Charles Waterton 1782-1865

Charles Waterton, naturalist, explorer, environmentalist and true English eccentric. I mean how else would you describe a man who, expecting dinner guests, hid under the table, growled like a dog and bit his guests’ legs?

Charles_Waterton_by_Charles_Wilson_Peale,_1824,_National_Gallery,_London

Charles_Waterton_by_Charles_Wilson_Peale,_1824,_National_Gallery,_London

Born in 1782, into a devout Catholic family. He lived at Walton Hall in West Yorkshire, England – the house built by his father on the remains of an earlier one. He attended Stonyhurst College before completing his education abroad.  As a non-Conformist Waterton did not have the usual opportunities open to him that a man of his class would normally enjoy. He was unable to hold any public office, army commission or attend an English university.

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Walton Hall, Home of Charles Waterton

So, in 1804 he travelled to British Guiana to manage his uncle’s estates near Georgetown. In 1812 he began a series of what he called “Wanderings” in South America where he recorded the local flora and fauna and hunted animals to take back to Walton.  Over time, he amassed a large collection for which he developed new a method of taxidermy and some of this collection, remarkably lifelike, survives today. He also used his skills to poke fun at the Church of England and the State.

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One of Waterton’s taxidermy creations – John Bull carrying the national debt and surrounded by devils

In 1813, returning from his travels, Waterton appears to have experienced an epiphany in his relationship with wildlife.  He began to turn the park around Walton Hall into a wildlife reserve, permitting no hunting and excluding no animal except the fox and badger.  He nursed the old trees on his estate, keeping them standing when most would have felled them and planted holly hedges and ivy for nesting sites.  Wildfowl were enticed back to the lake surrounding the Hall.  He railed at his neighbours for killing dwindling species of birds.

In the 1820’s he started his most ambitious project – building a nine-foot high wall around three miles of his park to create a sanctuary not only for wildlife but also for himself.  He states in one of his essays:

“having suffered myself and learned mercy, I broke in pieces the penal laws which the knavery of the gamekeeper and the lamentable ignorance of other servants had hitherto put in force”.

In 1829 Waterton married 17-year-old Anne Edmonstone who was a granddaughter of an Arawak Indian. She died shortly after giving birth to their son Edmund when she was only 18. After her death he slept on the floor with a block of wood for a pillow,

“as self-inflicted penance for her soul!”

His two sisters-in-law came to live at Walton to look after the young Edmund. As the child grew up Waterton found it increasingly difficult to develop a father-son relationship. As a young man Edmund was lavish with money that he did not have, he had little or no interest in his father’s activities. It is quite possible that he was embarrassed by his father’s eccentricities – an embarrassment that developed perhaps into contempt as indicated by Edmund’s later actions.

Apart from family difficulties there was also the problem of the impact of growing industrialisation in the country but events brought it right to his doorstep.  Adjoining his estate was Walton Soap Works, owned by William Hodgson and Edward Simpson.  Soap manufacture, one of Victorian England’s growth industries, used particularly noxious chemicals that generated harmful pollutants and by-products.  Waterton had co-existed peacefully with his neighbours – a peace based on a gentleman’s agreement to refrain from manufacturing the actual chemicals required to make soap – a practice that made production cheaper.  However, growing consumer demand proved hard to resist.  Hodgson and Simpson reneged on the agreement.

When Hodgson died in 1840, Simpson took over entirely and the soap works flourished. He built a new chimney that belched out sulphuric acid fumes. This acid rain killed trees and hedgerows. Stinking toxic effluents accumulated in drains and oozed into nearby watercourses. Crops failed and livestock sickened.  Even the men at the works were affected.  Waterton writes in a local newspaper:

“Simpson’s operatives are the very personification of death alive.  There is not a single cherry-cheeked fresh or healthy looking man among them”.   

