I’m Almost There!

Almost where? I hear you ask. Answer – ready to upload “Close to the Edge – Tales from the Holderness Coast” which, at the risk of driving you into mild catalepsy is my local history book about the East Coast of Yorkshire.

The Holderness Coast, East Yorkshire

The Holderness Coast, East Yorkshire

The book has taken around 18 months of research, writing and faffing, including an abortive sojourn at a publishing house (for which, if I’m honest I still bear a grudge). On reflection a good lump of that time was taken up with editing, copy reading, obtaining permissions/rights and I still worry that someone will find a typo.

On doing yet another re-read last night it was good to remember how many people and organisations have indirectly contributed – not in the least local museums and libraries. I know these invaluable institutions are under threat from “austerity measures” in the UK so I wanted to use this space to give a shout to some of them and urge anyone looking to spend a bit of time on this eroding coastline to go and visit.

So roll of honour:

Hornsea Museum situated in an old farmhouse in the centre of the town. Don’t be deceived by the apparent smallness of the building – it takes a good while to get round and is packed full of great exhibits. (Sorry Hornsea Museum – I don’t have a photo of you.)

Withernsea Lighthouse Museum – situated – yes you’ve guessed it in Withernsea. It stands, a little incongruously in the middle of the town and has some interesting coastguard and RNLI displays and selections of old photographs relating to local history.

Withernsea Lighthouse and Museum

Withernsea Lighthouse and Museum

The Bayle Museum in Bridlington is located in the old gateway to Bridlington Priory, itself a victim of his royal humpingness, Henry VIII. It is dedicated to the history of the town of Bridlington.

The Bayle Gate, Bridlington

The Bayle Gate, Bridlington

All three museums give a great flavour of times past on the coast and are open now, for the season. Check websites for details.

In addition to the museums I made shameless use of three libraries when researching “Close to the Edge” – these were Hornsea, Bridlington and Beverley libraries. Since libraries seem to be becoming endangered species I’d just like to say that without their helpful staff and the ability to plunder their resources I wouldn’t have been able to write “Close to the Edge.” Thank you one and all.

Close to the Edge – Tales from the Holderness Coast is scheduled for publication as an e-book on 1 June and will be available from Amazon – that is gremlins permitting.

For Those in Peril on the Sea

The UK seems to be the target for a particularly nasty storm over the next 48 hours so I thought it appropriate to give you this story. I need only add that now, as in 1871, the Lifeboat Service (RNLI) is manned by volunteers.

On 10 February 1871 a violent gale tested to the limits the courage of all who went to assist ships and sailors in distress.

For several days earlier the weather had been atrocious and ships huddled for shelter where they could.  When a break in the weather occurred, a large convoy of ships made a break for it and headed south towards Bridlington. However, the westerly wind that helped them on their way dropped suddenly on the evening of 9th February and many ships were becalmed in Bridlington Bay. In the early hours of the morning of 10th February the wind got up, increasing in strength all the while, bringing sleet and snow with it until it turned into a vicious ice-storm. Crucially, the wind changed direction, blowing from the south-east straight into Bridlington Bay and in doing so bottled up many of the becalmed ships.

As soon as grey morning light broke it was obvious that many of the ships were in great danger. Some masters tried to run their ships ashore for safety, others, tried to ride out the storm but were driven mercilessly onto the shore by the huge waves and boiling surf. Bit by bit, with anchors dragging behind them, seventeen ships were thrown ashore to be pounded and smashed up by mountainous waves.

The two Bridlington lifeboats launched and the rocket crews assembled. 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.

Both lifeboats, the Robert Whitworth and the Harbinger went out time after time to the wrecks snatching the sailors from certain death. On returning to harbour, exhausted crew members were lifted from the boats with hands raw and bleeding from the oars. By this time conditions were so dangerous the Robert Whitworth was withdrawn from service having saved twelve lives.

