Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 5/The invasion of Yorkshire

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search




Exposed in olden times to the ravages of the fierce, long-haired Northmen, the East Riding of Yorkshire has never ceased to be a prey to a more insidious, irresistible, and fatal assailant, who has not only devastated, but actually carried off great portions of the land, with the ports, villages, churches, and churchyards thereunto belonging. A walk along any part of the dull, low-lying, muddy shore, between the lonely little light-house at Spurnhead and Easington, where the chalk heights commence, will afford abundant evidence of the abstraction of many broad, fat acres; and more than one spot can be pointed out beneath the waters, once the site of a flourishing port or village, of which the mournful legend runs: “Here stood Auburn, washed away by the sea.” For the sea it is that has done all the mischief, making vast inroads on the coast, and every day carrying the siege further into the country. For centuries this ceaseless conflict has been going on between sea and land, and clearly the sea is having the best of it. The lost towns of Yorkshire—little ports and hamlets of the existence of which we have authentic evidence in the old chronicles, but which have been entirely swallowed up by the sea—form and numerous array—Ravenspur, Ravensrod, Redmore, Tharlesthorp, Frismersh, Potterfleet, Upsal, Auburn, Winkton, Hornsea Beck, and Hyde or Hythe. Some of these were situated on the banks of the Humber, others on the shores of the ocean. Of these Ravenspur and Ravensrod or Ravenser Odd, as it is sometimes called, were among the most notable. Ravenspur was situated on the long, narrow spit of land which juts out into the German Ocean, at the mouth of the Humber, and on which now stands the lighthouse; and from its prominent situation, intercepted a great deal of the traffic which would otherwise have gone to Grimsby or Hull. Ravensrod was a neighbour and offshoot of Ravenspur. It occupied a low islet, which was accessible from the mainland by a flat ridge of sand and pebbles. Five hundred years back it was a flourishing seaport, eclipsing its progenitor and exciting the jealousy of the “good men of Grimsby” on the opposite bank. In Edward the Second’s time it was of sufficient importance to attract the royal attention, and to bring down upon itself demands for a ship, arms, and provisions. But the sea swept it all away, after an existence of half a century. Ravenspur survived it, but ultimately shared the same fate. The date of its final disappearance is unknown; but it is probable that its inhabitants found reason to abandon it before it was engulfed in the waters.

Hyde appears to have been a well-to-do fishing-village—at least one may suppose so, from the fact that it paid thirty pounds per annum to the monks of Meaux, as its tithe for fish. The whirligig of time, however, brings round its revenges, and the fish at length

And sat nothe burghers dispossessed,
And sat not as a meat, but as a guest.

With the churches on the coast the waves have played especial havoc, and many a parish fane has succumbed to their assaults. Kilnsea church was one of the last washed away. The sea sapped the eminence on which it stood, so that it quivered under the shock of the waters. Service, notwithstanding, was held in it up till 1823, and was then discontinued only because the building showed unmistakable symptoms of dissolution. The walls cracked, the floor subsided, the windows broke, the sea-birds flew in and out, and made their nests inside. Half of the church fell into the sea in 1826, and five years later the other half followed. As the sea is gradually gaining ground in the neighbourhood of the cliff on which the church stood, the houses there are being abandoned year by year. At one point forty-three yards of land were swallowed up in six years. The average annual decrease along the coast is two yards and a half.

At Kilnsea, Owthorne, and elsewhere the sea has played the part of body-snatcher, breaking open churchyards and scattering the splintered coffins and dismembered bones in all directions. Travellers, ignorant of the cause, have been shocked and startled at the sight of the human remains which strewed their path, and have experienced somewhat of the same sensation as M. du Chaillu on observing the piles of skulls and bones in the Fan villages.

The Humber is no less destructive than the ocean, and is responsible for the destruction of several of the hamlets above mentioned. In the neighbourhood of Ferriby, so great has been the diminution of land on Lord Carington’s estate, that a readjustment of his tenants’ rents has twice been necessary to meet the altered nature of the holdings. One field of fourteen acres was reduced, in spite of every precaution, to four acres in twenty years, a long, soft sweep of muddy shore usurping the ground where cattle grazed or farming produce grew.

But there is a brighter side to the picture. The “devouring element” has been compelled to disgorge part of its prey. Adjoining the lordship of Patrington is a broad level known as Sunk Island, although only separated by a moat from the mainland. In the days of Charles the Second it consisted of about 3500 acres of “drowned ground,” of which some seven acres were embanked and let for 7l. a year. A hundred years later 1500 acres were under cultivation, yielding an annual rental of 700l. Additions have gradually been made to this rich warp, which now covers 7000 acres, and is worth more than 12,000l. a year. The success of the experiment has led to efforts at reclaiming the stolen soil at other points, which will probably be attended with equal success.

Big bites from the fat Yorkshire coast are not, however, sufficient to satiate the appetite of hungry Ocean. The soil of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Kent, Sussex, and Hampshire is equally to its taste, and many a huge meal it makes of it. What Evelyn in his Diary terms the promontory of Norfolk, is fast being transferred into a bay. At Happisburgh, there is a tradition of an older place of the same name, which must now be looked for among the “sunken wrack and sunless treasure” at the bottom of the sea; and it is feared that the church of young Hapsbro’, as the natives call it, will not long remain on dry land. The greater part of Eccles, and the whole of Shipden have disappeared. At Trimingham upwards of fifty acres of land are said to have been carried off within the last sixty years, and on one occasion four acres and a half were swallowed at one tide! Again, in Suffolk, Dunwich, which was once a respectable port and borough town, has been ruined by the sea, which has washed away the greater part of the town, and is still nibbling at the ground on which the existing village rests. On the east coast of Essex the ruins of buildings have been found at a considerable distance from the land, and near Walton-on-the-Naze a whole churchyard has been engulfed within the memory of the present generation. Similar instances of encroachment by the waters, though not in so alarming a degree as in those are to be found in the southern counties.

Are there no skilful and patriotic engineers among us to enter the lists in defence of their native land against that great despoiler, the “German Ocean?”

J. Hamilton Fyfe