In 1847, Waterton declared war, starting the first of three legal campaigns against “soapy” Simpson.  This was to be no gentlemanly conflict.  Simpson was a formidable enemy.  The soap works made him a wealthy man.  He had gained respectability, becoming a local councillor, a partner in a bank and a property owner.

Simpson did not attempt to defend himself.  He was astute enough to know it was fruitless to deny, directly, the claims made against him. Instead, he used personal attacks and ridicule to undermine Waterton’s credibility. When the case came to court, it was referred to arbitration.  In the time leading up to the hearing Waterton suffered volleys of personal abuse together with random acts of violence to property and livestock.

At the eventual hearing in 1848, the verdict was double-edged.  Simpson was found guilty of negligence and given a warning.  Waterton received £1100 compensation but had to bear part of the legal costs.  Simpson carried on his business and the pollution continued unabated.

A few months later Waterton launched his second attack.  He presented a vast quantity of evidence and Simpson brought in a great squad of witnesses (who received suspiciously high expenses for their trouble) to deny the works were harmful or polluting.  This time, the arbitrator merely warned Simpson to maintain high safety standards.

In the final battle of 1850, Waterton took a more subtle approach.  Perhaps he learned a few tricks from his adversary. He discovered that Simpson wanted to expand his works and Waterton’s sister-in-law, “by chance” owned a house with land away from Walton.  How she came to do this is unclear.  Possibly Waterton bought it secretly, with a view to inducing Simpson to leave.  Waterton offered terms – the land and house in exchange for the complete closure of the Walton Soap Works.  Simpson accepted the terms and paid all legal costs.

It was a Pyrrhic victory for Waterton.  He lost trees, hedges, birds and other wildlife. Pollution fouled his lake and watercourses. He spent considerable time and money on the lawsuits. His health suffered.  Yet Simpson prospered, merely taking his work and pollution elsewhere.

Charles Waterton died in 1865 after a heavy fall. His coffin was taken across the lake to his chosen burial place. In a final ironic twist his estranged son, Edmund sold off all the valuable timber, mercilessly slaughtered the birds and game and did his best to obliterate all traces of his father’s conservation legacy.  Ultimately, he sold the estate to none other than the son of Waterton’s bitter enemy, “soapy” Simpson.

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Charles Waterton’s cortege

Today, Waterton’s home is a hotel and part of Waterton’s park is once more a wildlife sanctuary.  The nearby Walton Park Wildlife Discovery Centre promotes the values of the man who advises us:

“Look close with a quiet mind.  Learn from all that you see and so try not to assert your power…”

 

 

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Gainsthorpe – A Village Lost in Time

You may wonder why I’m posting pictures of fields full of lumps and bumps but be patient …

 

Do you know what it is yet? Does this help?

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(Photo: English Heritage Library©)

These are photos of Gainsthorpe deserted village in Lincolnshire – one of the best preserved in the realm of deserted mediaeval villages in England.

The village is noted in the Domesday Book; later, in 1208 a windmill and a chapel were recorded but the last mention of its name was 1383. 17th century records refer to well- preserved earthworks with a couple of hundred houses and up to half a dozen streets.

It was an irregularly planned village, much of which has now been lost to farming and quarrying, but once was a thriving medieval settlement of small houses  – one or two-roomed – built of stone.  Each house was separated from its neighbour by a low bank with plots at the front – ‘tofts’ – which would have had buildings or workshops. At the back of each house was a ‘croft’ – a garden for growing vegetables and fodder. Streets ran between the houses and field strips for growing crops surrounded the whole village.

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Sunken roadway

Over time the village changed as villages do and there are indications of the merger of some of the houses into larger ones which surround a courtyard. The experts believe this to indicate a shift in farming practices and the development of a manorial complex with a home farm complete with fishpond and dovecotes.

Today the streets look like deep tracks behind which are the remains of the houses, indicated by their low turf foundations. The field strips have been lost to later ploughing.

sunkenroadway with house foundations to the sides

SO WHAT HAPPENED?