The Harbinger continued its work and as one crewman fell to exhaustion another stepped forward to take his place until after the seventh launch no replacement crew could be found. At this point it appeared that the Harbinger, like the Robert Whitworth would have to be withdrawn.

However when David Purdon, Harbinger’s builder and John Clappison, his assistant, stepped up and volunteered to take her out another seven volunteers came forward. They set off to rescue the crew of a 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 they found only one crew member, the Captain, clinging desperately to the rigging. All the others had taken to the brig’s lifeboat and drowned when it capsized. Just as the Harbinger got alongside the Delta a tremendous wave struck the brig sending her crashing into the lifeboat. The lifeboat, struck by the same wave, was thrown into the air and turned turtle. For a few minutes the Harbinger remained upside down until another wave righted her. Just one crewman, Richard Bedlington managed to stay in the boat – all the others being plunged into the sea. Bedlington dragged one crewman back in, using his scarf as a rope and a third Richard Hopper, managed to scramble back aboard. The six other lifeboat crew all perished including the first two volunteers David Purdon and John Clappison.

As the day wore on the destruction and loss of life continued as it became almost impossible to launch rescues although 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 but by daybreak on the 11th February the wind dropped and the devastation of the storm revealed. Debris littered the beaches amongst the wreckage of the vessels. Estimates put the number of ships lost to be around 30; the exact number of lives lost is not known but generally estimated at around 70. Corpses were still washing ashore two weeks after the storm.

On February 14th the first funeral took place of three captains, nineteen sailors and James Watson a crewman from the Harbinger. People turned out in their hundreds to pay their respects and a public fund was set up to assist the widows and orphans of those lost. A monument erected over the mass grave at the Priory Churchyard in Bridlington serves to remind us of the price paid that terrible day. On one side of the monument the inscription gives the names of those lifeboat men lost “whilst nobly endeavouring to save those whose bodies rest below”.

The other three sides  list 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.”


The Bolliton Jackdaws

Bridlington is the largest town on the Holderness coast – although its competition is pretty limited so that’s not saying much. Its moniker has changed several times over the years and includes that of Bolliton. During the research for my book about life on the coast I tripped over references to the Bolliton Jackdaws. So at the risk of a serious wigging from the residents of that good town, here’s the story of how Bridlington folk became known as Bolliton Jackdaws.

The Priory Church in Bridlington is one of the oldest parish churches in the East Riding. Naturally, such a venerable old lady needs a few repairs from time to time…which of us doesn’t? So, many years ago a number of workmen were employed to repair the church roof. To accomplish said repairs a very long timber beam needed to be taken into the church and then raised up to the rafters. The beam duly arrived at the west entrance to the church where the workmen found that its length was greater than the width of the doorway.


This hitch brought work to a sudden stop and the men huddled together to work out the puzzling question of how to get the beam into the church? They lit the blue touch paper of their collective brain and stepped back to watch the ideas fizzle.

“We could” they exclaimed,” saw the beam in half; cut a bit off each end; knock out a few of the stones either side of the doorway until it was wide enough…”

As this brainstorming session continued one of the workmen happened to look up at the steeple – a des. res. for birds and watched a jackdaw building its nest.  It would fly to its chosen crevice with the end of a long straw in its mouth. Once on the edge of the crevice it dragged the straw into its new home.

The workman seeing this miracle of engineering suddenly exclaimed,

“Did ya see that, lads ! Yon bird tewk ‘is straw in endways on.  That’s what we’re bahn to do. Let’s see if this beeam’ll gan in seeam way.”

The workman’s mates were fair betwattled by such inspiration. Immediately they turned the beam end- wise, and moved  it into the church without any difficulty at all.

From that time onwards all natives of Bridlington have been called “Bolliton Jackdaws.”

Naturally I don’t believe a word of the story. I know how much “nous” Yorkshire folk have so I expect it’s probably a scurrilous tale set about by those Lancastrians away over the Pennines.

Have a good weekend.