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Filey Bridge Pier – A shipping refuge

by RB

The origin of Spittals Rocks on Filey Brigg is subject to some controversy but the historical evidence, including this extract from Blaeu’s sea Mirror of 1625 shows that the structure was well known as a refuge for Maritime Trade and is marked on Blaeu’s chart:

“Without the head of Filey lieth a rock underwater called Filey Bridge , betwixt it and the pier you may safely lie afloat in a ship of 100 lasts in 5 fathoms at low water”

A ‘last’ is an old Northern European term for measuring load, or volume or both. The term survives in modern terminology in the name ‘ballast’ . The unit is variable according to area and use, but one last would be about 4000 pounds, 1800kg or about 3 cubic meters of cargo space. A 100 last ship would be a substantial vessel of around 180 tons.

Coode’s Harbour of Refuge

by RB

In January 1858 the Harbour Engineer John Coode reported to a Parliamentary Committee about the possibilities of building a harbour refuge in Filey Bay.

John Coode

Several such ideas have occurred across generations since the time of Charles 1st. A major problem in the age of Sail, was being unable to sail against the wind:

…Large numbers of vessels with coals and bound to the southward are very frequently detained off Flamborough Head by southerly winds, Under these circumstances vessels will constantly run in and bring up in the south part of Filey Bay, off Speeton and Bempton cliffs, where they will not uncommonly lay for a week….last month there were at one time not less than 240 vessels so anchored in the south part of Fley Bay….

There were plenty of local fishing vessels too in need of shelter. Coode reported there were over 700 smacks and Luggers in the area employing 6,500 men. His reported profit, which may have been exaggerated, was £1000 a year for each working boat.

There was also a case of safety Coode reported that in the area of sea between Flamborough Head and the Farne Islands:

John Coode - Source Wikipedia public domain

..For the first six months of the year 1857….no less than 56 vessels were totally lost and 81 damaged.

Coode proposed a 1,800 foot long breakwater along the length of Filey Brigg with further extensions into the Bay, a total of 9,600 feet of breakwater, This was more ambitious than other schemes but less than an 1880 scheme to moor warships. None of them ever came to anything and the natural beauty of Filey was preserved.

Groundage in Filey Bay – A thriving business

by RB


Coble landing beached vessels - courtesy Filey Museum

In a   record of rents written some time in the period between 1820 and 1830 the Lord of the manor at Hunmanby received fees totalling £156 sixteen shillings and fourpence for the rights of ‘groundage of vessel on delivery of cargo’ at Filey. This total far exceeded that from the Manor’s other recorded rental income. Beaching fees were set at 4 shillings for each vessel, which would suggest that nearly eight hundred vessels beached at Filey and discharged cargo during the course of one year.

In the age of small sailing ships, such beachings, particularly of small cargo vessels appear to have been common.  The above photograph, probably taken in the late nineteenth century,  shows a ‘grounded’ yawl with two small ‘salmon cobles’ beached further ashore. In the foreground is a small beam trawl.

Information transcribed by K Wilkie from a document provided by J. Crimlisk

The Desperate Christmas Voyage of the Bon Accord

by RB

Late in the season in 1808 the 131 ton sailing ship Bon Accord set sail from Aberdeen to Nova Scotia. On the Voyage a crew member was washed over board. On 14th December 1808, the ship set off back home.

The return voyage was to be  a disaster. Freezing gale force winds tore the ship’s sails to shreds. As the days past, the ship ran before the storm with little or no control and missed  Aberdeen as it careered down the North Sea. The crew of six  ate all the remaining food and then killed and consumed  ship’s dog, which lasted a couple of days. Using the dog’s skin as a bait they caught two of the mice, which infested the smousehip.

Mate William Thompson caught the mice and roasted two of them, giving one to the skipper and keeping one for himself. Finally they ran out of water and resorted to drinking seawater. On 27th February 1809 the ship’s carpenter died of starvation. On the same day they came across a Filey Coble and were guided into Filey Bay where the ship was anchored. The Surviving crew  were taken ashore and probably took lodgings at the T’awd ship Inn on Queen  Street (the traditional place of refuge for shipwrecked  mariners). A third crewman died and a fourth had frostbite in one of his feet and had to have it amputated.

The carpenter and other crewman were buried in St Oswald’s Cemetery. The ‘Bon Accord’ was take into Scarborough and refitted, setting sail on 16th March 1809 after her cargo of timber had been sold. Filey Fishermen later received 200 guineas as reward for their rescue.

Parish Records show the burial of her two sailors, both from Aberdeen. John Anderson on 28th February and James Rothwell on 2nd March 1809

Kath Wilkie