From the book "Filey - a Yorkshire fishing town" by Irene E Allen and Andrew A Todd
It was inevitable that Filey men should have been regularly involved with the Filey Lifeboat, either rescuing fellow fishermen and seamen, or being rescued themselves! The first Filey Lifeboat was built in 1823 at Scarborough by the boatbuilder Skelton who, of course, built the many Filey luggers. The Royal National Lifeboat Institute took over the running of the lifeboat in 1852, at the request of the Filey committee, and from then records of launchings and rescues have been kept. The first lifeboat was 30 feet long, and rowed by 12 oars. It had an unfortunate characteristic in that if it ever capsized it stayed capsized! [Golf,Lima Foxtrot, Echo 1976] Even later lifeboats did not entirely inspire the confidence of the fishermen. One Filey Jenkinson in the late 1950's reckoned that he felt safer in a coble than in a lifeboat, and he was a former lifeboat coxswain! [W R Mitchell - Life on the Yorkshire Coast Dalesman 1982]
Nonetheless, the fishermen owed a good deal to the lifeboat over the years. In February 1892, George Jenkinson's "Thomas and Mary" (probably 1834-1913) and William Jenkinson's (1840-1908) "Admiral Mitford" were landing fish at Filey by means of their corfes when the sea suddenly became very heavy. The lifeboat had to be called out to get the crews safely back to their boats. [Filey Post feb 1892]
On December 16th 1899, 33 cobles were north of Filey Brigg when a gale sprang up. Matthew Jenkinson ("Old Brazzy" 1850-1929)commanded the lifeboat in its rescue operation. Richard Cammish Jenkinson's coble "Hermione", was swamped, and he and his crew were saved [Filey Post 16th December 1899]. Three months later, the unfortunate Richard Cammish Jenkinson was again rescued when "Hermione" was struck by the 1950 ton "Water Witch" , but his boat did not survive.
Throughout summer, an old fisherman would act as caretaker at the lifeboat station, to tell visitors about the service and sell fundraising gifts. A young boy on holiday, JS Wane, recorded a conversation with such a caretaker in his diary(Sunday 13th Spetmber 1908):
"In the afternoon we paid our first visit to the Brigg, stopping on the way down to the Lifeboat house. The talkative old man was still there and recognised us. 'Ye stayed at Jenkinson's he said , and explained at great length how he was related to the Jenkinson family. He said he was growing old and he was glad there were only three weeks more for him to sit on duty in the doorway. 'For, by Goid, 'tis draughty,' he added, regardless of the printed notice forbidding profanity in the lifeboat-house! He said he remembered things '70 years back'. Then pricked by conscience, 'Well, 60'"
Between 1823 and 1976, over 418 people were rescued by the Filey lifeboat. A modern coxswain, Thomas Chapman Jenkinson ("Eamen" son of Edmond Jenkinson (c1890-1965)) explained to the "Yorkshire Life" (July 1973) why Filey men were ready to man the lifeboat. Both his father and grandfather had been lifeboatmen, and his brother, Frank Chapman Jenkinson, was then the second coxswain:
"We never had any shortage of men wanting to join the crew. They don't do it for personal gain. Most of the crew get a retainer, but it certainly doesn't take account of the great risk which is often involved to human life. They do it because they feel it's their duty."
Filey did not acquire a motor powered lifeboat until 1940, so the days when rescue relied upon sail and oar power are well within living memory. To gain an insight into lifeboat operation in the decade prior ot the arrival of Filey's first motor lifeboat, "The Cuttle", we were fortunate to examine the "Returns of the Filey Life Boat", which had to be sent to RNLI headquarters. Diplicates of these returns are held locally. Also, Foster Holmes Jenkinson was able to embroider these reports with much colourful detail!