The simple answer is we don’t really know. We do know from an early 17th century source that the village was already deserted by 1616:

 ‘there is nowe neyther tofte, tenemente or cottage standinge… it keepes neer 1500 sheepe.’

Other villages nearby suffered from the outbreak of the Black Death – the plague that ran amok in England in the 1340’s. Perhaps that contributed to the village’s demise. Deliberate depopulation is also a possibility when landowners forced out their tenants and used the land for the more lucrative sheep farming.

One theory offered by antiquarian Abraham de la Pryne in the late 17th century was:

Tradition says that the town was, in days of yore, exceeding famous for robberys, and that nobody inhabited there but thieves: and that the countrey, having for a long while endur’d all their villanys, they at last, when they could suffer them no longer, riss [rose] with one consent, and pulled down the same about their ears.”

He then concludes with a more prosaic explanation:

“But I fancy the town was eaten up with time, poverty and pasturage.”

I fancy he is correct.

 

The Power of the Press

Happy New Year to everyone and I hope it will be all that you hope. After lying dormant for most of the festivities I had a belated present from a most unexpected source.

Yesterday I was doing some housekeeping on this blog site when I noticed that the day’s statistics on viewing numbers were shooting through the roof. As I squinted at the numbers going upwards all the time I tried to figure out what was happening. In one day I received as many views as I have in some years!

Finally I noticed a “pingback” message. Basically a pingback tells you that another site has inserted a link that comes to a post on my blog. Intrigued I checked it out. It was in The Guardian. There were just two words “Ravenser Odd” and, given the subject matter of the article – flooding and sea defences – the puzzle was solved.

I incorporated the post –  Ravenser Odd – The Town Under the Sea into my local history book – Close to the Edge: Tales from the Holderness Coast. It has proved to be one of my most popular posts.

Whilst theoretically I understand how quickly and how far the press can spread the word, when it comes to spreading some of my words, it’s quite breathtaking. I hope all those who came to read the post had a good snuffle around the site. As a bonus, sales of the book have suddenly shot up too.Lovely start to the year.

The Principality of Andorra

The Principality of Andorra – one of the oldest and smallest countries in Europe, squashed between Spain and France. It is an independent country whose heads of state are the President of France and the Bishop of Seo de Urgel, Spain. Probably, the country is best known for winter sports and its biggest “industry” duty free shopping.

It is a mountainous land tucked in the Pyrenees; small fields scraped out of the mountainsides support cattle or are used for tobacco growing; vertiginous roads and tracks twine through the landscape. It was, in early times, a smuggler’s paradise, often carried out under the cover of the transhumance – the movement of sheep and cattle up to the high pastures in spring and back to softer ground in autumn.

It was a pretty open trade which boosted the subsistence level of many families. One Andorran priest remarked:

“It is a hard country…The cattle begin to straggle down from the hills when the snow falls early in September. The winter is long and very cold and my people are so poor. But for the smuggling they would suffer. What would you?”

American author and traveller Herbert Corey visited Andorra and watched the trade openly carried out. In 1918, he wrote:

“the public square was filled with men putting impatient feet against the ribs of rebellious mules in the effort to pull tighter the ropes of the diamond hitch. Loads were going across the hills, fête day or no. Other tired men straggled in at the heels of tired mules, the pack-saddles empty, after a successful trip into France. Small boys were importantly aiding. Girls clung to the arms of the contrabandista, and old women waddled about with parcels that looked like provisions for the departing.”

Accounts of 19th century smuggling tell of houses set up as receiving points for goods inwards and outwards. Often there was a “master” who paid the smugglers about 7 francs a day. If the men were caught they went unpaid and, as there was no defence against smuggling, went straight to jail.

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The goods were transported as 25kg loads in a canvas bag reinforced by a wood frame. This made it easier for the smugglers  to dump the load and take to their heels if necessary, hiding out in the rocky mountainsides.

