Of all the holiday resorts on the Yorkshire coast, Filey has always had a very special appeal.
Visitors began to arrive in Filey from the beginning of the nineteenth century. A writer in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1806 described it as “well-adapted as a summer retreat for soothing the mind, and invigorating the body”, though there was hardly any overnight accommodation.
The Filey Enclosure Award of 1791 allocated most of the land to a few prominent landowners, which enabled Charles Edge, a Birmingham architect and surveyor, and John Wilkes Unett (1770-1856), a Birmingham solicitor, to buy thirty-five acres of land to the south of the existing village.
Edge and Unnett drew up plans for the layout of the Crescent, with the ornamental gardens that separate them from the cliff-edge, in 1838, and encouraged the building of elegant classical terraces.
Initially, visitors came to Filey by road: in the 1820s two stage-coaches operated, each on alternate days, six days a week.
Local sailors and their wives recognised that catering for tourists was at least a supplement to the unpredictable fortunes of the fishing trade.
Yet the long-standing inhabitants continued to live in Old Filey, around the church, while the affluent newcomers congregated exclusively in New Filey, where they were offered a degree of informality in civilised surroundings.
The Hull-Scarborough railway opened in 1846 with a characteristically fine station, but excursionists were not encouraged.
In the later nineteenth century and up to the First World War this relatively small resort attracted a constant stream of visitors of high social standing and net worth. Charlotte Brontë visited in 1849 and 1852; Sir Titus Salt came in 1871, and Frederick Delius was a regular visitor from 1876, when he was fourteen, until 1901.
Members of the local nobility were attracted by the quiet, discreet atmosphere – the Earl of Feversham of Duncombe Park, Lord and Lady Middleton of Birdsall and the Howards from Castle Howard. From further afield came the families of the Dukes of Devonshire, Newcastle, St Albans and Westminster, the Marquis of Ely, the Earl Fitzwilliam, the Earl Waldegrave, the Earls of Bessborough and Wharncliffe. High-ranking clergy visitors included William Thomson, Archbishop of York (1878) and Dean Farrar of Canterbury (1888).
Filey was also the discreet resort of British and foreign royalty. Leopold II, King of the Belgians and Queen Victoria’s cousin, made the first royal visit in 1873: he was followed by the Queen’s son, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh (1880), her grandson Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence & Avondale (1890) and her daughter, Princess Louise, later Duchess of Argyll (1899).
German relatives of the British royal family also visited – the Prince & Princess Louis of Battenberg (1900) and Ernest Ludwig, Grand Duke of Hesse, and his family (1910).
Indeed, well into the 1930s Princess Mary, the Princess Royal, who was married to the Earl of Harewood, used to bring her young sons for holidays to Filey.
It’s still a quiet, discreet place to hide away. Mackenzie E C Walcott, writing in 1862, commented,–
You need not dress smartly as at Scarborough, at Brighton, Hastings, or Dover; you are not inconvenienced by incursions of noisy excursionists; and you may saunter along the cliffs or highways without interruption by an idle crowd, gaping and staring, and quizzing.
This is still true – except possibly the requirement to dress smartly at Scarborough.
Ironically, Filey’s major claim to fame in the holiday industry was the Butlin camp, started in 1939 and completed as RAF Hunmanby Moor. Derequisitioned promptly in 1945, it flourished to the extent that it had its own branch line and railway station. The camp’s maximum capacity was 11,000 holidaymakers, and it ran successfully into the 1970s. The railway branch line closed in 1977 and the camp lasted until 1983. The site was subsequently redeveloped.
It’s a fair bet that most of the thousands of visitors to Butlins never went near Filey itself.