Characters of the Filey fishing industry

From the book "Filey - a Yorkshire fishing town" by Irene E Allen and Andrew A Todd


Throughout the winter months, irrespective of weather conditions, a familiar sight on Filey beach was "Jim Buggins", woodbine in mouth, wearing a worn out, patched up oilskin, and invariably accompanied by two dogs. He was "the last of the original sandpokers", always "scratting" with a childs beach spade in the corners where the tide could have washed up coins, or digging up lug worms for bait. He was Filey's prime beachcomer: it was said that "if Jim Buggins had got nowt it was a certainty there was nowt washin ashore!" George Burton remembers Jim's single minded dedication: "No matter what weather, Jim'd be there with two dogs... and all his dogs barked all bloody day long - when he was digging worms they'd be stood just in front of him barkin' into his face. I used to say, "how the hell thoo can stand that Jim?" but Jim was a great lover of animals, an even tempered man who never got "crazed".

Jims would use the worms to bait the "trot" which he and his brother Frank, had on the beach. In the winter they tied a "trot" on the beach. A "trot" which led them to discover and adopt "Bonzo", one of the most famous characters to ever have lived at Filey! "Bonzo" was a seal, named after some comic strip cartoon around at the time of his arrival in Filey in the late 1920's. Foster Holmes Jenkinson wrote down the story thus:

In the middle 1920's neither Jim nor Frank Jenkinson were occupied in winter fishing, but did a little bit of spawing in the summer. In the winter they tied a "trot" on the beach. A "trot" was a row of up to 200 hooks set in a line at low water mark, which was cleared of any fish caught and then rebaited at each tide. Frank's and Jim's trot stretched from the Brigg rocks back towards the coble landing, and "Bonzo" was found on the beach by them early one morning as they went to see the "trot". It was only a pup, very small, probably weighing about 12lbs.

"On my way to school this particular morning, as usual, I went down Providence Place ('Jenk's Alley') and saw old "Jossy Buggins" (George Jenkinson) and his sons, Jim and Frank, emptying the seal pup out of a sack in which they had carried it from the beach. Opposite the houses where they lived in 'Jenk's Alley' was a row of baiting sheds, one of which they used. They then out the seal in a zinc bath full of sea water.

"I'm sure they eventually built a concrete tank in the shed. Anyway they fed the seal all winter and it grew very quickly. I remember going to see it when the shed was open. During the winter, they built a wooden hut with a concrete pool inside on the top end of the coble landing and in the summer "Bonzo" was moved into his new quarters.

"I think they tried to get it back into the sea again, but "Bonzo" preferred hand feeding and always refused to leave the beach. He was looked after by Frank, Jim and "Old Jossy". I understand it wasn't too easy getting fish for him in summer. and they used to get fish heads and offal from Scarborough when Filey cobles were crabbing. Eventually, Franks son Jack left school and he took a big part in entertaining the visitors who were charged admission to see him. "Bonzo" became very attached to Jack and he could do just about anything with the Seal. "Bonzo", by now, was growing huge and they had to build a bigger hut and a larger pool, of course.

"One summer I know they had a hut or tent on the West Pier, at Scarborough, thinking that they would earn more money. However, they only tried it once. "Bonzo" would not settle and refused to do his party tricks and the next summer he was back in Filey".

"Bonzo's accommodation clearly posed problems for the "Buggins" family. Frank Cappleman Jenkinson was taken to court by Walter West in 1934 for at least one year's non payment of rent in respect of wooden erections at Filey... used to house a seal". By this time, "Bonzo" was said to be approaching "the size of the Loch Ness monster!" "Bonzo" was ordered to vacate the premises within 28 days. [Filey Post, January 1934]. The seal became such a celebrity that his passing was reported in the Filey News on 10th August 1940 under the heading "Bonzo is dead!"

