Scarborough, Filey and Flamborough Head

Ancient Scarborough

Iron Age tools dating back to around 500 BC have been found on the rocky headland where Scarborough Castle now stands, demonstrating Scarborough’s antiquity. The Iron Age settlement on Castle Cliff was followed in 370 AD by a Roman signal station, one of a number along the Yorkshire coast.

Above the rooftops, Scarborough
Above the rooftops, Scarborough © David Simpson

The Signal station at Scarborough consisted of a square tower set within square courtyard, but it is difficult to separate the Roman remains from those of the later medieval chapels that existed within the castle.

The Roman signal stations on the east coast were designed to protect the shores from the ravages of Anglo-Saxon pirates from southern Jutland and Frisia but after 410 AD the Romans had vacated our land and the Anglo-Saxons established were free to invade and settle at places like Scarborough. Over four-hundred years later they would be succeeded by yet another wave of raiders and settlers known to history as the Vikings.

Scarborough Castle
Scarborough Castle © David Simpson

Scarborough’s Viking origin

Scarborough’s Viking name is first mentioned in Viking sagas. In the ‘Kormakssaga, Flateyjarbok’ Scarborough is called Skarthborg and in the ‘Orkneyingasaga’ it is referred to as Skarthabork.

The ‘borough’ in the name of Scarborough derives from the Viking word ‘Borg’ meaning ‘stronghold’ and Scarborough means Skarthi’s stronghold. According to the ‘Kormaksaga’ two Viking brothers called Thorgils and Kormak went harrying in Ireland, England and Wales and established a stronghold called Scarborough on the English east coast. Thorgils was known to his brother by the nickname ‘Hare Lip’, or in the Viking language ‘Skarthi’ . It is probable that ‘Hare-Lip’ gave his name to Scarborough.

The brothers Kormak and Thorgills were in the service of King Harald Grafeld, who was king of Norway from 960-965AD. This dates the Viking foundation of Scarborough to the mid tenth century.

Kormak and Thorgils accompanied the king’s expedition to Bjarmaland or Permia in northern Russia in 966AD. It is known that the expedition to England immediately followed this and that Kormak died in the year 967AD.

This would date the Viking foundation of Scarborough even precisely to the year 966 or 967 AD. The Vikings were not the first to settle at Scarborough.

There may have already been an Anglo-Saxon settlement on the site and there was certainly a Roman signal station here. The Viking raids on Scarborough in 967 would not be the last. In 1066 in the months before the Battle of Hastings the town was attacked by Harald Hardrada the King of Norway. It would prove to be an eventful year.

Scarborough Castle
Scarborough Castle © David Simpson

Scarborough Castle

Scarborough Castle stands on a cliff top promontory overlooking the rest of the town and was built around 1130 by William Le Gros, Earl of Albermarle in the reign of King Henry I. Le Gros defeated the Scots at The Battle of the Standard near Northallerton in 1138. The castle was captured by Henry II who rebuilt the keep between 1158 and 1168 and the castle became a Royal castle.

Further improvements to the castle were carried out by King John, Henry III and Edward I. Around 1312 Scarborough Castle was given to Edward II’s favourite Piers Gaveston. The unpopular Gaveston was besieged in the castle by the barons, captured and carried to Oxford for execution. Edward would himself be murdered for his weak leadership and rather amorous friendship with Gaveston. He would die at Barclay Castle in Gloucestershire in 1327 meeting a particularly unpleasant end.

The capture of Gaveston was not Scarborough Castle’s last siege. In 1536 the castle was held by Sir Ralph Evers in the name of King Henry VIII when it withstood the siege of Robert Aske during the Pilgrimage of Grace. In 1653, during the reign of Queen Mary, the castle was taken by Thomas Stafford who was later captured by the Earl of Westmorland and beheaded on Tower Hill in London.

Scarborough Castle, gateway © David Simpson

During the Civil War in 1644, Scarborough castle’s commander was Sir Hugh Cholmeley who switched his allegiance from the Parliamentarians to the Royalists and had to withstand a siege by Parliamentarians who eventually captured the castle in 1645.

A Colonel Boynton was put in charge of the castle but like Hugh Cholmeley he switched sides – this time from the Parliamentarians to Royalists , but he was eventually defeated in yet another siege in 1648. Of course most recent siege of all was the shelling of the castle by German bombers during the Second World War.

The town of Scarborough
Scarborough showing the prominent Grand Hotel © David Simpson

Scarborough Fair and Spa

Henry III established a fair at Scarborough by charter in 1235 and it was held in the town until 1788. The fair is remembered in the famous folk song.

Are you going to Scarborough Fair
Parsley, Sage Rosemary and Thyme
Remember me to one who lived there
She once was a true love of mine.

The medieval fishing town of Scarborough grew beneath the castle with the old part of the town centred upon streets like Eastborough, Friargate, Tollergate and Longwestgate and focused upon the area of red-roofed houses that cluster around the old harbour at the north end of the South Bay. However the modern town centre of Scarborough lies further to the west along Westborough.

Although the old harbour has its charms the South Bay is the more commercial of Scarborough’s two impressive sandy bays with the North Bay beyond the castle and promontory to the north being more serene. Peasholm Park lies close to the north bay and was built in 1912. It incorporates a natural dell called Peasholm Glen and the park itself occupies the site of a Medieval manor called Northstead.

Scarborough’s development as a holiday resort began in 1620 when spa water was discovered by Elizabeth Farrow, who claimed that the water had beneficial qualities. She was perhaps influenced by the success of the spa at Harrogate.

The Gentry flocked to Scarborough to sample the qualities of the water and Scarborough’s development as a resort began, given an extra boost by the development of the railways in the 1850s.

Visitors to Scarborough’s healthy resort included Anne Brontë of Haworth, who retired here and died on 28th May 1849. She is buried in the churchyard of Scarborough’s St Mary’s Church.

One of the most prominent signs of Scarborough’s status came with the opening of the impressive and prominent Grand Hotel in 1863 which is still the dominant feature of the resort.

St Mary's church, Scarborough
St Mary’s church, Scarborough, burial place of Anne Brontë © David Simpson

Filey and Flamborough Head

Filey six miles to the south of Scarborough is famous for Filey Brigg a pointed pin-shaped rocky reef where the Romans are thought to have anchored their ships. Filey’s name is thought to mean the Five leys – ‘the five meadows or forest clearings’. The little town is a mixture of old fishing port and seaside resort with lovely views down the coast to Flamborough Head which is another six or seven miles to the south.

Flamborough Head is a great nose-like peninsula where the Yorkshire Wolds meet the sea and where the coast of the East Riding of Yorkshire meets North Yorkshire. In Iron Age times the peninsula was the site of a great fort which was protected on the land side by an ancient earthwork . The area was later settled by an Anglo-Saxon called Flein who gave it its name – Flamborough means Flein’s fort. Danes later settled in the area and the defensive earthwork of the earlier Iron Age erroneously came to be known as the Danes Dyke. Bridlington in East Yorkshire lies on the southern side of Flamborough Head.

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