One especially humourous lifeboat rescue was that of the "James Lay". On the 12th January 1932, this London trawler, bound for the Humber, was sailing south along the Yorkshire coast in thick fog, loaded with its Icelandic catch. The boat's log line, apparently, had been lost, so the Captain was uncertain of the distance he had travelled. It seems that he mistook Filey Brigg for Spurn Point, swung to the west to enter the Humber Estuary, and ran aground onto the sands of Filey Bay! Local tradition has it that a Filey coble hailed the "James Lay" in this predicament, to see if he required assistance. (coble crews could augment their incomes by getting a "foy" - payment for helping a boat in distress). The Captain replied that he needed no assistance, reasoning that the rising tide would allow him back off the sands, and refloat. According to local rumour, the coble crew did not let him know he was not in the Humber, calculating (perhaps?) that as long as he thought he was, it would only be a matter of time before he grounded again and did need a foy boat! Eventually, the boat did refloat, and the Captain set course north, along what he took to be the mouth of the Humber, west of Spurn Point. Moments later, at about 8am, he collided with the rocks of Filey Brigg! Five cobles were soon in attendance, more than ready to help, but they were unable to get the boat off at high tide in the evening. A gale sprang up and the "James Lay" sent up distress signals around 9-15pm. The lifeboat, "Hollon the Third" (Coxswain Richard Cammish Jenkinson - "Dicky Hoy"), was launched at 9.45pm and reached the stranded boat 20 minutes later, only to find that the crew had walked to Filey along the sands!
Foster at the time was in the top class at the church school, and his class teacher Mr Spencer was a free lance reporter from Driffied who made extra cash by sending stories about such wrecks to national newspapers. Mr Spencer, doubtless in pursuit of some first hand copy, managed to persuade the headmaster, Walter Flather, that it would be of educational value if the top class were taken onto the Brigg for the morning to see the grounded trawler.
This motley group of scholars was duly taken up onto the wet, muddy promontory. All the "rogues" of the class delibarately jumped into as much mud as possible so that they would be unfit to return to school after dinner. As a result, half the class was missing in the afternoon, and Mr Spencer received a verbal drubbing from the headmaster!
The skipper of the "James Lay" decided that his boat would refloat at the next high tide, and so left two of his crew on board, to stand guard against the intentions of "Filey pirates". It was expected that the boat would be there for some days, so that evening (the 13th) the two men whiled away the time yarning with three curious lads who had come on board from the town.
At around 9:15pm, the Filey councillor Thomas Cappleman Jenkinson ("Titch") was coming ashore in his motor coble, having put some long lines into the sea to lie overnight. He noticed that the "James Lay" had been refloated by a change of wind, but he was drifting in the bay, with the five yarners aboard! "Titch" reported this to the Charles Burgess, the Lifeboat Secretary; a message was sent to the tractor driver; and coswain "Dicky Hoy" took out the "Hollon the Third" to rescue the "James Lay" for the second time in two days. It was back within two hours, having successfully taken off the "five" crew. Foster, acting under instructions from Mr Spencer, rang in an account of these proceedings to Driffield, and a report was in the press the next day! The "James Lay" finally set off for Hull in the morning.
Somebody at least, from amongst the Filey Foy hunters would claim something from the incident. Secretary Charles Burgess penned his report to the RNLI on the 14th January, and asked, "does councillor Jenkinson get anything for bringing message?" We don't know if he did!
Filey cobles would naturally head straight for any distressed boat, since a share in the salvage could be quite profitable. About 6:30 am on the 8th February 1932, three weeks after the "James Lay" rescue, the Hull trawler "Johannesburg" ran ashore on the north side of Filey Brigg. About 20 Filey fishermen got aboard, to render assistance to the crew of eight! The whole town watched the ensuing events from the cliff top. The lifeboat was launched, but the skipper refused help. In the afternoon, however, the sea got very rough, and the trawler began to move. The lifeboat successfully removed all the crew in dangerous circumstances, together with about 20 "pirates" (the Filey fishermen, whose cobles could not get the off the trawler on account of the heavy seas!) The committe of management acknowledged this was a particularly well executed rescue and sent a letter of appreciation to the coxswain, "Dick Hoy", and the crew. [Golf, Lima, Foxtrot, Echo 1976]
Sometimes, despite all efforts, the lifeboat would not be able to save the crews of distressed boats. Such a tragic occasion was the loss of the Hull trawler "Skegness" on the 24-25th September 1935. Ironically, Foster suggests, it sees that the skipper of the "Johannesburg", rescued in 1932, unwittingly contributed to the disaster.