Bob Hunter recounted how "Jim Buggins" expertise at sandpoking helped him to solve the mystery of disappearing gully worms. He had dug these fine specimens, and gutted them prior to baiting. The bag in which he had left them was mysteriously raided, without any signs of disturbance. Bob asked Jim's advice when the same happened the following day. As an "expert worm digger", the "short tongued" Jim could instantly diagnose "thoo as a wat!" The offending rat was dealt with by doses of "blue crumbs" and the corpse was subsequently found curled up in one of Bob's crab pots.

Despite the "Buggins" family's venture into the glamorous world of seaside seal showmanship, Jim's income was often uncertain. In summer, he would go salmon fishing and "pleasuring" (he was very well known to visitors), but his wife had to keep in full work to keep the family afloat. She was a devoted wife who thought the world of Jim. "He's a wonderful fellow to me," she would tell George Burton; "by - I was lucky to get him. Do you know, he allus pays for beef!" And that, George told us, was his sum total to keeping the house! "Them's the sort of wives you want," George concludes!

Jim lived next door to his parents, "Jossie" and Pris, in Providence Place. "Old Jossie Buggins" was "a nice old chap", says George, who was a neighbour. He wore a cowboy style felt hat with a band, and "always had a great mug full of baccy!" He would bait lines in an agitated manner, dancing from foot to foot, and as the mussels went on the hooks a shot of brown spit would strike the ground. "It was just as if someone had emptied a tea pot on the floor!" George recalls.

With grandchildren living with the old couple, it must have been a full house. "Old Jossie's" wife, Pris, however, was a firebrand who "could straighten them up: her word was law up that yard with the kids, the bairns and the old man an' all!" Their eldest son, "Jossie" Jenkinson was another characteristically enterprising member of the "Buggins" clan. He lost two sons on the "Research" in 1925; his other son, Matthew "Sailor" Jenkinson played for York City and was reckoned to be the second fastest winger in the Football League.


A little known Filey harvest which ws first gathered in the 18th Century is sea birds eggs. "Egging" is now illegal, but earlier this century there was quite a demand from a number of sources - Filey shops sold them for eating (they fill a frying pan, and can make acceptable omelettes); confectioners used them; tanners used the egg whites to bring up the gloss on the surface of patent leather; and collectors might pay well for unusually marked specimens. There were local "professionals" like Sam Leng who made a full time living from egg gathering during the six week season in May and June. In such cases, the industry was well organised: farmers who owned closes which abutted the cliffs would rent out the climbs for an agreed percentage of the take, and proper winches were used to lower the collector down to the nesting ledges.

A number of young Filey men, however, worked on a semi professional basis away from rented climbs. Foster Holmes Jenkinson remembers Alf Gray and George Burton as experienced "eggers", but one man Tom "Eamen" Jenkinson, was "absolutely fearless". Tom was the coxswain of the Filey Lifeboat, was the son of Edmond "Eamen" Jenkinson. He acquired his skills in Church Ravine: Even as an eight year old, Foster reckons, there was not a tree there that he could not climb(and some of them are huge!) He would sell rook eggs at 2 pence each class mates.

He could scramble down the cliffs where nobody else dared to find a way, and would happily shimmy up or down a single rope hanging from the cliff top. The gear would be provided by Walter Harper, a Filey tradesman who also found local customers for the eggs. North of the Brigg, where the drop is nearly 200 feet, there is a stretch of several hundred yards where the sea never leaves the cliff. Here, Tom would be lowered, in a harness, by his "crew". Wearing plimsolls and an old steel helmet, he would reach some ledge perhaps 60 or 70 feet above the rocks, and leave the harness to move along this precarious shelf! High above, the "crew", unable to see their climber, would wait anxiously for maybe a quarter of an hour whilst the collection was made, wondering wether he had missed his footing and fallen off. Then, three pulls on the guide rope would come as the signal to start hauling Tom back up.

