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St Oswald, Filey, Yorkshire, East Riding

(54°12′51″N, 0°17′13″W)
TA 118 812
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, East Riding
now North Yorkshire
medieval York
now York
medieval St Oswald
now St Oswald
  • Rita Wood
08 September 2004, 23 March 2016

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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


Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches






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.