A History of Hornsea
A BRIEF HISTORY OF HORNSEA
There is evidence of human activity in the Hornsea area dating back to Prehistoric times and, just before the First World War, an Anglo Saxon cemetery was discovered in what is now the northern part of the town.
In common with many towns and villages, Hornsea’s earliest written record occurs in the Domesday Book of 1086. At that time the Manor of Hornsea was held by Drogo de la Beuvriere who had been put in charge of Holderness by William the Conqueror. The Domesday Book records that the chief inhabitant was a man called Wizo, who was in charge of twelve peasants. There was also a church and a priest, and 60 acres of meadow. Drogo’s successor gave the manor of Hornsea to the great Benedictine Abbey of St. Mary at York, in whose hands it remained for over 400 years, until the monasteries were dissolved by King Henry VIII.
By 1203 Hornsea was one of the four wealthiest manors in Holderness and in 1257 St. Mary’s Abbey obtained a Royal Charter to hold a weekly market on Wednesdays. The trade and prosperity of the town increased and in 1359 King Edward III granted the Abbey the right to hold two fairs each year. By 1377 Hornsea was the fifth largest settlement by population in the East Riding. A second weekly market, that was held on Thursdays, was established in 1466.
For the next 350 years Hornsea was an agricultural village and market centre that also provided services for the surrounding area, such as tanning, brewing, rope making, weaving and milling. The parish registers show that, in the late 17th century, there was a grocer, a barber and a milliner in the town. It would appear that some local people supplemented their incomes by smuggling and there is a local tradition that the crypt of the parish church was used to store contraband.
By the late 18th century it had become fashionable for wealthy people to visit the seaside, mainly for health reasons, and sea bathing became popular. Hornsea benefited from this and, in addition, possessed the added attraction of a mineral spring, whose water was believed to be medicinal. During the summer months Hornsea played a host to visitors who came to ‘take the waters’. One famous visitor was the author, Charlotte Bronte, who stayed in Hornsea for a short time in 1853.
The annual highlight of the season was the third week in July when horse racing took place on the beach. Hornsea was transformed in the latter half of the 19th century. The paramount reason for this was the opening of the railway from Hull in 1864. It was now possible for middle class tradesmen, industrialists and even clerical workers to carry out their business in Hull but live in Hornsea. This led to a building boom which saw the erection of houses in Railway Street, Wilton Terrace, New Road, Eastbourne Road and elsewhere.
The promotion of the railway was masterminded by Joseph Armytage Wade (1819 – 1896) who had inherited the town’s grandest house, Hornsea House, Eastgate, in 1853. Wade was the co-owner of a large timber importing company in Hull and, although already wealthy, he saw the opportunity of increasing his fortune. In the years following the arrival of the railway Wade founded the Hornsea Brick and tile company and the Hornsea Gas, Light and Coke Company. He was the first Chairman of the Hornsea Local Board of Health and held the office for nearly 25 years. During his time as Chairman he oversaw the building of Hornsea Waterworks, which supplied the town with fresh water, and, in addition, a sewerage disposal system was provided.
In addition to making Hornsea into, ‘the seaside suburb for Hull’, the railway also enabled more people to travel to the seaside, and local people were able to earn their living by providing accommodation and services for holidaymakers. On Saturdays and, particularly after Bank Holidays were introduced in 1871, Hornsea also played host to ‘excursionists’ who came mainly for Hull. The busiest day of the year was the Bank Holiday on the first Monday in August. From 1875 to 1906 the Hornsea Regatta and Aquatic Sports took place on that day and attracted huge crowds.
No self respecting Victorian seaside resort was without its pleasure pier and Hornsea was no exception. Hornsea Pier was another scheme that was originated by Joseph Armytage Wade. After years of problems, setbacks and lawsuits, the pier was finished in 1880, only to be damaged by a ship during a storm. The remains of the pier were repaired and, 250 feet shorter than originally designed, it opened to the public on Regatta Day 1881 and then was open during the following sixteen summer seasons. However, most of the entrance money was swallowed up by maintenance and repairs, and particularly by lawyers’ fees and in 1897 the structure was sold for
THE PROMENADE GARDENS AND FLORAL HALL
In 1891 a group of local businessmen bought some land on the cliff edge north of the Marine Drive and laid it out as a cliff walk. To celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, the land was converted into the Promenade Gardens, with seats, shelters, flowerbeds and a bandstand. In 1905 the gardens were presented to the Hornsea Urban District Council. After serious coastal erosion in the following year, the Council had Hornsea’s first wall and promenade built, which was opened in 1907. Now that the gardens were protected, it was possible for the Council to erect a floral pavilion of the kind that was fashionable before the First World War. Named the Floral Hall, it opened in the summer of 1913 and became Hornsea’s major venue for indoor entertainment, a role that it still retains.