One year, William Harper rented a frontage on Speeton Cliffs, just north of where the "Skegness" was wrecked in 1935. Foster recalls that the drop, perhaps 400 feet, was terrifying: "it made my stomach turn to just look over!" Here there were thousands of eggs, mostly guillemot, and Tom thought nothing of working the cliff face in the usual way. Much of the chalk here was loose, and a swing of the rope could bring down a rock fall. One day, about half a ton fell and , miraculously, only grazed Tom's leg! "He wasn't a bit bothered," Foster told us, "although he did come up swearing his head off!"

The Jenkinson family cannot have been too popular with the local avian population: Tom "Eamen" did his best to get their eggs, and in later life the sea birds ran the horrifying risk of encountering "Squat Penny" and his musket on one of their hat furnishing expeditions. It seems a marvel that there is anything with feathers left around Filey!


Jack "Lorty" Jenkinson was another member of the "Eamen" family. He was the uncle of Tom Jenkinson. He had an unusual skill which he was able to make a summer living from. He suffered a gruesome injury at the age of 16. He worked at St Nicholl's brickworks on Scarborough Road and there, on Saturday 30th June 1900 he caught his arm in a cog wheel of some machinery. The Filey Post of the 7th July reported how the arm was badly crushed from the shoulder to the elbow. Dr Foley sent him immediately to Scarborough Hospital where an amputation was carried out.

Despite this awful setback, "Lorty" made a winter living on a fish round. He even did some garden work. His niece, Edith Horner, told us that he laid out the gardens down at the slope at the bottom of Queen Street. In the summer season he drew pictures on Filey sands, just in front of the sea wall, and visitors would throw coins down to him. In September, during Doncaster race week, he always drew St George's Church and a race horse! In later life, he painted pictures and at least once the proceeds of an exhibition of his work were spent on an outing for hospital patients. A young visitor saw "Lorty's" sand pictures one summer, and many years later wrote this grand dialect ryhme:

Ther was a blooat at Bolli't'n
Maade pickters oot o' sand
Or ootlahned 'em wi' pebbles
'N did it ahll bi 'and

'E'd rooape a bit o' sand off
'N scraape it straight 'n flat,
Then i' bare feeat 'e'd smoothe some,
'N staart ti' dhraw 'o that.

Ther was floowers, castles, choches
Ahll iv'is pickters neat
Fooalks leeaned ower' raailins
'N dhropp'd pennies on 'is sheet

As a bairn, ah yance seed pickters
As waaves cem in yah daay
as sea wesh'd 'em awaay

Yah thing ah've nut fergett'n
This chap, 'e'd bud one arm
Ti dhraw 'n paaint 'is pickters
Seea full o' grace 'n chaarm

It's a lesson wa duc 'eed, fooalks
Wi' bud yah 'and ti employ
'E yewswd 'is preshus talent
To giv us ahll some joy


Matthew Jenkinson used to help the St Oswald's grave digger, Jimmy Douglas, and the sudden emergence of his distinctive square bowler hat from a grave would regularly alarm passers by. He also worked on Smith's Church Farm where fellow workers took advantage of his hardness of hearing to introduce mice on top the rim of his hat, around which they would dart! It would be some moments before the old man became aware of the wild life chasing around his head and brushed them off!

On Tuesday 24th April 1928 he was at work at Church Farms usual. He stopped to rest, and whilst filling his pipe suddenly fell back and died. He had been a member of the Rocket Brigade and had been associated with "Scout", one of the first Filey motor cobles. In his earlier years he had been a boat builder (Filey Post April 1928)


Filey men in their seventies may just remember this tall, quiet old man, a familiar figure sitting in his doorway at no 2 Sandhill Lane, at the end of the Ravine. To George Burton he was "the oldest man I could remember" - he always wore "a little hairy hat", round and made of sealskin, and light coloured trousers. He was 85 when he died in 1920, a man born two years before Queen Victoria cae to the throne when Filey was still in the stage coach era. A number of his close relatives had been lost at sea - his uncle Matthew in Boston Deeps (1849); his brother William, off the corfe of the yawl "Jane and Elizabeth"(1867); and his son, George, off the coble "Mary" in 1896). Perhaps it was these losses which made him such a reflective man. You may remember that it was he and Ross Jenkinson's widow who launched the commemorative window fund in 1899.