The men travelled over French or Spanish “ports” – these were the little-known, narrow and often dangerous tracks and pathways through and over the mountains which ultimately led into France or Spain. Sometimes mules were used to carry the contraband or the men hefted the packs themselves. The men wore rope soled shoes which were light and quiet and usually made their silent way through the “ports”  in small groups.

Tobacco and Spanish wine were popular contraband but market demands could change. During the First World War mules were an important cargo. Mules from Spain were in high demand by the Allied armies so much so that their exportation was frowned upon by the Spanish government. Although the smuggled mules were ultimately purchased  for use by the French army, there was French import duty upon live stock. This created a unique opportunity for Andorran smugglers who obtained mules from Spain by any means they could and led them over the mountain paths, at night into France. The French gendarmes  were persuaded to look the other way for a small percentage per mule.

The Spanish civil war brought a demand for smuggled foodstuffs, chemicals and pharmaceuticals and there was an inflow of refugees who crossed the border from Spain. Many children and wounded fighters died in makeshift camps set up just over the border.

Similarly during WWII smuggled goods entered Vichy France via the mountain passes and from 1942 onwards, cross-border networks, established along tracks not closely monitored, were set up so that smugglers could help families to escape from occupied France.

Nowadays, illicit free-trading has turned into duty-free shopping and the mountain passes are left to the hikers whilst those in search of cheap booze and fags take to the relative safety of tarmac roads.

Will the Real Nicholas Flamel Please Stand

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Page from Flamel’s Notebook

Last week was the week of the “great sort out” since I was running out of storage space for files. I came across my old notes for the book “Close to the Edge” and amongst them were the notes I made for the story of the monk and alchemist George Ripley of Bridlington Priory. In the margin of these notes I had scrawled – ‘check out Nicolas Flamel’. I never did check him out…until now.

So who was Nicolas Flamel?

He was a Frenchman (c1330-1418), a scribe and seller of books and manuscripts who apparently discovered (according to 17th century accounts) the secret of the Philosopher’s Stone – although that rather depends on which texts you read.

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19th century image of the man himself

His life is well documented…by himself. He had two shops in Paris, married a well-endowed widow and in their later years together they were both wealthy and philanthropic. Like many educated men in Medieval days he dabbled in alchemy and knew of the existence of a book which, once deciphered would reveal the secrets of the universe, how to make gold from base metal and how to live forever as a bonus.

One day, as all good stories go, a man came into his bookshop wanting to sell a book. Flamel recognised it immediately  (because an angel told him about it in a dream the night before), handed over a couple of florins without a quibble and became the proud owner. The  book was that of Abraham the Jew, written part in arcane symbols and part in ancient Hebrew.

For more than twenty years Flamel worked diligently trying to translate the text before deciding that he needed a bit of help from learned men within the Jewish community. At that time Jews were persecuted in France and many had fled to Spain and so, to Spain our hero must go. He dressed as a pilgrim and on his journey met a merchant who, just by chance you understand, was able to introduce him to a venerable Jewish scholar. He recognised the book for what it was and agreed to go to Paris with Flamel to work on its translation.

Three years passed, the old scholar died, but Flamel managed finally to decode the book. He writes of his success in changing mercury into silver and then into gold. Apparently he put his new found skill to good and charitable uses, living quietly with his wife, working in his bookshops and dying at the age of 80. He was buried in the Church of St Jacques la Boucherie in Paris.

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Flamel’s tombstone

He was not allowed to rest in peace though. Treasure hunters from near and far came looking for the red powder that acted as the catalyst to the transmutation. His house was ransacked and many of the sculptures he had commissioned were damaged with inscriptions and symbols torn off and carted away.

And what happened to the book of Abraham the Jew?

Flamel bequeathed his papers and his library to his nephew and for 200 years these were passed down from father to son and nothing more is heard of the book. Then, in the 17th century we hear of an hapless heir of Flamel who was daft enough to demonstrate to King Louis XIII the transmutation process. Cardinal Richelieu, the King’s advisor, took a keen interest and soon after said heir was carted off to prison, tried and ultimately executed. This gave Richelieu the right to confiscate all the man’s property. It is alleged that Richelieu had possession of the book until his death and after that it vanished.

