave was in the Norman Transition style, but as it was built of brick it was evidently a re-erection at some later period. The chancel arch was circular, the pillars of which had Norman fluted capitals. There was originally a steeple or tower at the west end, but this was a ruin more than two centuries ago, as appears from the following entry in the Correction Book of the Archdeacon of the East Riding in the year 1663 : - " John Ogle and Robert Maltbye, the churchwardens, were presented for the church steeple being fallen down and the church out of repair." The restoration included the rebuilding of the chancel, the re-roofing of the nave and the partial rebuilding of the south wall, and the erection of an arch on each side of the chancel arch, dividing the aisles of the nave from those of the chancel. The old Norman chancel arch was restored, and the other arches and pillars denuded of their coats of whitewash.
The most interesting feature of the church is the screen which divides the chancel from the nave. This was formerly surmounted by a rood screen, now placed against the west end, richly carved, and once resplendent with gold and colours. It belongs to the fifteenth century, and is a beautiful specimen of mediaeval ecclesiastical art. It contained fourteen niches with fine canopies, and the ten arches in the screen below are filled with excellent tracery. The ornamentation is quatrefoil, grapes and vine leaves. This elaborate and exquisite piece of workmanship is supposed by some archaeologists to have belonged to Bridlington Priory, whence it was brought to preserve it from the vandal hands that destroyed the greater part of that beautiful edifice. The pulpit is of carved oak, and in keeping with the Perpendicular style of the chancel screen. The font is ancient. The east window is a beautiful one of five lights, filled with stained glass, to the memory of the late Walter Strickland, Esq., who died in 1870. Of ancient memorials the most interesting is that of Sir Marmaduke Constable, Knight. It is a brass, once on an altar tomb, but now on the north side of the communion table, bearing the following curious metrical epitaph, in Old English text, and the contracted irregular spelling peculiar to the period The altar tomb is now almost covered by the wall of the vestry. Sir Marmaduke was born in 1443, and at the age of 70 commanded the left wing of the English army at the battle of Flodden Field, where the King of Scots and the flower of his army were slain. Near this, at the east end of the south aisle, is a mural monument to the memory of "that learned, and not less pious, gentleman, Walter Strickland, Esq., who was born at Boynton, in 1583, and died in 1621." He married Ann, sole daughter and heiress of Sir Charles Morgan, Bart., "but had no issue by her; yet such was her love to his worth that she freely gave £2,000 for his purchase of the lordship of Flamborough." In the same aisle are some monuments to the Ogle family, which settled at Flamborough about the middle of the 16th century. There are many other tablets to persons of distinction in the locality.
The registers date from the year 1564. The living is a vicarage, gross value, £130, including 40 acres of glebe, with residence, in the gift of Mrs. Cottrell Dormer, and held by the Rev. H. W. Rigby, B.A., Queen's College, Oxford.
The Wesleyans built their first chapel in the village in 1799, and to commemorate the centenary a new chapel was erected in 1889, at a cost of £1,000; and the old building has been converted into a lecture room. The Primitive Methodist chapel was built in 1874, at a cost of £1,500. It is a large brick structure, with freestone dressings, and superseded the old chapel erected in 1822.
The National School (mixed) was built in 1845 for the accommodation of 150 children. The Victoria Institute and Reading Room is a building of brick, containing two large rooms, erected in 1887. It is supported by voluntary subscriptions and members' contributions.
Fishing, as before stated, is the chief occupation of the villagers, and a glance at our Directory will show the number engaged in this industry. The following returns exhibit the number and value of the fish landed at Flamborough in the years 1886, 1887, and 1888 A lighthouse stands near the landing in Silex (Selwick's) Bay, about 400 yards from the extreme point of the promontory. It is a circular tower of white brick, about 85 feet in height, fitted with a dioptric revolving lens showing a light every half minute, twice white to once red. It was erected by the Elder Brethren of Trinity House in 1806, and is maintained by a toll levied on all ships passing the Head. The lights are 330 feet above the level of the sea, and are visible on a clear night at a distance of about 20 miles. There appears to have been a lighthouse of some kind here in former times, but it was disused and ruinous long prior to the erection of the present one. The old tower, octagonal in shape, is now used as a marine telegraph station. On the verge of the cliff, near the Lighthouse, is a Fog Signal Station, from which rockets are discharged every five minutes during foggy weather. By these means the danger of navigating this part of the coast has been reduced to a minimum. Previous to the erection of the lighthouse wrecks were frequent. Between the year 1770 and the end of 1806, there were no fewer than 174 vessels wrecked or lost off Flamborough Head and the adjacent coast.