Mary Elizabeth Robinson remembers him as a doleful man, without teeth, "hair down here", and looking like Santa Claus! "Oh, I'm all run in", he would say. "You'd think he had been about 200 years old", she told us.


Mark and Mary's only surviving son was John William Jenkinson, always known as "John Willie Jenk". He was associated with the Primitive Methodist Chapel for many years as a lay preacher, trustee and in his later days chapel keeper. George Burton, remembers him as a "nice old gentleman - a genuine christian - there was nowt boastful about him." He had "a great depth of knowledge of human nature", Terrance Collins told us.

"John Willie" seems to have had a similar rapport with horses, for when he stopped fishing he had a fish round with a pony and a flat cart. Terence told us about his pony, Molly, a fat animal which he "thought the world of". "John Willie" lived on West Road but kept but kept the horse on L & N E R land now occupied by Dee's supermarket. Mark Baxter, "John Willie's" nephew, would often take Molly from West Road, at the end of its working day , and along Scarborough Road to the field. One evening, Mark wanted to get away quickly, to play football. He therefore took the rosk of using the short cut between the doctor's and Jim Taylor's garage. Molly was a "big black fat pony", and it got stuck in this passage. Jim Taylor's office wall had to be taken down to get the horse out!

Before coming to "John Willie", Molly had belonged to William "Ino" Crawford, a fish dealer who employed George Burton to deliver around Filey. It was George's job to tend the pony, and to take it back to its close each evening. "Ino" would get Molly an apple from the greengrocer every day and hand this to George to pass on to the horse at his discretion. "I used to go round the corner an' eat bloody apple myself", he confessed.

"John Willie" had a rather odd horse before he obtained Molly. It had once done service as a dray horse for Bentley's Yorkshire Brewery. On Sundays he would use his horse and cart to drop off fellow preachers at the various Methodist chapels - Muston, Flotmanby, Hunmanby, Flixton and Staxton. "John Willie" had to carry about eight cans of beer on this circuit since the horse would come to a halt outside a pub and not budge until it had had a pint of beer. Not surprisingly, this sad equine advertisement for Primitive Methodist abstinence earned the nickname "chapel beer horse". Fittingly, it died outside the Ship Inn at Muston!

One Saturday night in 1913 "John willie" was cycling home from Bridlington where, presumably, he had attended a prayer meeting. At Reighton he ran into a horse. "He was thrown over the handlebars of his machine," the Filey Post reported, "and fell heavily on his head, being rendered unconscious." Fortunately, "John Willie" recovered. One wonders wether it was "chapel beer horse", or one of its regular drinking partners, wandering about the road, having had one too many.

"John Willie's" wife was Balla, a talkative woman who regularly dropped in on her Aunt Liz with the announcement "I isn't gan ter stop!" Nancy Collins remembers her as an authority on local dialect. She seems to have been one of the last Filey women to go bait gathering at Cloughton.


"John Willie" and bella would have been at the chapel keeper's house from 1930 to 1937. "John Willie" took over the post from old Old Isaac Ross, a strict disciplinarian who kept the chapel front clear of street corner children. "He was a bugger if you went laking round the chapel!" said George Burton. The dialect word "laik" means to play, to be on holiday.

Old Isaac Ross shared the common Filey prejudices about neighbouring fishing towns, especially Whitby:

"I hear'd ye's goin' on theee holdiays", someone might say to him.

"Aye", he says.

"Where's tha goin'?"

"I'm goin' 'e laiks."

"Where's thee goin', Windermere, Bowness?"

"No" he says. "goin' t' Whitby"

"There's nay laiks at Whitby!"

"Don't thoo believe it," Old Isaac Ross would say, "there's a bloody sight mair laiks than works at Whitby!"