Perhaps one day, some book lover fossicking in the second-hand bookshops of Paris will stumble upon it…or perhaps not

The Pirate Queen

You can’t expect me to have a week in Ireland without coming back with some stories that intrigue me and although the tale of Grace O’Malley is not a spooky one, hers is a story that captured my imagination.

5th September 1593 a strange meeting was taking place between– Queen Elizabeth I and Grace O’Malley, the Irish Pirate Queen – both in their twilight years yet still fiery and not to be trifled with. Grace O’Malley had sailed from Ireland to England to plead her cause with the Queen directly.There must have been something about Grace that appealed to the Queen – perhaps because she was a bit of an adventurer at heart herself – but whatever the case she listened to Grace and granted all her requests much to the dismay of the Queen’s counsellors.

Grace O’Malley was born around 1530 to clan chieftain Owen O’Malley. The family was a seafaring one, trading from the west coast of Ireland to Spain, Portugal and Scotland. Legend has it that the young Grace was keen to sail with her father’s fleet but with true sailor’s superstition, it was held unlucky to sail with a woman on board, so her parents tried to keep her at home. In response, Grace is said to have cut off her long red hair, dressed as a boy and stolen on board one of the ships proving she could handle the life of a seafarer. From then on she was a regular member of the crew and became a skilled sailor and navigator.

When she was 16 she married Donal O’Flaherty, a good match strategically and politically. Donal was heir to the chieftain of the O’Flaherty clan and owned the castles of Bunowen and Ballinahinch. He appears to have been an angry and violent man with a quick and wicked temper. Throughout the 16th century Ireland was wrought by inter-tribal branglings, politics and power struggles – Grace’s marriage strengthened both family and tribal ties and protected their interests.

Grace bore three children by O’Flaherty but never settled for the life of a “good” wife. The following years saw her taking over the fleet and managing the business and political dealings of the clan. Her ships were banned from Galway, a major trading port at the time and Grace was forced to take her cargoes directly to Spain, Portugal, Scotland and Ulster. Not one to be coerced she developed what she called “maintenance by land and sea” – an early protection racket. In other words she would have her ships lie in wait off the coast and on the approach of the slower merchant ships, she would bear down on them to offer the captain safe passage with a pilot in return, of course, for a suitable wodge of cash. If her protection was refused then she simply denuded the ship of everything of value. The protests of the merchants of Galway went unheeded.

In 1560 her husband Donal was killed in yet another clan spat and Grace dealt with her husband’s killers … in a very permanent way. Under Irish law she was unable to inherit her husband’s goods and chattels which peeved her majorly, she returned to O’Malley land with her followers and established herself on Clare Island in Clew Bay. It was from there that she could extend her operations – the three P’s –pilots, protection and plunder. She and her followers became wealthy.

Clare Island

Clare Island

Before long before most of Clew Bay was in Grace’s hands. To secure a foothold in the remaining part she married Richard Burke of Rockfleet. The marriage was arranged on a trial basis – each party agreed to give it a go for a year after which either party could divorce (under Irish law at the time). Grace duly gave it a year, moved her fleet and her followers to the castle at Rockfleet and gave Richard his marching orders… although afterwards she did help him several times to get out of sticky situations of his own creation – he seems to have been a bit of a thickie – and to achieve his succession as clan chieftain.

Rockfleet Castle

Rockfleet Castle

Ireland was a hot brew of rebellion during the latter part of the century and was a cause of anxiety to the English especially as many of the Irish nobles had links with Scotland (also in ferment) and Spain. Clan chieftains swore allegiance to the English throne one day and then joined the rebels the next. The English were systematically trying to Anglocise (is there such a word?) Ireland by changing the laws and outlawing the age-old system that the clans used to elect their chieftains. Gradually though, more of the clan chieftains bowed to the inevitable and submitted to Elizabeth I and the English throne.

