The Settlement of North Filey

Background 

            This research’s hypothesis is that the original settlement of Filey was on the north side of the Church Ravine where St. Oswald’s Church is and not, as has been previously speculated in texts, on the southern side of the ravine where majority of the current town of Filey is today.  This ravine traditionally marked the boundary between the East and North Ridings of Yorkshire and this is why for the purpose of this article the supposed settlement around St. Oswald’s is to be known as ‘North Filey’.

            The papers aim is to discern what evidence survives today of this settlement, if any, and will be using documentary evidence to support any of the hypotheses it constructs.  Much of the detail covered within these pages has been drawn from other works and is more a ‘coming together’ of ideas that have been expressed either publicly or privately over the last 80 years than a totally innovative piece of study.  It does however extract the hearsay surrounding the site and suggest a framework as to how it was used in the past using only what known evidence remains.

            The area that will be discussed in depth is currently on privately owned land where horses graze and is close to a developed area.  The terrain is extremely uneven and covered with grass with evident lumps of stone scattered around it.  There is a ridge running roughly east to west across the centre of this area that has various small tress and shrubbery growing on it.  Although the site is protected much of the area surrounding it does not seem to be, and a car parking area has recently been constructed just a few metres to the west of the documented site.

Hypothesis

            Although there has been proved settlement in Filey for the better part of two millennia, very little seems to be known of the place before the 1500’s.  The Roman Signal station site on Carr Naze has been excavated and documented (Ottaway et al., 2000) but from this point until virtually the Tudor times there is only sparse understanding of the community in the area.  It is known that construction began on St. Oswald’s church around 1180 and Filey is also mentioned in the Domesday Book, proving that there was some form of community there in the times shortly after the Norman Conquest.  It is worth noting that in the Domesday Book period no mention is made to a monastic community or church in Filey.

            It can be argued that for a church to be built a community needs to be present as in most cases churches have been built to serve a community, not found one.  In Filey today St. Oswald’s stands virtually alone on the northern bank of Church Ravine, an ancient geographical feature that has divided this building from the rest of the town for many, many centuries.  It seems strange that when the building was to be built in the small rural community in medieval times that they chose the ‘wrong’ side of the ravine where no population resided.  According to current reasoning this meant that to go to church every week, the villagers of Filey had to take a wide detour to cross the ravine at its shallowest point, or alternatively scramble down and then up the steep banks of this natural feature.

            Excavation work was undertaken in the 1970’s on Queen Street, the oldest surviving street in Filey today, and late medieval remains were found (Farmer, 1977) but this still leaves a 300 year gap from the building of this church to the buildings on Queen Street.  Reference has been made to “a medieval market held somewhere close to the old vicarage that was stopped in the reign of Henry III” in Victorian literature about Filey but this has never been proved or refuted conclusively, or its origin fully explained (Shaw, 1886: 23).

            After a trip earlier this year to the Crimlisk Fisher Archives in Filey the author stumbled upon a file related to works to land adjoining the Church (Crimlisk ed., Unknown date).  These detail an amateur dig that took place on the area in question between the summers of 1924 and 1926 and which found initially a known Elizabethan manor house of moderate status but also evidence of earlier ‘monastic’ structures beneath it.  The three archaeologists Messrs. Clay, Robson and Smith prepared a preliminary report in the early summer of 1927 to submit to the East Riding Antiquarians Society in order that they might receive sufficient funding for the proceeding season, but this request was seemingly turned down as digging came to a halt and the excavations were filled in by that winter.  This report, along with a script for a talk given to Filey residents in the late Summer of 1926, a page long surveyors report (see Appendix 2), an unlabelled plan, and several unidentified photos of trench sections and finds seem to be the only surviving evidence of the dig today.   None of this excavation information has ever been published and to the best of the current Filey archivist’s knowledge (Mr E. Pinder) this file has remained unopened for many years; it is therefore unlikely any further copies exist.

All the finds have since been lost and attempts to trace them by a Mr John Crimlisk in the 1960’s and 1970’s were in vain.  This report will be summarised and expanded upon later on in this document.

After the initial publication of this report a further document was found online which expands the hypothesis of a North Filey.  A badly recorded excavation took place in the 1950’s by a local farmer and one of the nuns based at the convent school, Sister M. Xavier.  Until this new documentation became available nothing was known ascertaining to this dig but in a typed document originally written in 1956 by Sister Xavier and later transcribed by Kath Wilkie there is much more substantial evidence supporting the case.  The full document is found in Appendix 5 and is summarised along with the excavations to the land adjoining the St Oswald's Church.

            Two arguments that could further the hypothesis and that closely intertwine are the Spittals on Filey Brigg and the charter for the building of Bridlington Priory.  Although these might seem to at first to be unconnected there is a possible and tangible link.  The Spittals, according to a recent archaeological desktop survey, are considered to be of Medieval origin and made up of flawed limestone blocks that have been piled up underwater to form an inlet possibly for loading and unloading ships.  This document considers the option of these Spittals being of Roman origin as being improbable, but cannot come up with a concrete reason as to the purpose for their construction. 

The reason could be found within the document from around the time of the building of the Priory at Bridlington which was constructed from 1118 (please note that St. Oswald’s was not constructed until after 1180).  The local landowner in the area, Ralph de Nevill, promised to send stone from his quarry in Filey to the Priory (Prickett, 1835: 72), and there is also mention of roads being used to move the stone over unspecified distances (see Appendix 1 for full transcript) but given that the only known quarries in Filey have been around the cliff tops the most logical way to transport these pieces of stone over long distances would be by sea.  Filey has never had a fixed harbour where the town is today, but the presence of the Spittals on the Brigg would provide adequate facilities for such a task.  Clearly, a settlement would need to be present for men and their families to live in whilst they worked in the quarries and as will be discussed within the next section it could be argued from the evidence available that this was around where St. Oswald’s is today

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