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Crescent Gardens - Filey on the Yorkshire Coast
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History of Filey

Filey town centre.Filey - Fivelac, Philaw, Fiveley, some of the old names in ancient records – but a place that rarely appears in national recorded history. But, as someone once said, a place with no history is a happy place. However, we do know that the Romans were here in the late 4th century when a Signal Station was built on Carr Naze and was either abandoned or sacked around 400 A.D. The remains of this Station were discovered in the middle of the last century and further excavations made in the 1920s. Five stone bases, which are thought to be the bases of a wood watchtower were found, one of which is decorated with a stag being hunted by a hound, and can now be seen in the grounds of the Crescent Gardens. No remains are now visible, the greater part having been lost due to cliff erosion over the years, but if you take the Nature Trail on the Brigg and Carr Naze, you will walk over the spot where the Romans stood looking out for the raiders from the North all those years ago.

At very low tide a ridge of rocks known as the Spittals, half way along the Brigg and stretching out to sea in a S.E. direction, can be seen and it has often been said that it is the remains of a Roman pier, but opinion now is that it is a natural rock formation. One of the caves at the back of the Brigg is known as ‘The Emperor’s Bath’, but it seems very doubtful that a Roman Emperor ever did visit what is now Filey.

The Parish Church was built around 1180, although a Saxon altar was found on the site before the Second World War, so there must have been a building before the present one. A walk around the churchyard can prove very interesting, even if the gravestones are not so old – the earliest being around 1742 (See note 1).

The springs of fresh water in the Church Ravine and nearness to the sea were the obvious reasons for the town developing in that area, with the Church and Manor House on the north side and the fishermen’s cottages on the south. The boundary between the North and East Ridings of Yorkshire, until 1974, ran along the bottom of the Ravine. This separation of the churchyard and the village gave rise to a local saying ‘He’ll soon be in the North Riding’ referring to someone very ill and not expected to recover.

The population of Filey in 1801 was 505 and the real expansion began in the 1830s when a Birmingham solicitor, Mr Unett, began to develop new Filey and then, with the coming of the railway in 1846/7, Filey began to grow as a holiday resort and attracted many of the gentry.

Included in our visitors were Charlotte Bronte who stayed at Cliff House (now the Bronte Café) and the ‘Swedish Nightingale’, Jenny Lind, who is also said to have stayed in the same house. Amongst others were Frederic Delius, the composer, who came as a boy with his family and stayed in a house now part of the Hylands Retirement Home. Dame Myra Hess, the pianist, and Dame Madge Kendall, the actress, who had a house (now the White Lodge Hotel), Church dignitaries, members of the Government and MPs along with their families, also the Mountbatten family and other Peers were all visitors in those pre-1914 days.

Filey did witness one event of national importance in 1779 when a sea battle was fought off Flamborough Head and in Filey Bay. It was a fight between the ‘Father of the American Navy’, Captain John Paul Jones, in his ship the ‘Bonhomme Richard’, who was waiting to attack the British Baltic convoy and the British warship ‘Serapis’, under the command of Captain Richard Pearson. A great fight took place and the American ship ‘Bonhomme Richard’ sank, but the ‘Serapis’ was taken by the Americans who claimed the fight as an American victory – although no ships of the convoy were taken and the American flagship was lost. At one critical stage of the fight, Captain Pearson is said to have called on Captain John Paul Jones to surrender, but the reply he made (and which is part of American Naval tradition) was ‘I have not yet begun to fight’. A small boat with seamen escaping from the battle came ashore in Filey Bay and they were afterwards examined by one of His Majesty’s Justices of the Peach for the East Riding. There have been several attempts by US expeditions to find the wreck of the ‘Bonhomme Richard’, but without success.

In 1910/11 Filey sands were the scene of pioneer flying in this country. Mr Blackburn had a flying school. The first passenger to lose his life in a plane crash in England was on Filey sands when a plane crashed (only the eighth crash in England at that time) and both the pilot and the passenger were killed.

There are a number of early guide books to Filey written by Dr Cortis (1860), Dr Pritchard (1854) – in 1865 he was hanged for murder in Glasgow, it being the last public execution in Scotland; The Rev. Pettit, the Rev. Shaw and Canon Cooper also wrote many guides and books. The only history was by J Cole issued in 1828. For a reliable history of Filey, the section of the Victoria County History, East Riding, Yorkshire, Vol. II, published by the Oxford University Press, 1974, can be consulted.

According to Canon A N Cooper in ‘Across the Broad Acres’ c 1908, it was the coming of the Primitive Methodists to Filey in 1823 ‘that well-nigh turned the place upside down, and from superstition, ignorance and wickedness, the inhabitants became sober, intelligent and God fearing people’.

From an early guide book, 1878 – Public Bathing:

‘nor shall place in the water any bathing machine, containing a male or males, nearer to any other bathing machine in the water, containing a female or females than 130 yards, and no female of 10 years old or upwards to bathe from any machine without a bathing dress’




  1. A separate information sheet is available on the Parish Church of St Oswald, Filey.

For further information, please contact the Scarborough Tourism Bureau on 01723 383636.

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