Along the Humber
Spurn Head and the Lost Villages
In 1900 - “The atrophied corner of Yorkshire that embraces the lowest reaches of the Humber is terminated by a mere raised causeway leading to the wider patch of ground dominated by Spurn Head lighthouse. This long ridge of sand and shingle is all that remains of a very considerable and populous area possessing towns and villages as recently as the middle of the fourteenth century.
In 1766 the famous John Smeaton was called upon to put up two lighthouses, one 90 feet and the other 50 feet high. The sea repeatedly destroyed the low light, owing to the waves reaching it at high tide. Smeaton's high tower is now only represented by its foundations and the circular wall surrounding them, which acts as a convenient shelter from wind and sand for the low houses of the men who are stationed there for the lifeboat and other purposes.
The present lighthouse is 30 feet higher than Smeaton's, and is fitted with the modern system of dioptric refractors, giving a light of 519,000 candle-power, which is greater than any other on the east coast of England.
In the Middle Ages great fortunes were made on the shores on the Humber. Sir William de la Pole was a merchant of remarkable enterprise, and the most notable of those who traded at Ravenserodd.
The extraordinarily rapid rise of Ravenserodd seems to have been due to a remarkable keenness for business on the part of its citizens, amounting, in the opinion of the Grimsby traders, to sharp practice. For, being just within Spurn Head, the men of Ravenserodd would go out to incoming vessels bound for Grimsby, and induce them to sell their cargoes in Ravenserodd by all sorts of specious arguments, misquoting the prices paid in the rival town. If their arguments failed, they would force the ships to enter their harbour and trade with them, whether they liked it or not.”
But around 1350 it all came to a dramatic end ....
... 'But in those days, the whole town of Ravensere Odd ... was totally annihilated by the floods of the Humber and the inundations of the great sea ... and when that town of Ravensere Odd, in which we had half an acre of land built upon, and also the chapel of that town ... to be shortly swallowed up, which, with a short intervening period of time by those merciless tempestuous floods, was irreparably destroyed.'
The traders and inhabitants generally moved to Kingston-upon-Hull and other towns, as the sea forced them to seek safer quarters.”
“The very beautiful spire of Patrington church guides us easily along a winding lane from Easington until the whole building shows over the meadows.
We seem to have stumbled upon a cathedral standing all alone in this diminishing land, scarcely more than two miles from the Humber and less than four from the sea. No one quarrels with the title 'The Queen of Holderness,' nor with the far greater claim that Patrington is the most beautiful village church in England. With the exception of the east window, which is Perpendicular, nearly the whole structure was built in the Decorated period; and in its perfect proportion, its wealth of detail and marvellous dignity, it is a joy to the eye within and without.
In the eastern aisles of each arm of the transept there were three chantry chapels, whose piscinae remain. The central chapel in the south transept is a most interesting and beautiful object, having a recess for the altar, with three richly ornamented niches above. In the groined roof above, the central boss is formed into a hollow pendant of considerable interest. On the three sides are carvings representing the Annunciation, St. Catherine of Alexandria, and St. John the Baptist, and on the under side is a Tudor rose.
Patrington village is of fair size, with a wide street; and although lacking any individual houses calling for comment, it is a pleasant place, with the prevailing warm reds of roofs and walls to be found in all the Holderness towns.”
“On our way to Hedon, where the 'King of Holderness' awaits us, we pass Winestead Church, where Andrew Marvell was baptized in 1621, and where we may see the memorials of a fine old family—the Hildyards of Winestead, who came there in the reign of Henry VI.
The stately tower of Hedon's church is conspicuous from far away; and when we reach the village we are much impressed by its solemn beauty, and by the atmosphere of vanished greatness clinging to the place that was decayed even in Leland's days, when Henry VIII, still reigned. No doubt the silting up of the harbour and creeks brought down Hedon from her high place, so that the retreat of the sea in this place was scarcely less disastrous to the town's prosperity than its advance had been at Ravenserodd; and possibly the waters of the Humber, glutted with their rapacity close to Spurn Head, deposited much of the disintegrated town in the waterway of the other.
The nave of the church is Decorated, and has beautiful windows of that period. The transept is Early English, and so also is the chancel, with a fine Perpendicular east window filled with glass of the same subtle colours we saw at Patrington.”
“In approaching nearer to Hull, we soon find ourselves in the outer zone of its penumbra of smoke, with fields on each side of the road waiting for works and tall shafts, which will spread the unpleasant gloom of the city still further into the smiling country. The sun becomes copper-coloured, and the pure, transparent light natural to Holderness loses its vigour. Tall and slender chimneys emitting lazy coils of blackness stand in pairs or in groups, with others beyond, indistinct behind a veil of steam and smoke, and at their feet grovels a confusion of buildings sending forth jets and mushrooms of steam at a thousand points. Hemmed in by this industrial belt and compact masses of cellular brickwork, where labour skilled and unskilled sleeps and rears its offspring, is the nucleus of the Royal borough of Kingston-upon-Hull, founded by Edward I at the close of the thirteenth century.