Westward of the lighthouse, near the extreme limit of the parish, is Thornwick Bay, a beautiful rocky inlet, in which is The Smugglers' Cave. The water never leaves the cavern even at the lowest tides, and consequently it can only be entered in a boat.
DANES DYKE. - Turning from the unscaleable cliffs which line the shore, we may here notice the gigantic earthwork thrown up for the defence of the peninsula on the landward side. It extends across the promontory in an almost straight line from south to north, a distance of two and a half miles, terminating with the shore on each side, and cutting off a triangular piece of land, rock bound on two sides, and impregnable on the third, when bow and battle axe were the only implements of warfare. This barrier consists of a double line of defence, one above the other, with breastworks, and further strengthened by a ditch. At the southern extremity advantage has been taken of a natural ravine which opens out on the south cliff, where its bottom is on a level with the beach. From this point it extends northward, becoming gradually shallower, until it finally disappears about three-quarters of a mile from the shore; and beyond this there is a deep ditch on the western side about 60 feet broad, which is continued to the north cliff. There are 12 gaps or openings through this barrier, but with the exception of one, through which the Bempton road passes, they are all probably modern. The construction of such an earthwork as this would, even now-a-days with all our modern appliances, be a gigantic undertaking, what then must it have been to the builders, if, as is generally supposed, they were unacquainted with mechanical appliances, and possessed only tools fabricated out of flint, stone, bone, or bronze.
The erection of this barrier has been generally attributed to the Danes, but the discovery of numerous flint, bronze, and other pre-historic implements, renders it highly probable that this stupendous undertaking was the work of some Brigantian tribe or clan, who thus insulated themselves from their aggressive neighbours. Both the Saxons and the Danes would undoubtedly avail themselves of its protection, and the latter appear to have been the last people that made use of it for their defence; hence, in after years arose the tradition that it was the work of the Danes. Perhaps it may be that Ida, the "man of fire," who is said to have landed here with fifty ships to conquer Northumbria in the year 547, may have utilized this intrenchment in his first encounter with the natives.
THE DANISH TOWER. - Equally improbable is the story that attributes the erection of this tower to the same people. The ruined keep, the only portion of the fortress now remaining, stands near the church at the west end of the village, and contains a vaulted chamber with groined roof of one span. From the many irregular mounds of earth that lie about it, and the occasional discovery of foundations, it appears to be only the fragment of a once much larger structure. The style is Norman, but there is no record of its erection in the pages of history. The Duke of Rothsay, son of Robert III., of Scotland, whilst escaping to France with his son James, was captured by a privateer off Flamborough Head, and confined, it is said, in this tower or fortress, until the intentions of the English monarch with regard to the royal captive were known.
Etymology of Flamborough. - The derivation of the name is a subject of discussion among antiquaries. Camden says, "some think that Flamborough took its name from a watch tower, in which were lights for the direction of ships; for the Britons still retain the provincial word Flam, and the mariners still paint this creek with a flaming head in their charts. Others are of opinion that this name came into England, out of Angloen, in Denmark, the ancient seat of the Angli; for there is a town called Flansburg, from which they think the English gave it that name." The author of "Yorkshire Past and Present" adopts the "flame" theory, and says that Flamborough signifies "the Hill of Flame or of the Lighthouse." That there was a light or beacon here in mediaeval times is certain; hut unfortunately for the above etymology, the word flame is of Norman French parentage, and was unknown to the English language till some time after the Conquest. In Domesday Book and other ancient records, the name is variously written Flaneburg, Flainburg, Flaynburg, and Flaynborght. The last orthography occurs on the monumental brass in Flamborough church, to the memory of Sir Marmaduke Constable, who was born in 1443, and died in the reign of Henry VIII., and the present form of the name is evidently a still later corruption. These old spellings afford a clue to the derivation of the name which, says the writer of an article on Flambrough, in the " Leeds Mercury Weekly Supplement," August 2nd, 1890, "is undouhtedly a compound of the Old Norse personal name Fleinn, and burg - a castle." The continental Flensborg, a town in Schleswig, has certainly had a similar origin.
LOCAL WORTHY. - Sir John Puckering, knight, was born at Flamborough about the year 1544. He was bred to the law, and acquired such fame in his profession, that Queen Elizabeth appointed him her sergeant. In 1585, he was chosen Speaker of the House of Commons, and was afterwards made Lord Chancellor of England. He died in 1596, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Scan, OCR and html by Colin Hinson. Checking and correction by Peter Nelson.