THE IMPERIAL HYDRO/GRANVILLE COURT
A ‘grand’ hotel was a desirable attraction at any seaside resort. The Hornsea Imperial Hydro was the brainchild of an industrialist who had made his fortune manufacturing metal containers, and who saw an opportunity to provide the town with a superior kind of hotel. The Hydro opened in summer 1913 and featured, for example, luxurious mahogany panelled rooms, a theatre, a ballroom, Turkish baths and an indoor swimming pool. However, when the First World War broke out, the hotel was commandeered by the Army and it did not reopen to the public, for a variety of reasons, until 1936, when it was purchased by the Friendship Holiday Association.
The name was changed to Granville Court. After being occupied by the military during the Second World War, the hotel reopened, but it never attracted the numbers of guests that were originally envisaged. After several changes of ownership and conversation into flats, by the mid-1980’s the building was being used to accommodate homeless people and in 1988 it was condemned. In July 1990 it was badly damaged by fire and had to be demolished.
THE RESORT BETWEEN THE WORLD WARS
After the First World War the Urban District Council purchased the Hall Garths and converted what had been meadows into a public park. Hornsea’s memorial to the dead of the war took the form of the Cottage Hospital that opened in 1923 and was paid for by voluntary donations. Between 1918 and 1939 the Council carried out several schemes that were intended to attract holidaymakers.
First, in 1923-1924, the sea wall and promenade were extended southwards from the Marine Hotel to the end of New Road. In 1930 a sea wall, with a road behind it, was built between New Road and Hornsea Burton Road. This gave a measure of protection from flooding to the low-lying land behind and a limited amount of development took place, including a restaurant and an amusement arcade.
However, traders and showmen were deterred from setting up in Hornsea owing to the Council’s policy of not allowing, for example, amusements and fish and chip shops to open on Sundays. In addition, several applications to establish amusements, and so forth, were refused by the Council, which tended to be influenced in its decisions by a residential lobby that was opposed to, or was even hostile to, visitors, particularly day trippers, and who wanted Hornsea to be a quiet residential town.
This was at a time when most working class people only had Sunday as a day off, and so they tended to go on day trips to seaside resorts that were lively. However, Hornsea was ideal for those who merely wished for a quiet day on the beach, and the town remained a destination for residential visitors, particularly those who preferred a sedate, peaceful atmosphere.
The Council’s last development before the outbreak of the Second World War was the concrete boating lake behind the south sea wall. The lake opened in 1938 and complemented a nearby hacienda style shelter and kiosks that had been built previously.
AFTER THE SECOND WORLD WAR
Hornsea resumed its role as a seaside resort, in the mid-1940’s albeit on a relatively small scale. The closure of the railway line in 1964 saw an inevitable decrease in day trippers, but it did not affect Hornsea’s function as a dormitory town, and several housing developments were built, partly as a result of the growth in car ownership which enabled people to commute to and from work, particularly to Hull and Beverley. Hornsea also suffered from the decline in the popularity of seaside holidays in this country as the result of the increase in package holidays abroad and, by the late 1960’s, the majority of residential visitors to the town stayed on the several caravan camps that had been established.
HORNSEA POTTERY AND HORNSEA FREEPORT
The fall in the number of visitors to the seaside was compensated for, to some extent, by the growth of Hornsea Pottery. Started as a cottage industry in 1949, the Hornsea Pottery Company was founded in 1954 and rapidly established a reputation for innovative design and creative manufacturing methods. Hornsea Pottery products were exported to more than 50 countries, and the town, by association, became known worldwide.
The company diversified by introducing guided factory tours, a tearoom and opportunities to buy ‘seconds’. More visitor attractions were introduced and Hornsea Pottery eventually became one of the most popular tourist destinations in Yorkshire, although with consequent strain being placed upon an antiquated local road system.
Hornsea Pottery expanded further by opening a factory and leisure attractions in Lancaster in 1976, although this was not as successful as Hornsea, and was closed down in 1987.
