St Oswald, Filey, Yorkshire, East Riding

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Feature Sets (4)


Filey church, a solid cruciform building, stands north of the old centre of settlement, a fishing village, across a ravine which leads to the shore. The church has only one house near it. Church and village are north of the newer parts of the town that grew up in the early 19thc. as a resort. There appears to have been an attempt to build a W tower in the late 12thc. that was abandoned, leaving the spreading SE and SW jambs. The nave arcades have pointed arches and little that could be considered Romanesque, except for perhaps one capital. The round-headed S doorway is barely Romanesque in the full sense; it employs forms found in contemporary Cistercian buildings.


In 1086 the whole 18 carucates of Filey and its townships (areas in the North Riding) were soke of the royal manor of Falsgrave. The estate at Filey subsequently passed to the Gants, and later the Tattershalls. A church at Filey was part of Walter de Gant’s foundation endowment of Bridlington Priory c1109-13, but little clear evidence of an early twelfth-century building survives.  No vicarage was ordained, and the church was served by priests from Bridlington priory until the Dissolution. Fish tithes were payable in the 12thc; between c.1120-9 and 1192 the tithe of Filey fish landed at Whitby was enjoyed by Whitby Abbey. Houses and a mill in Filey were given to St Peter’s Hospital, York, and to Thornton Abbey, Lincs.


Exterior Features


S doorway to S nave aisle

A round-headed doorway of four orders and label.

Height of opening 2.22 m
Width of opening 1.38 m
1st order

No bases. The mouldings of the jambs (angle column flanked by hollows) starts from a plain square plinth with no projecting parts; this plinth continues under the bases of subsequent orders and appears to be renewed.

Coursed pillar on the angle, flanked by a hollow on jamb and face; plain to the door. No capital, and the impost does not have the profile of the imposts of succeeding orders, nor is it continuous with them, but finishes slightly higher. It is like a reduced squat capital, having a rounded ring, hollow bell and plain upright. In the arch, in the soffit, a wide hollow with a central narrow round moulding; on the angle above the coursed pillar, a roll moulding; on the face a hollow and a roll moulding.

2nd order

On the plain plinth, a plain square block with a double torus; free-standing column. Capital with plain round ring, hollow capital with narrow abacus; impost with plain chamfer and upright. In the arch, on the angle a keeled roll, flanked by hollows; plain to the adjacent orders.

3rd order

The plinth as before; base has wide torus and an upper torus; they are separated, on the L by a hollow with arris, and on the R by a hollow only. Column, capital and impost as for second order. In the arch, at an angle are two rolls separated by a hollow; plain outside that to the adjacent orders.

4th order

Plinth, bases, columns and capitals as before. In the arch, a keeled angle roll flanked by hollows. In the first two voussoirs of the R side of the arch are seen the remnants of chevron mouldings, suggesting that these two stones have been reused from an earlier arch.


Plain and chamfered with a hollow in the chamfer. Outside, it stands normal from wall.

Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches

SE and NE piers for W tower

The W tower was never completed, but its NE and SE piers remain at the W end of the nave arcades. They are both leaning outwards, it has been suggested this is why the project was abandoned.

On all faces, the central shaft is strongly keeled, the capitals have a deep hollow chamfer and are also keeled. The outer columns are smaller and half-round. Keels, but not so strong as these, were seen in late 12thc. work in the W end of the nave of Selby Abbey.




S arcade, pier 4 capital

Both arcades have alternating round and square plinths, round and octagonal pillars, with pointed arches of two plain and chamfered orders and simply-moulded capitals. 

There is nothing for our Corpus in these arcades, except for the details carved on the capital of the octagonal pier, S arcade, Pier 4. The eight faces of this capital have been carved with a variety of  individual ‘stiff leaf’ forms. While that implies leaves of a solid form but fluid line, and would not be relevant to this Corpus, there are small leaves in the centre of three faces of this capital which are symmetrical in the Romanesque manner (NE, N, NW), and every angle has a pair of waterleaf scrolls, with the basic waterleaf outline still just identifiable down to the ring.