The "Skegness" ran aground in the evening with her nose in the rocks below Speeton Cliffs, some four miles south east of Filey. The Captain had radio contact with the "Johannesburg" skipper, G Normandale, who was at Scarborough. From the description that he was given of the lights visible from the "Skegness", Normandale assumed that the trawler had struck the land north of Filey Brigg, where he had been grounded himself three and a half years before. The "Skegness" Captain, therefore, assumed that he would be able to refloat when the tide came in. This may have delayed the start of rescue operations, but in any case the lifeboats from Flamborough, Filey and Scarborough were unable to locate the vessel when they did go out.
Rockets were fired as assembly signals, to alert the crew that they were needed. At night, when men might well be asleep, a "Knocker up" was paid to go round rousing anybody who failed to respond to these maroons.
Conditions that night were very bad. Foster remembers coming out of the Filey cinema around 9:30pm as the rockets went up. He went down to the beach where the lifeboat was being launched. A north east gale was blowing so hard that it was barely possible to stand. Each time the tractor got the boat into the water it was blown back by the wind. The launch took about three quarters of an hour.
Where a boat was on the rocks at the foot of a cliff, it was often more practicable for the rocket brigade (under direction of the coastguard) to attempt to get a line down to the wreck from the cliff top and bring up the crew from above. Foster's brother was with the Filey rocket crew that night. The coatsguards finally located the "Skegness" on this occasion, and the brigade set out from the rocket station by lorry, taking their gear to the cliff top at Speeton. They and the Speeton rocket crew attempted to fire a line down to the boat, but the wind was so strong that each time they tried the line was blown back over their heads into the fields behind. (The cliffs are around 400 feet high at this point).
By their searchlight, the rocket men could see that the rear three quarters of the boat was submerged. A light was visible in the wheelhouse, however, and men could be seen huddled inside it. Some time after midnight the boat was swamped. All eleven men were lost.
Subsequently, only one body was found on board the wreck, in the fish room. More were found amongst the rocks, but the rest were lost without trace. [see also 'Yorkshire Fishing Fleets' and 'Shipwrecks of the Yorkshire Coast' by Arthur Godfrey and Peter J Lassey]
The limitations of oar and sail power were demonstrated in the "Skegness" disaster. 10 men could have considerable difficulty rowing the 35 foot lifeboat in heavy seas so its effectiveness was restricted. The last "sailing and pulling" Filey Lifeboat, the "Thomas Masterman Hardy's" launches,on 25th February 1938, when the Grimsby trawler "Buckingham" ran aground onto the rocks below the cliffs at Hayburn Wyke(?), two miles northwest of Filey. Again, he was leaving the cinema at around 9:30 pm when the rocket fired. He and much of Filey saw the lifeboat being launched into darkness. (The tractor driver was not immediately to hand to push the boat into the water; so all 13 crew got into the sea, trying without success, to hand launch their vessel, before the assistant driver eventually arrived and provided the necessary force!) Foster and his pals then made off across land and reached the Wyke to find that the coastguards had already rigged up searchlights, to see right down onto the deck of the "Buckingham": its stern was well into the water. Several Filey motor cobles, loaded with "foy crews" had got to the scene long before the oar powered lifeboat, the skipper, mindful perhaps of the "Skegness" disaster only three years before, wisely took in his kedge anchor and allowed one of the cobles, the "Dorothy Rose", to pull his boat off the rocks. It was during these proceedings that the "Thomas Masterman Hardy" laboured into view. The crew had rowed hard, for perhaps an hour and a half, to bring the lifeboat the four miles around the Brigg and up the coast, with little wind to assist them. A great cheer went up from the cliff top as she appeared!
Lifeboat operation has changed greatly since the 1930's: Bleepers are now used to summon crews; and the signalman, once so vital for flashing signals by morse code to other boats, or to land, has been made virtually redundant by the wirelesses that are now carried. Yet it is interesting to see that the basic technique of throwing a line to a boat in difficulty can be just as important now as it ever was. From 1898 onwards, the Filey lifeboat crew held quarterly exercises and rocket practices in which a lead line heaving competition was staged. The Filey Post reported (15th January 1898) that Mr Matthew Jenkinson ("Old Brazzy" 1850-1929) was 'close up' to winning the prize of lead line heaving. Two years later Matthew Jenkinson Junior (c1863-1928) took second place. (Filey Post 25th November 1899). One of them did eventually win first prize in 1900 with a throw of 28.5 yards! The inspecting officer was reported in the newspaper as being
"well pleased with the standard and smartness of the men at exercise"
(Filey Post, May 1900).
