Storms, Surges and Floods

The storm surges of yesterday created wide-spread flooding all along the east coast of England. Last night the villagers of Kilnsea, a village on the edge of the Holderness coast near Spurn Head, were advised to evacuate their homes.

Kilnsea, low-lying, exposed to the elements and manna to a hungry North Sea was, according to the Domesday Book, originally  established on a hill and an inland village some distance from the sea. Later descriptions tell us of a scattering of cottages with gardens clustered around the Medieval church. On the village green stood a large stone cross originally taken from the ancient and lost town of Ravenser. It had been erected there to commemorate the landing of Henry VI in 1399 but was removed to Kilnsea when the sea took that town.

Eventually though, the sea worked its mischief in Kilnsea and by the early 19th century the village was under attack. In 1822 the village comprised the church and around 30 houses; thirty years later only a handful of houses and the foundations of the church remained and by 1912 all these had gone.

The indefatigable walker and writer, Walter White, gives us an account of his visit to the village in 1861* when he stopped off for a pint or two at the Crown and Anchor pub and learned something of the village’s history:

The place itself has a special interest, telling, so to speak, its own history—a history of desolation. The wife, pointing to the road passing between the house and the beach, told me she remembered Kilnsea church standing at the seaward end of the village, with as broad a road between it and the edge of the cliff. But year by year, as from time immemorial the sea advanced, the road, fields, pastures, and cottages were undermined and melted away. Still the church stood, and though it trembled as the roaring waves smote the cliff beneath, and the wind howled around its unsheltered walls, service was held within it up to 1823. In that year it began to yield, the walls cracked, the floor sank, the windows broke; sea-birds flew in and out, shrieking in the storm, until, in 1826, one-half of the edifice tumbled into the sea, and the other half followed in 1831. The chief portion of the village stands on and near the cliff, but as the waste appears to be greater there than elsewhere, houses are abandoned year by year.

Kilnsea exists, therefore, only as a diminished and diminishing parish, and in the few scattered cottages near the bank of the Humber. The old font was carried away from the church to Skeffling, where it is preserved in the garden of the parsonage.

Another writer (Geoffrey de Sawtry) notes rather waspishly that in this now churchless village:

“they have set apart a room for divine service, in which it is performed every third Sunday, weather permitting; otherwise, it is reported, the worthy pastor, feeling for his flock, grants them an indulgence to remain indoors and takes the same himself’.”

When the weather did permit, the faithful were called to their improvised place of worship by the church bell which was suspended from a beam in a stack yard and struck by throwing stones at it.

Even though Kilnsea has resettled itself to the west it is still being chased further inland by flooding and by the sea. I hope that despite last night’s depredations everyone at risk anywhere along the coast kept safe.

(*A Month in Yorkshire by Walter White)