During this time Grace moved carefully, picking her way through the turmoil, joining the rebels then swearing loyalty to the English Crown when politic to do so. She survived the threat of the hangman’s noose after being arrested for piracy and insurrection. Why she was freed is a cause of speculation. Some sources suggest that Grace was actually in the pay of Francis Wolsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster and that her knowledge and insight about movements of ships particularly the Spanish fleet were too valuable to England to lose.

When Richard died Grace, remembering that she was robbed (as she saw it) of her inheritance from her first husband, took matters into her own hands and made off with around 1000 head of cattle and her followers to take possession of Rockfleet Castle.

The arrival of Sir Richard Bingham in Ireland as Governor of Connaught started a new chain of troubles for Grace and he became her chief enemy. Here was a man, ruthless, cruel and full of guile who was totally dedicated to wiping out the old Irish laws, customs and way of life. It was he who took Grace prisoner and appropriated all her cattle and lands leaving her destitute.

Her response was to muster new forces and join the rebellion that was now well and truly on the boil throughout the west of Ireland. She attacked Bingham’s army, carried soldiers to join the rebel forces, raided seaports and generally made a serious nuisance of herself. Bingham tried all he could to dislodge her from her power base by using a scorched earth policy – indiscriminate killing, destruction of land, livestock and shipping until Grace finally had enough and wrote to Elizabeth I about the injustices done in her name. In the letter she requested that the Queen give her freedom to attack all the Queen’s enemies. In return the Queen sent a number of questions to Grace regarding her life, politics and activities. Whereupon, perhaps fearing he was being outmanoeuvred by Grace, Bingham arrested Grace’s son and brother and accused them of treason. That was the final straw. Grace upped anchor and sailed to Greenwich to see the Queen in person. Furious, Bingham dashed off a letter denouncing her as a traitor…”the nurse of all rebellions.”

And so Grace, the Pirate Queen met Elizabeth I the English Queen and it appears that the two ladies got on well together. It must have been a strange meeting – the elderly regal Elizabeth and the weather-beaten Irish pirate, yet there were common strands in their lives; both knew power and how to use it; both had spent much of their days fighting for their rights and their lives. The outcome of the meeting was a letter from Elizabeth to Bingham ordering him to release Grace’s son and brother and restore all her property. Furthermore she informed Bingham that Grace had the Queen’s permission to “fight in our quarrel with all the world” without let or hindrance as it were.

With the security of the Queen’s letter behind her Grace resumed business as usual, eventually dying in (it is suggested) 1603…coincidentally the year of the death of Elizabeth.

A NOBLE ENDEAVOUR

For a couple of years I lived in a seaside village in East Yorkshire when, in autumn and early spring, storms would blow in. Sometimes I watched from the cliff tops as huge waves, crested white, rolled relentlessly on to the beach smashing themselves in fury against the cliffs. The raw power of the sea, uncontrollable, unfettered, filled me with awe tinged with not a little fear. Occasionally I would catch a flicker of light on the horizon – some ship making for shelter or just riding out the storm. I tried to imagine what it must feel like to be out there and what it must have felt like in earlier times before modern technology made the sea a slightly safer place. There were times when I watched the RNLI lifeboat launch when it seemed almost impossible for it to remain afloat and admired the courage and dedication of the crew. When all else fails it is the bravery and determination of lifeboat crews and coastguards that save lives.

This is the story of the day of February 10th 1871 when a violent gale tested the courage of all who went to assist ships and sailors in distress.

For several days earlier atrocious weather forced ships to seek shelter in ports along the north eastern coast of Britain. When a break in the weather occurred, a convoy left shelter and headed south. But the westerly wind that helped them on their way dropped suddenly on the evening of February 9th and many of the ships were becalmed in Bridlington Bay on the east coast of Yorkshire. In the early hours of the morning of February 10th the wind got up, increasing in strength and bringing a maelstrom of sleet and snow. Crucially, it also changed direction and blew from the south-east straight into Bridlington Bay and in doing so trapped many of the ship in the Bay.

