The history of Bridlington harbour and bay is in many ways the story of the lives livelihoods and adventures of countless generations of people – fishermen, sailors and their families – who won an uncertain living from the sea. For many centuries the surrounding seas were also a haunt of pirates whilst smugglers ran their cargoes onto neighbouring coasts.
The seas off the East Yorkshire coast were often on the maritime front line in times of war, especially from the seventeenth century onwards. In February 1643, for example, during the English Civil Wars, Queen Henrietta Maria famously sought refuge in Bridlington Bay after voyaging from Holland with troops and ammunition for the King. When the house she was staying in was bombarded by pursuing parliamentary ships she took cover by the Gypsey Race but succeeded in passing on her cache of weapons to the Royalist forces. These same waters were also a haunt for enemy privateers preying upon the passing merchant fleets during times of war especially during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and in September 1779 also they also bore witness to the legendary Battle of Flamborough Head when the John Paul Jones, one of the iconic figures of US naval history, fought his epic engagement with two British ships just north of Flamborough Head. The sounds of the action were clearly heard in Bridlington.
The North Sea can be a harsh and unyielding place, especially when the weather deteriorates but this stretch of coast not only abounds with the sad stories of stories of shipwreck and loss but also the heroic exploits of local seafarers, people such as Kit Brown who plucked many a soul from the savage seas.
The region was also on the maritime frontline during both twentieth century world wars and witnessed the ebb and flows of the struggle in the North Sea War Channels. If we could drain the seas off this harbour and coast we would be able to see something of this enormous battlefield for the seabed is littered with the remains of hundreds of war-time wrecks, including the cruiser HMS Falmouth, a couple of destroyers and several other warships and U-boats as well as merchant ships steam trawlers and cutters. Apart from those vessels lost in war, many thousands more have succumbed to weather and waves over the centuries. Each wreck has a story to tell about the people who were on board at the time of sinking.
The piers and quays of the harbour have also played a part in the lives of countless numbers of people. In the first half of the twentieth century, for example, they were often the place where Scottish herring lasses came to process the fish landed from large fleets of drifters every summer season. Today no fewer than four hundred people earn their livelihood from this wonderful place which remains a magnet for many thousands of visitors each year
Banner image: ‘Ships’ Unknown artist & date, Courtesy of East Riding Museums Service
John Paul Jones: ‘John Paul Jones’ George Bagby Matthews, c1890 Public domain
Queen Henrietta Maria: ‘Henrietta Maria of France, Queen of England’ Sir Peter Lely, 1660 © Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH / GFDL