The champion salmoners "Old Naz" and "Dicky Hoy" lived next door to each other at 57 and 59 Mitford Street. They also fished out of the same coble for a similar length of time but despite this they regularly fell out while fishing! "Old Naz" who was very deaf, could be very awkward and stubborn, his grandson, Robert Hall, told us : "he was certainly not afraid of being different. Mother ("Sally Naz") told me that he was at one time the only Tory fishermen, all others being Liberals!" Another grandson, Thomas Jenkinson Watkinson, remembers them as "a thrifty hardworking pair, who owed no one and were proud of their heritage. They were strong silent men not given to many words who kept aloof from their fellows and minded their own business."

George Burton remembers that some fishermen would go to sea together all their lives and never speak to one another, other than "give us that" or similarly necessary communications! Some of them might pass in the street a thousand times and never speak. Robert Hall remembers as a child going out salmon fishing with his grandfather "Old Naz" and his great uncle "Dicky Hoy". His last memory is of "sitting quietly in the boat whilst the two elderly - more or less retired - gentlemen got on with their work. I was fascinated by the rhythm of their rowing.""OLD BRAZZY"

"Old Naz" and "Dicky Hoy" had an uncle, Matthew Jenkinson - known as "Old Brazzy" - who sems to have gone through life generating stories! Elizabeth Hunter remembers his wife, a Flamborough woman, as being "spotless ... a lady". He, to say the least, was a character!

George Burton remembers how "Brazzy"and Healand Sayers would come round to his grandparents' house every night, during the period that his grandfather was ill. The three old men would sit round the open fire, suspended over which was a set of "rakens"(this is a dialect word, usually rendered elsewhere as "rakentines" - a vertical iron band from which the kettle and cooking pots would hang from hooks). "They were my granny's pride," said George, "and she used to black lead them every day. And "Brazzy" used to come and sit on a night and spit baccy juice all over them. Smoke used to come right out - it used to sizzle. She used to play hell - 'Old Brazzy's black sickenin', she would say!"

Healand Sayers and "Old Brazzy" (who could be very bad tempered) would always argue on these evenings. Harland was himself an unusual character, a ranter preacher of some eccentricity. He might be baiting when he received news that someone had been "brought in" to the faith, converted after a lifetime of dissipation. He would run out into the yard on receipt of the good news and shout:"Look not on the wine when it is red!" or "wine is a mocker and strong drink is raging!" Despite these biblical strictures, he was himself partial to "a glass of rum!" George remembers that he and "Old Brazzy were always waiting to catch one another out. "Brazzy" might say:"It was August Bank Holiday...". So, as a matter of course, Healand would say: "I know it warn't then!" - "Well I know it was then!" - "We'll thoo's a liar then!" - "Thoos a liar then!"

And so it would go on, with George's granddad sitting "saying nowt", and the "rakens" periodically sizzling, until grandma had had enough. "She would turn them out, just like a pub: 'You've gone far enough the pair of you, its time you were going.'" And out into the street they would go.

"Brazzy" was an extremely down to earth man. Whilst taking visitors out "pleasuring" in the Bay, he would think of relieving himself there and then! "Now all you lot look you road while I attend to myself!" he would announce. "He never bothered about anybody", said George.

Yet despite these rough ways, "Brazzy" struck up a strange friendship with the Irish peer, Lord Ranfurly, who with his wife had occasionally stayed at Filey. "Brazzy" accompanied them to Ireland for six months, to entertain guests. It was there that "Brazzy" had his famous encounter with the gas jets: the house had all the modern conveniences - gas lighting included. "Brazzy", used only to candles, proceeded to blow a gaslight, and nearly managed to gas the whole household.

In his later years, "Brazzy" stopped going out to sea and took to going round the countryside with a horse and cart, hawking fish. He had a horse called Paddy, and woud take him to William Edward Morley's, the shoeing smith at 1, Church Street.