In 1992 Hornsea Pottery Freeport was established at the pottery complex and two years later the business was acquired by Freeport Leisure which carried out an expansion scheme to create a shopping village that catered for the increasingly popular pastime of leisure shopping.
By this time the Pottery and the Freeport had gone their separate ways and, in 1990’s the Pottery found it increasingly difficult to survive, particularly because of cheaper imported products from foreign manufacturers, and the factory ceased production in 2000.
THE LATE 20th CENTURY
As the result of private enterprise, the North Holderness Museum of Village Life opened in 1978 in a former farmhouse in Newbegin. Shortly afterwards it became a charitable trust, and further expansion has taken place so that the premises now include all of the former farmyard. In 1981 Hornsea became twinned with La Grande-Motte in the South of France as a consequence of the links forged in 1944, when Free French soldiers were stationed in the Hornsea area.
Hornsea Leisure Centre opened in 1995, and includes a swimming pool which was provided more than 70 years after the idea was first proposed.
Hornsea Mere is the largest natural lake in Yorkshire. The water is shallow and the lake and its surroundings support a wide variety of wildlife and plants. During the Middle Ages there were several disputes between St. Mary’s Abbey, York and Meaux Abbey, near Beverley over the right to take fish from the Mere. At one juncture the monks resorted to trial by combat, although they did not take part themselves, but hired champions to represent them. When the monasteries were dissolved the Mere was seized by the Crown. In 1595 it was bought by Marmaduke Constable of Wassand, and has remained part of the Wassand estate ever since. For centuries the Mere was the private preserve of its owners, although, in the early 19th century, people were allowed to fish, so long as they made a donation to the poor.
In 1885 the Mere was opened up to the public by the short-lived Hornsea Mere and Hotels Company. Rowing boats could be hired and fishing permits could be purchased. In addition, for a fee, sailing boats could use the Mere and could also be stored on the bank. These activities have continued up to the present day. During the First World War the Mere was used by the Royal Naval Air Service as a base for float planes that patrolled over the sea.
HORNSEA BECK AND HORNSEA BURTON
Hornsea Beck was a small settlement that was situated at the mouth of Stream Dike which is the outlet between Hornsea Mere and the sea. It is not mentioned in Domesday Book, but is known to have been in existence by 1228. About 60 years later St. Mary’s Abbey obtained a charter to hold a weekly market. The Poll Tax lists of 1377 show that there were 264 potential tax payers in Hornsea Beck compared with 271 in Hornsea.
The haven at Hornsea Beck functioned as a small port and possessed a pier for loading and unloading goods, for which tolls were charged. Coastal erosion began to have an effect in the 15th century and in 1609 an enquiry established that, since 1546, at least 38 houses and their gardens had been destroyed by the sea. The pier was still surviving, but it too was washed away in the mid-17th century.
By 1695 there were only a few houses left and Hornsea Beck was last mentioned in the Manor Court Rolls in 1744. What now remains of Hornsea Beck lies in the south-eastern part of the parish of Hornsea.
It was always separate from the Manor of Hornsea and was mostly in the hands of Meaux Abbey near Beverley from about 1150 until the monasteries were dissolved. In 1377 there were 96 potential Poll Tax payers in Hornsea Burton and, by about 1490, the Hornsea priest recorded that he had about 50 parishioners in the township.
The open fields of Hornsea Burton were enclosed in 1663 and a map that was produced at that time shows a group of about ten houses clustered around a green. By 1697 all of these houses had been washed away and the township consisted of scattered farms until the mid-20th century, when a caravan camp was opened on the cliffs.
After the Second World War a council estate was built in Hornsea Burton and in the late 20th century the Trinity Fields private housing development was established.
The following books can be obtained at Hornsea Museum, Newbegin, Hornsea:-
A reluctant resort by David DunningA Sketch of Hornsea from Domesday Book to 1901 by J E Hobson
Hornsea in Old Picture Postcards by G L Southwell
The History of Hornsea from Earliest Times to 2005 by Stephen Harrison
Booklets by Michael Sewell
Joseph Armytage Wade, the King of Hornsea
Hornsea Essays, More Hornsea Essays, Hornsea Essays 3
Hornsea in the 20th Century, A Chronology, (4 Volumes)
Original article written by Michael Sewell here.