History of Filey
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
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
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
- 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.