In the grey morning light, lifeboats and all their crews were readied. Clearly many of the ships were in great danger. Some captains tried to run their ships ashore for safety; others, choosing to ride out the storm, found their vessels driven mercilessly onto the shore by huge waves and boiling surf. Bit by bit, with anchors dragging behind them, 17 ships were thrown ashore to be pounded and smashed up by mountainous waves.

Both Bridlington lifeboats were launched. The local coastguards swam or waded chest-high through turbulent surf to pull crews off the nearer wrecks and get them to safety. Townsfolk ran to the sea walls to help out wherever they could.

The lifeboat Robert Whitworth went out time after time to the wrecks, snatching the sailors from certain death. In one case its crew fought for two hours to reach a vessel but was repeatedly beaten back. On returning to harbour, exhausted crew members were lifted from the boat with hands raw and bleeding from the oars. By this time conditions were so dangerous the Robert Whitworth was withdrawn from service, having saved 12 lives.

Meanwhile the other Bridlington lifeboat, the Harbinger, put out to sea again and again and as one crewman fell exhausted another stepped forward to take his place. However, after the seventh launch, during which sailors from another four vessels were safely recovered, replacement crew were becoming difficult to find. At this point it appeared that the Harbinger, like the Robert Whitworth, would have to be withdrawn.

It was then that David Purdon, Harbinger’s builder and John Clappison, his assistant, stepped up and volunteered to take her out. Another seven men came forward to help. They set off to rescue the crew of the brig Delta, aground and breaking up on Wilsthorpe Sands. On the way they came across another grounded vessel and took off the five man crew, landed them and then turned back to the brig. When they finally got there only one crew member, the captain, remained, clinging desperately to the rigging. The rest had taken to the brig’s lifeboat and drowned when it capsized.

Just as the Harbinger hove alongside the Delta a tremendous wave struck the brig sending her crashing into the lifeboat. The lifeboat, hit by the same wave, was thrown into the air and turned turtle. For a few minutes the Harbinger hung upside down until another wave righted her. Only crewman Richard Bedlington remained in the boat; he helped another, John Robinson, to climb back in, using his scarf as a rope. One further crew member, Richard Hopper, managed to scramble back aboard. The six other lifeboat crew all perished, including the first two volunteers David Purdon and John Clappison. All the boat’s oars were lost or smashed and eventually the boat drifted ashore near Wilsthorpe.

As the day wore on the destruction and loss of life continued as it became almost impossible to launch rescues, though not for want of trying. Those on shore could only watch helplessly as men struggled for their lives. A contemporary report describes how, ‘the piercing cries of the drowning crews were frequently heard amidst the howling of the storm’.

All through the night distress signals were seen far out at sea. At daybreak on February 11th the wind dropped and the devastation of the storm was revealed. Estimates put the number of ships lost to be around 30 and the number of lives lost to be 70.

On February 14th the first mass funeral took place. An estimated 4,000 people turned out to pay their respects. A public fund was set up to assist the widows and orphans of those lost as well as those who manned the lifeboats. Public subscriptions also paid for a monument erected over the mass grave at Priory Churchyard in Bridlington in memory of all those lost. The inscriptions serve to remind us of the price paid that terrible day. On one side of the monument the inscription gives the names of those lost, ‘whilst nobly endeavouring to save those whose bodies rest below’. The other three sides contain inscriptions, ’in lasting memory of a great company of Seamen who perished in the fearful gale… on February 10th 1871’, listing the names and number of ships lost before finishing with the grim tally, ‘Forty-three bodies of those who on that day lost their lives, lie in this churchyard’.

(Extract from “Close to the Edge – Tales from the Holderness Coast” )

Memorial - Bridlington Priory Church

Memorial – Bridlington Priory Church

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