Grave Art

For students of social history, an investigation of a local church yard can provide an abundance of valuable information and the old churchyard as St Oswald's church, Filey is no exception.  It is recorded that boat building started twenty years after the infamous "Harrying of the North" and some of the fishermen must surely claim their heritage back to those times.

 Here lie the generations of old Filey fishermen, their family names of Cammish, Cappleman, Jenkinson, Haxby, Colling, Skelton, Richardson, Willis, Hunter, Johnson and Boynton amongst others. As well as forenames, nick-names were used extensively, not only to describe the individual's attributes of achievements, but because there is also family tradition in the fishing community to preserve a certain same forename for a son of the next generation. Therefore it was possible to have three generations of the family living at one time  with three of the same forenames, so nick names were commonly used to distinguish the individuals. Unusual names such as "Denk", "Billy T", "Boysher", "Tich", "Eamon", "Chicken" and "Tint" developed over a long period of time and helped to distinguish them and the various families apart.

Some individuals had a forename with one or two closely related fishing family surnames incorporated afterwards as well, such as Mr ##### Jenkinson Colling. This to the outsider is confusing, however, the community fabric was woven around the life and times of these people and, sadly the individuality of the fishing community is rapidly being lost.

This page is the result of a special request, we undertook a photographic survey of the maritime "grave art" in the churchyard and it was suggested that the subject matter should be preserved as it is a valuable contribution to the local heritage.

As the Freemason has his Square and Compass and the Bricklayer has his Trowel and Plumb Bob, the fisherman has his Anchor, Coble, Yawl, and Drifter and they are shown here. Not all the fishermen here died of a disaster, but the families ensured that even though their loved one's individual names would eventually be forgotten, the Mason's artwork would ensure that there proud heritage would remembered.

As a mark of respect, the names of the individuals have been removed, however the artwork, some much weathered by the passage of time deserves a close inspection as this work in its original condition would have been outstanding.

Click on the images to see the carvings in greater detail


The first photographs consist of traditional anchors, two with religious texts in them and one of them fouled with chain, the anchor and its cable is one of the most important pieces of equipment on board a sailing ship. You will notice the surname of "Cappleman" on the lower headstone, a member of the Cappleman family advised us that they had completed some research into the family name and apart from it being one of the oldest names in Filey, it literally means - Coble man.

All the anchors except the top middle one are the old fashioned wooden stocked anchor and the top far right one has the rudder incorporated into its design. The fouled anchor is a useless item of essential equipment to a mariner and it is understood that it is depicted in some carvings to represent death..

This next set of carvings shows the sailing Yawl, a very popular fishing vessel of the 1800's. For line fishing, a yawl carried a four man crew and a small coble on its deck. Fishing took place about thirty or forty miles from the shore, the lines were shot away and were hauled by the coble launched from the deck.  With the gear down the Yawl was dreadfully exposed to the sudden North Sea gales and if it was caught out and had to run for safety, valuable fishing gear would have been chopped away and lost. One wonders how many boats and crews were lost as they hung on trying to get their gear back..

Why the top three were pictured sailing from left to right and the bottom one was carved sailing the other way is mystery, there appears to be no hard and fast convention for this and it may just be the preference of the Mason as to how they were presented.

If you look closely at the last yawl, the coble on its deck can just be discerned.

When steam ruled supreme, the East Coast harbours were full of steam trawlers and herring drifters and surprisingly, only one steam drifter has been seen so far in the Churchyard. This one is shown here,

Now follows the sailing coble with its traditional dipping lugsail. The first four examples are shown sailing from right to left and are much weathered.

The last four depict disaster, boats adrift at the mercy of the sea, their masts and tackle down or missing and the poignant message intended by the Mason needs no elaboration here. It is doubtful if the vessel on the second from the left, bottom row is a coble and it may be a stylistically representation of a disaster at sea.

In modern times, the tradition of Maritime grave art continues, however, instead of carving the images into the stone, they are etched into the face of highly polished black marble. There are several examples in the Churchyard ranging from modern cobles, keel boats to the modern Lifeboat but are not shown here.

The Fishermen

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