Bridlington harbour


19th. century information previously published or referred to in lectures by J. S. Purvis and F. Brooks.

This compilation was prepared by John Lyle, (Harbour Commissioner), 1997. The original spelling and punctuation have been retained.

Around Flamborough Head there are two or three inlets which have served for landing places in calm weather for many generations. In Mediaeval times "South Sea" (South Landing) had a pier and ship records refer to a haven there. A. Constable also refers to it, for this inlet is on the sheltered side of the Head and also enjoys a measure of protection given by Smithic Sands. Some few miles SW of the Head, a small stream, known as the Gypsy Race, enters the sea through the present Bridlington Harbour.

No doubt in prehistoric times this inlet was wider than it is today and probably there was more water in the stream so that a ready made way into the Wolds was in early existence. There is evidence of an early trade route between Ireland and Scandinavia in Bronze Age times, and the pattern of tree trunk burials confirm it. There is no definite record of a monastery or harbour until the coming of the Normans.

A Fleming, Gilbert de Gant, received this manor after the Battle of Hastings, and with it the Harbour which he gave to the Prior of Bridlington in 1113 AD. The Harbour was no doubt intended as a source of profit, but it was always expensive to maintain. We have no idea of its size at this time nor do we know if the donor was glad to part with it.

The Chartulary of the Priory refers to a dispute in 1114 AD between Bridlington Priory and Whitby Abbey over tithe enforcement in Bridlington. The Whitby men protested and the matter was soon settled. The Harbour was confirmed to the Priory before 1135 AD by Henry I with quittance of all tolls and claims.

Here we see the intention that the Harbour should be a source of income to the Priory, and this was emphasised. When another grant in the same period gave all kinds of wrecks between Flamborough Head and the Earl's Dike at Barmston to the Prior of Bridlington. About this time some fishermen lived near the Priory in Friskyagate (Street of Fishermen) and Dredgergate, (Street of Trawlermen?). One would be safe in assuming that some kind of dwellings and/or storehouses existed round the Quay.

From early times fish was an important part of people's diet, the North Sea and the Bay were not over fished and sewage was not discharged into the sea. Salting and smoking fish would be done near the harbour and salt was no doubt brought in by sea as well as the land though the Prior had a source of salt at Holbeck, near Leeds. The wool trade grew in importance and if we look at the Chartulary of the Priory we can see how many sheep pasturages were owned by the Cannons. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries we find many records of wool trading.

The Harbour Commissioners have a Harbour boat called "La Mariole" and this name first appeared in records in 1328 when a ship of that name was hired for exporting for £20 on condition that she carried nothing to foreign ports that was forbidden by the King. Eleven years later in 1339 the Prior was accused of wool smuggling in "La Mariole".

It is recorded that the Priory owned its own boats and during the French War of 1341-3. The King impressed one of the boats for use in the war.

Shipbuilding was done here about this time, for in 1401 Henry IV ordered the Bailiffs of Bridlington to build a barge by Easter to convey men and stores to his army in Scotland.

This trade, shipbuilding, and impressing of ships continued throughout the century. No doubt there were many people whose living depended directly on the harbour though some stores would be imported from Hull.

Henry VI, in 1447, out of devotion to St. John of Bridlington, granted permission to the Priory to ship wool up to 30 sacks custom free. This was renewed in 1432 and 1465.

About this time Bridlington was equal third with Jervaulx in the Yorkshire wool producing monasteries - Fountains 76 sacks, Rievaulx 60, Bridlington 50, Jervaulx 50. By present values each sack was worth about £500 in modern money, and 50 sacks were about 8¼ tons.

Cloth was made in Bridlington and exported through Hull, fuller's earth was a necessity for the preparation and we can expect that it formed part of the imports.

Grain was exported, a record dated 1500 AD in the Durham Bursar's Book shows that it was transported to Durham via Sunderland and this was not an isolated case.

Until the Dissolution we have no plan of the Harbour and no Priory Accounts of it, but after the Dissolution there is a plan and many records.

A letter sent to Richard Pollard, one of the Commissioners, is very revealing:

P.R.O.S.P. Hen. viii 1. 241. f.75., 22 June l537.