"Now then Morley," he would boom,"where have I to moor him?"

"Tie him up o'er there," Morley would reply. "What d'ye want doin' at him, Matt?"

"He wants shoeing," "Brazzy" would say, "fore and aft".

Tom Jenkinson Watkinson, "Brazzy's" great great nephew, was told of how the old man, with limited equine knowledge, would hold the bit up to Paddy's mouth and say:"Open thee gob, Pad!" On one occasion," Tom writes, "Paddy had a bad attack of colic through getting into the corn bin. Matt could not understand why Paddy had got access to the corn as he had "moored him off with plenty of cable", good nautical practice with a boat but it had allowed the pony the run of the entire stable."

On his trips out of Filey with Paddy and his flat cart, "Brazzy" would regularly encounter a certain parson's wife at Hunmanby who "always wanted what he hadn't!" George Burton relates how "she used to come out with a big plate as though she was going to buy all there was, and never bought nowt. She always used to look for what wasn't on the cart and she'd want something that wasn't there. "Old Brazzy" was determined: he went up yar day with every fish in the sea - 'that'll beat her'. She came out and kept going round - "Have you this? Have you that? - trying to find out something - and then she said 'kippers! Thee have nay kippers on t'cart - now if I'd known you had any kippers - we love kippers - I would have had five shillings worth.' A hell of an order! 'By God missus,' said Brazzy, 'I have you this bloody time!' - and he had them all stuffed down his trousers!"

There are many stories of Filey fishermen going to London: the one about "Brazzy" is probably like most others. He is supposed to have gone down to visit a relative who was ill. So, in sea boots, he arrived at Kings Cross, not knowing where he was, and approached the first policeman he saw with the question "Can thoo direct me to our Mary Lizzie's?"


Many people can still remember "Old Brazzy's" half brother, "Jack Sled" even though he has been dead for 59 years. He was a tough fisherman, full of life, who loved singing and a bit of a drink! He was also a brave man: the Filey Post of 22nd April 1899 reported how he saved John Watkinson's drifting yawl from being wrecked on the Brigg by leaping from his own boat to the unmanned yawl, injuring himself in the process. And 12 years later, he again put himself at risk trying to rescue the crew of the overturned corfe of the herring coble "Swanland Hall". His son and one other man, however, were lost.

He seems to have had a great capacity to enjoy life! His wedding, in 1882, is said to have featured a barrel of ale, which was drawn on copiously! There was much singing, and the company got so drunk that eventually one of the mothers pulled the plug, the contents spilling out down the yard!

Despite "ranter chapel", many fishermen certainly did not sign the pledge. The Foord's was a regular fishermen's haunt, and it was known for some men in the last century to go to the back window and help themselves on the way down to the Coble Landing!

"Jack Sled" was one of the last Filey fishermen to go down to East Anglia after the herrings. Tommy Flynn remembers two of the crew falling overboard into the harbour at Lowestoft - "they'd maybe had a drink too many!"

Jack had a sensitive side as well. Elizabeth Hunter, as a small child, remembers him and a few of his friends coming round to visit her father, Tom Cammish, one Christmas. Her mother proudly showed them the Christmas tree. "Mrs", he said, pointing to Elizabeth and her two brothers, "these are your best christmas tree".

Hymn singing was Jack's great forte. George Burton remembers his funny pitched voice, with a bit of a wobble." He helped to form a "comrade's choir", a group of drinking men which came round singing at Christmas to collect for fishermen's widow's. His favourite hymn was "I will sing My Redeemer"! His wife, Fanny Elizabeth, would always know when he was on his way home from the volume as he approached Cliffords Terrace! Bob Dale told us how carol singers at Christmas would always stop at the terrace and sing this favourite of his.

"Jack Sled" was drowned with his two sons and two sons-in-law off the "Research" on the 25th November 1925. The lives of "Jack Sled" and his wife, epitomised the courage, character and misfortunes of the remarkable community that is Filey.

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