The lifeboat's running costs were partly raised by an annual "Lifeboat Saturday". The boat would be drawn by horses around the town in August or September. Maroons would be fired, and the crowds would throw coins into the boat as it passed. It would be a happy occasion. But, as "Old Brazzy's" wife said to one visitor,
"Aye, it's all very nice now, but when the maroon goes at two o'clock on a January morning, with a gale from the east, there's a different feeling. I've stood down there by the lamp, watching for t'boat coming back, and worrying if the crew were all safely in it".
[Ted Gower,"Filey" - The lamp that she refers to is a well known landmark at the cliff top end of Queen Street. As it was visible well out to sea, it guided the fishermen home in the darkness. It is still there today]
Thomas Chapman Jenkinson, the coxswain that Yorkshire Life interviewed in 1973 is the third member of the family who has filled the post. Matthew Jenkinson ("Old Brazzy") became 2nd coxswain on the 8th October 1894, and coxswain on the 25th November 1907. The post of the 2nd coxswain had to be filled by the drawing of lots, as two men had been proposed! Richard Cammish Jenkinson ("Dicky Hoy") won, and Thomas Simpson Cammish , his rival, became bowman. As crewmen could not serve beyond the age of 65 after 1909, Matthew Jenkinson retired on 1st October 1915; he was paid a quarterly pension of Â£2, 15 shillings and 4 pence by the RNLI until his death in January 1929; the Institute's Filey Branch cash book also indicates that a wreath, costing 3 shillings was provided for his funeral!
"Old Brazzy" was succeeded by "Dicky Hoy" until his retirement on the 31st January 1934. [Golf, Lima, Foxtrot Echo pp 26-30]. "Dicky Hoy" is a well remembered figure in Filey's Lifeboat history. He was , as we have seen, quite a character! He helped with scores of rescues, disregarded personal danger on countless occasions. Perhaps it was this disregard for danger which sent him out fishing in his coble "Pilot Me" in bad weather on the 27th December 1930. A strong gale blew up and the sea got very heavy. The second coxswain, Billy Robinson, together with Tom Cappleman and Councillor "Titch" Jenkinson approached the secretary, and "Hollon the Third" was launched! 13 crew, 18 helpers, two shaftsmen, four horsemen and their horses, and the leading launcher were involved in "Dicky Hoy's" hour long rescue. "This man should not have gone fishing this morning," secretary Charles Burgess wrote laconically in his return that day!
Richard Cammish Jenkinson died in 1946. He was one of the most decorated lifeboatmen in the country and was so well known amongst the sea going population that his death was an important piece of news. Terence Collins, who had known the man since childhood, was on board a ship in the Indian Ocean when he actually heard "Dicky Hoy's" death announced on "All India Radio"! "I nearly fell out of my bunk" he said.
When Thomas Chapman Jenkinson became coxswain of the Filey lifeboat on the 25th January 1967 , he was following his first cousin three times removed, "Old Brazzy", and his third cousin twice removed, "Dicky Hoy!" The ancestor who connects them together, Robert Jenkinson died in 1808.
This family tradition has not disappeared by any means. The Scarborough Evening News of the 27th March 1984 carried a report that the Filey Lifeboat coxswain Frank Chapman Jenkinson (brother , of course, of Eamen", the earlier cox) was to receive an RNLI award on vellum for his part in the rescue of the crew of the coaster "Rito" in heavy seas off Filey Brigg in December 1983. 14 attempts were made before all four survivors were taken off the listing vessel. The six other Filey lifeboatmen received rescue service certificates - Graham Taylor, Lawrence Goodlad, Colin Haddington, Kenneth Rennie and (as we would expect) two other Jenkinsons, Bruce and Barry!