"Please it your Mastership to be advertised that according to your commandment I have been at Bridlington and had with me there the best mason and carpenter that be in these parts, to look upon and view the key and haven there, and also such stone and timber of the monastery there as was thought should be meet and convenient for the ammending of the said Key and haven; and for a determinate answer in that behalfe before Mr. Boynton, the King's servant and steward of Bridlyington, myself and divers honest men after their knowledge and experience declareth and saith that the stones of the said monastery be so little and small that they cannot make thereof any wall able to withstand and abide the surges and tempests of the seas there; and further they say that an if the said stones were laid and couched with rossell and pitch and also bound together with iron and lead, which should be a great charge and cost to the King's Highness, yet the surges of the seas there be of such violence and the stones be so little and soft that every high tide will burst them up and tear them asunder, and so should all the cost made upon it be utterly cast away. And in consideration hereof I do stay until such time (as) I might advertise your mastership of their opinion in the premises; and under reformation and better advertisement we do think it shall be the best way and least costs and charges to the King's Grace that it be made with timber and stone together as it was before. There may be taken in such woods as now be the King's at Leckenfield and Hawtenprice and other sufficient timber to serve for the said Key, and may be no spoil nor waste, neither hurt the woods in manner anything, for I trust with 6 hundred loads or little more, and such old timber as yet is left, we should make it so well that in a great time it should not need of any reparation. And this timber may be taken in six woods of the King's in that country, which cannot much hurt them. And by this way we shall make the Key substantial and save the King's Highness at the least two hundred pounds; and so shall have it finished in such due time that the country may be served of fuel before winter, for the lack whereof many shall be constrained to fly (out) of the King's grounds to other countries where they may have fire this winter. And if it shall thus stand with the King's pleasure and his honourable council, there must be a warrant sent forthwith to take the said timber, for this summer is so far spent that it may not be deferred any longer if it shall be done the next winter, an else the country shall also be greatly hurt for the lack of fire.

Therefore I humbly beseech your mastership to set it forward with speed, and you shall thereby have my praise and commendation in setting forth such a necessary thing for the wealth of all that country, and also win the hearts of many thousands in these parts which cannot continue unless the said Key be ammended before this winter, as knoweth Almighty God, who preserve your mastership with much worship.

From York the 22 day of June,

Your own servant at commandment Tristram Teshe, Receiver.

To the right worshipful and my very good master Mr. Richard Pollard, one of the King's General Surveyore, these be delivered.
J. J. Purvis, MA, FSA
26. vi. 29."

The earliest map dates from the time of Henry VIII but probably the mediaeval Harbour was very little different. This map shows a short North Pier on the site of the present one, and a South Pier from the end of Langdale's Wharf a little to the North of the old Chicken Run. People could easily get on to the Harbour by Crane Wharf, Ship Hill, Garden Walk at the Clow Bridge end and Langdales Wharf. We know little of the earliest crane on Crane Wharf but a common type was one attached to the end of a building.

Ship building seems to have been done under Garden Walk, near to the present careening frame.

State Papers (1537) in the Public Record Office show that stone from the Priory was used in the pier reconstruction and a general levy of the inhabitants of Bridlington and the neighbourhood took place. One wonders if this was the beginning of the Pier Rate - now almost discontinued. The cost of the 1538-9 work was approximately £15,000 in modern money. The Exchequer Accounts for 1541 show that extensive works were carried out which were hardly less than a complete reconstruction. Sunken jetties were used as outwork defences for the piers and the piers were built in 12 foot rowmes or bays.

In 1554 repairs were necessary, for 10 rowmes were rent 110 fote. The carpenters required 120 trees 1 foot square and 24 foot in length and the nearest were at Yasthropp and Holme in Spaldyngmore. By this time the townsfolk had some kind of organisation for dealing with the Harbour. When the next survey was made in 1580 and indicates Pier Rate in being, Thos Preston the younger, refused to pay his assessment of £17.

The most full and important description of the Harbour is found in the year 1593 (Exchequer Special Commisions, E178.274) A Commission held warrant from the Queen, 5 Commissioners a jury of twelve and a foreman.

A wreck, "Tomblinge" (Tomm) lay across the Harbour and didn't help the sluice whilst the sea cut away the landward end of the pier. Rates and taxations were gathered by the Key Wardens and bestowed on the pier. There was no storehouse, decay in the sluices, decay in the rowmes, but plenty of stones and three score trees bought about Selby.

At the next Manor Court six Key Wardens were to forward the works, they were to appoint a Clerk of Works, to have a chest, etc. and they were the first Harbour Commissioners to be so appointed.

The funds were to be provided by the Feoffees by way of Manor Court Fines and Market and Harbour dues whilst regular pier rates were assessed.

The Harbour was no asset from a financial point of view for the week points at the landward end of the piers and the sluice gates caused much expense.

Queen Elizbeth I offered a grant of 100 pounds and a hundred oaks in addition. Gales in 1537, 1562, 1581, 1591, 1643, 1697, 1717 and other years caused this kind of decay, then the sea worked in and silted up the Harbour. Sea coals were brought into the Harbour and coal was supplied to carts which certainly from as far afield as Elmswell (Best.) in the 17th century.

Fullers earth was imported from the Medway in 1633 and doubtless in many other years but the main trade at this time appeared to be in salt, corn, sparlins deals, balks (timber) beanes, barrels of apples and malt, judging by a year's trade (1642-3).

The Order Book for Hull Trinity House (1632-1665) show that H.T. House had part time offices of the Board at member ports such as Bridlington and Grimsby. They were generally local merchants who were appointed under the House's seal to collect primage and were recompensed by a commission of ¾d. in the pound.

In 1637 private persons had suggested a light on Flamborough Head and Scarborough, Members of the Guild supported it but they were rapped on the knuckles for their pains as the House could see no use in it. In 1642, Isay Newton, master of the Bee (Purvis p.178) was in trouble in Hull Haven as were Jacob Dickinson and Bartholomew Johnson, Mariners of Bridlington.