It would scarcely have been possible that any survivals of the Edwardian port could have been retained in the astonishing commercial development the city has witnessed, particularly in the last century; and Hull has only one old street which can lay claim to even the smallest suggestion of picturesqueness. The renaissance of English architecture is beginning to make itself felt in the chief streets, where some good buildings are taking the places of ugly fronts; and there are one or two more ambitious schemes of improvement bringing dignity into the city; but that, with the exception of two churches, is practically all.
When we see the old prints of the city surrounded by its wall defended with towers, and realize the numbers of curious buildings that filled the winding streets—the windmills, the churches and monasteries—we understand that the old Hull has gone almost as completely as Ravenserodd. It was in Hull that Michael, a son of Sir William de la Pole of Ravenserodd, its first Mayor, founded a monastery for thirteen Carthusian monks, and also built himself, in 1379, a stately house in Lowgate opposite St. Mary's Church. Nothing remains of this great brick mansion, which was described as a palace, and lodged Henry VIII during his visit in 1540. Even St. Mary's Church has been so largely rebuilt and restored that its interest is much diminished.
The great Perpendicular Church of Holy Trinity in the market-place is, therefore, the one real link between the modern city and the little town founded in the thirteenth century. It is a cruciform building and has a fine central tower, and is remarkable in having transepts and chancel built externally of brick as long ago as the Decorated Period. The De la Pole mansion, of similar date, was also constructed with brick — no doubt from the brickyard outside the North Gate owned by the founder of the family fortunes. The pillars and capitals of the arcades of both the nave and chancel are thin and unsatisfying to the eye, and the interior as a whole, although spacious, does not convey any pleasing sensations. The slenderness of the columns was necessary, it appears, owing to the soft and insecure ground, which necessitated a pile foundation and as light a weight above as could be devised.
William Wilberforce, the liberator of slaves, was born in 1759 in a large house still standing in High Street, and a tall Doric column surmounted by a statue perpetuates his memory, in the busiest corner of the city. The old red-brick Grammar School bears the date 1583, and is a pleasant relief from the dun-coloured monotony of the greater part of the city.”
“In going westward we come, at the village of North Cave, to the southern horn of the crescent of the Wolds. All the way to Howden they show as a level-topped ridge to the north, and the lofty tower of the church stands out boldly for many miles before we reach the town. The cobbled streets at the east end of the church possess a few antique houses coloured with warm ochre, and it is over and between these that we have the first close view of the ruined chancel. The east window has lost most of its tracery, and has the appearance of a great archway; its date, together with the whole of the chancel, is late Decorated, but the exquisite little chapterhouse is later still, and may be better described as early Perpendicular. It is octagonal in plan, and has in each side a window with an ogee arch above. The stones employed are remarkably large. The richly moulded arcading inside, consisting of ogee arches, has been exposed to the weather for so long, owing to the loss of the vaulting above, that the lovely detail is fast disappearing.”
“About four miles from Howden, near the banks of the Derwent, stand the ruins of Wressle Castle. In every direction the country is spread out green and flat, and, except for the towers and spires of the churches, it is practically featureless. To the north the horizon is brought closer by the rounded outlines of the wolds; everywhere else you seem to be looking into infinity, as in the Fen Country.
The castle that stands in the midst of this belt of level country is the only one in the East Riding, and although now a mere fragment of the former building, it still retains a melancholy dignity. Since a fire in 1796 the place has been left an empty shell, the two great towers and the walls that join them being left without floors or roofs.
Wressle was one of the two castles in Yorkshire belonging to the Percys, and at the time of the Civil War still retained its feudal grandeur unimpaired. Its strength was, however, considered by the Parliament to be a danger to the peace, despite the fact that the Earl of Northumberland, its owner, was not on the Royalist side, and an order was issued in 1648 commanding that it should be destroyed ... That this was done with great thoroughness, despite the most strenuous efforts made by the Earl to save his ancient seat, may be seen to-day in the fact that, of the four sides of the square, three have totally disappeared, except for slight indications in the uneven grass.”
“We have seen the astonishingly tall spire of Hemingbrough Church from the battlements of Wressle Castle, and when we have given a last look at the grey walls and the windows, filled with their enormously heavy tracery, we betake ourselves along a pleasant lane that brings us at length to the river. The soaring spire is 120 feet in height, or twice that of the tower, and this hugeness is perhaps out of proportion with the rest of the building; yet I do not think for a moment that this great spire could have been different without robbing the church of its striking and pleasing individuality. There are Transitional Norman arches at the east end of the nave, but most of the work is Decorated or Perpendicular. The windows of the latter period in the south transept are singularly happy in the wonderful amount of light they allow to flood through their pale yellow glass. The oak bench-ends in the nave, which are carved with many devices, and the carefully repaired stalls in the choir, are Perpendicular, and no doubt belong to the period when the church was a collegiate foundation of Durham.”
More to follow ....