Altar slab at W end of nave

This is of uncertain age, but similar to many early ones that have been recorded. Found since 2004 buried in the church. It has a fine polished surface. It is said to have five incised crosses and a place for relics but unfortunately these were not seen by the CRSBI fieldworker.

Depth of slab (short side) 0.893 m
Height of slab, upright and chamfer 0.2 m
Height of upright 0.145 m
Width of slab (long side) 1.82 m


The church at Filey given to Bridlington Priory may have been very simple as the settlement was not rich or large, being dependent on fishing. It appears to have been rebuilt at the end of the 12thc. and on into the 13thc. Windows in the clerestory have been discussed as if they might remain from an earlier church. The situation might be compared with that at Great Driffield, where round-headed windows are above the piers of round-headed Transitional or later arcades. At Filey, the windows look rather odd, stuck on the tips of the arches. The placing of windows out of synch above the piers at Great Driffield is, structurally, not such a bad idea. The church at Bempton also has a mixture of round and octagonal piers, though there with round arches and cruder execution.

The font at Filey is likely to be of the early 13thc. A label-stop over pier 1 of the N arcade is not Romanesque. An altar slab was recently found buried, and is erected at the W end of the nave. A small effigy reset in the S aisle wall is of a 14thc. civilian, according to Pevsner, though it has been claimed as an Augustinian canon, an idea doubtless inspired by the knowledge that canons of Bridlington had served the church.

Filey is known for the Brigg, a headland and long rocky point reaching out nearly a mile into the North Sea. Where the great thickness of overlying glacial boulder clay has been eroded, or in cliffs, limestones and grits of the Middle Oolite outcrop. Ralph de Neville granted Bridlington priory the right to take stone from his quarry at Filey, with free access over the rocks at ‘le Hok’ and elsewhere. The Brigg was a source of building stone from at least the 12thc. - a medieval quarry face, that is, one worked by hand tools, was tentatively identified by Dr Martyn Pedley early in 2004. The 12thc., when the quarries were busy, may have been Filey’s richest period until the tourists and the railway came. 

Filey Beck used to flow in the ravine before being put in a culvert and, until 1889, the area N of the beck, including St Oswald’s, was in the North Riding.


  • Milner, N. "St Oswald's church, Filey: a study of a cruciform church in North Yorkshire", Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 77 (2005) 93-114.

  • J. Bilson, St Oswald’s Church Filey. (Filey 1900)

  • W. Farrer, Early Yorkshire Charters, vol 2, Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series (Leeds 1915), 466.

  • W. T. Lancaster, Abstracts of the Charters and other documents contained in the chartulary of the Priory of Bridlington in the East Riding of the county of York (Leeds 1912), nos. 12, 80.

  • H. Lawrance, "Two effigies on the East coast (at Filey and at Barmston)". Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 37 (1948), 195-7.

  • J. E. Morris, The East Riding of Yorkshire. 2nd ed. (1906).

  • N. Pevsner and D. Neave, Yorkshire: York and the East Riding, 2nd ed., The Buildings of England, London, 1995, 415-16.

  • J. Siddle, St Oswald's Church, a brief guide. N. p., (amended) 2008.

  • Victoria County History: East Riding of Yorkshire. II (Dickering Wapentake). 1974, 131, 138, 147.

Crossing tower from SW.
Filey Brigg from cliff top.
The church from the cliff top.
The church seen across Church Ravine.
Pedestrian bridge across the ravine.
Central tower, showing windows and old roof line.
Churchyard, NW corner, tombstone.
Font, probably early 13th-century.
Label stop above pier 1, N arcade.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
TA 118 812 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Yorkshire, East Riding
now: North Yorkshire
medieval: York
now: York
now: St Oswald
medieval: St Oswald
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Rita Wood 
Visit Date
08 September 2004, 23 March 2016