In 1645, under ship money Bridlington was rated at a ship of 700 tons and 240 men, later two ships of 600 tons and 240 men each.

The 1647 Primage list at Hull indicates how the local collector had to supervise cargoes for this duty:

Every tun of goods - 3d.

Every fother of lead. - 3d.

Every score of corn - five quarters to the tun, outwards. - 12d.

Idem, inwards. - 8d.

Every last of other goods. - 4d.

Every hundred of large fish. - 1½d

Idem, small fish. - 1d.

Every chalder of coals. - 4d.

Every 100 of fir deals. - 12d.

Every 100 of wainscot. - 2s.-0d.

Every 100 of clapboard. - 6d.

Five chist of glass. - 3d.

Truss of cloth. - 4d.

Weigh of white Scottish salt. - 3d.

Weigh of Bay salt. - 4d.

Poke of hops. - 1½d.

Poke of wool. - 1½d.

100 of small sparrs. - 3d.

100 of bum sparrs or youffes. - 6d.

100 of great jeastes. - 2s.-0d.

100 of great balks or beams. - 4s.-0d.

Mast above 6 paumes or under 12. - ½d. per paume.

Mast above 12 paumes. - 1d. per paume.

1000 of bricks. - 3d.

Thousand weight of bark. - 2d.

Bale of mallar. - 1½d.

100 ends of iron. - 4d.

1000 of pipe staves inwards and outwards. - 12d.

The story of Henrietta Maria and the Harbour is too well known for recapitulation even.

The State Papers of the Commonwealth are full of references to ships victualling at Bridlington, to trade here, to fleets of vessels in the corn trade using the Bay and the Harbour for shelter.

In 1652 "Elizabeth" a naval vessel was victualling here and there is mention of vigorous trade in salt and grain. In February 1662 H.T. House received a new Charter and Wm. Bower, Wm. Dickinson, John Bower and Bartholomew Anderson, as representing the Masters, pilots and Mariners of Bridlington had their attention drawn to it, and particularly to the right of the House to licence pilots, collect primage and demanding obedience to the Charter.

In March the same year Arthur Greame was granted a deputation with a schedule or return of goods annexed as a collector of primage at Bridlington Quay, he was to have ¾d. in the pound on all money collected and to render accounts quarterly as from Lady Day.

Trade suffered in some years due to war (Dutch wars) and to the decay in the Harbour.

We have details of Pier Rate and Pier Tolls in "B Charters and Papers". (Purvis)

From the time of Chas. II to the end of the 18th century the Archbishop of York presided over a "Court of Admiralty". Samuel Wearsby, parish clerk at one time, had the responsibility for customs returns and he sent a great deal of information to the Court. In 1676 Thomas Aislaby was collector of customs, he reported 5 ships leaving with grain in one month, the value of trade in that year was £1,000, wheat at 20/- and malt at 15/-.

About 1717 heavy repairs were due to the pier (Purvis) and eventually the stone piers were built in the mid 19th century.

In the 18th century there was a good deal of smuggling in Britain. Many smugglers sailed from Calais or Amsterdam with faked papers for Bergen. The Collector of Bridlington, in 1719, tired of being outwitted was convinced that the clearance which Thomas Webster, Master of the "Isabella" of Dundee produced on demand was bogus. He had not sufficient proof to confiscate the vessel under the Hovering Act so he put two Tide Waiters on board to see that she sailed on her pretended voyage. She loitered off the Scottish Coast and near Dundee the owner came off in a boat to bribe them. They were even offered horses to return to Bridlington but they refused so the vessel went to Bergen and the Cargo was run in Ireland. No one knew what happened to the Tide Waiters.

Between 1730 and 1752 cutters and luggars brought in Geneva and tea at Hull and Bridlington which was eagerly bought by the country people who came down to the shore at Bridlington in great companies.

When a Dundee smuggler that had been playing Cock O'the North in Bridlington Bay in 1731 let it be known that he was afraid of none of the King's sloops except the "Salamand" the Admiralty took him at his word, and ordered Capt. Hutchinson of the "Salamander" to go on patrol there. The smuggler departed! (Contraband Cargoes, Williams.)

At the beginning of the 19th century the Harbour was at its busiest.

In 1816 there were almost 80 grain ships in the year and there was a weekly ship to London. There were 145 Bridlington owned ships in 1820 and between 1829 and 1841 the number of voyages rose from 104 to 158. After the railway appeared the trade diminished rapidly and though the new stone piers were built steamships appeared and the Harbour trade dwindled.

The last Bridlington ship was built in 1843, by 1862 only 6 Bridlington ships were using the Harbour and between them made 44 voyages whilst by 1872 there were only 3 Bridlington ships left.

Link to Sketch maps stored with the above documents, which show the position of Bridlington harbour from earliest times, the harbour in 1590, the development of the piers over the centuries, and the harbour area in 1828.

Taken from a 19th. century collection of information previously published or referred to in lectures by J. S. Purvis and F. Brooks.

This compilation was prepared by John Lyle, (Harbour Commissioner in 1997).


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