East Yorkshire : Wolds and Coast


The Yorkshire Wolds are formed by the most northerly limits of chalk in Britain and form rolling hills to the south of the Vale of Pickering and to the north of the low lying East Yorkshire district called Holderness.

The Wolds were attractive to ancient man, who preferred to stay clear of the poorly drained and easily flooded neighbouring vales. Many Bronze Age burials and other finds have been discovered in the neighbourhood of the wolds.

The little town of Great Driffield lies just on the edge of the Wolds and is sometimes known as the 'Capital of the Wolds'. Great Driffield is an agricultural settlement and is located at the point where the River Hull begins. The River Hull is formed here by several streams flowing down from the Yorkshire Wolds and many of these streams are noted for their Trout.

An eighteenth century canal (1772) links Great Driffield to a more navigable section of the River Hull further downstream. The Hull flows southward in the land to the east of Great Driffield before joining the River Humber at the City of Hull. Great Driffield's most notable historic feature is the church of All Saints. It was first built around 1200 but was much restored by Gilbert Scott. Its tower was built in the fifteenth century.

Little Driffield, with its village green, lies a mile to the west of Great Driffield. It is reputedly the burial place of Aldred, King of Northumbria, who died near hear in 705 while fighting in battle against the Vikings. A Saxon monastery is said to have existed sometime during or after Aldred's reign.

Wetwang , five miles west of Little Driffield is a rather intriguing place name. It could mean the 'Wet field'. The second part of the name almost certainly means field as it derives from the Viking word vangr and early forms of the village name are Wetwangha, Wetwanghe, Wetwange and Wetwong.

Some place-name scholars argue that the place was actually a Viking name 'Vaettvangrr' meaning the field of summons for the trial of an action. Their argument is that local tradition claims that the fields hereabouts are not noted for being wet, although field drainage could have been improved since Viking times. If Wetwang was the wet field then Driffield was surely the dry field. Starngely early forms and spellings of the name Driffield point to a name meaning 'dirt field' or 'field with stubble' Later inhabitants forgetting their early origins may have associated the two places with being wet and dry.


The coastal boundary between East Yorkshire and North Yorkshire lies just to the north of Flamborough Head and just south of Filey in North Yorkshire (though Filey was traditionally in the East Riding). Flamborough Head is encountered in the Scarborough section of this site.

The famous coastal resort of Bridlington, just south of Flamborough Head, began as a an Anglo-Saxon settlement, with a name that meant Beohrtel's ton - the farm belonging to Beohrtel. Nearby is a place called Sewerby - a Viking place name - that name means Siward's farm or village.

Bridlington is a coastal market town and its most important historic feature is Bridlington Priory. The priory was founded in 1120 for Augustinian canons by Walter de Gant but of the present remains, nothing dates frombefore the 13th century.

Bridlington Priory was largely destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries and its last Prior, William Wode was executed at Tyburn for his part in the Catholic rebellion known as the Pilgrimage of Grace. The church of the priory, dedicated to St Mary remains in full, escaping the destruction that followed the Dissolution of the Monasteries, because it was the Parish church of Bridlington. Some of the stones from the old priory were used in the construction of Bridlington's piers.

One of the best known characters associated with Bridlington Priory was John of Bridlington, who was born at Thwing, a few miles to the north west in 1362. He was famed for working miracles and after his death in 1401 was made a saint by the Pope.

During the Civil War, Bridlington was used as a landing place by Queen Henrietta, Charles I's queen. She landed at Bridlington on February 22nd 1643 to escape the canon fire of Parliamentarian ships.

It was only fourteen years later that a Quaker called Robert Fowler set sail from Bridlington to America with eleven Quakers and with absolutely no experience of sailing. Remarkably they landed safely in America only a few miles from their intended destination.

Ironically in the following century Bridlington was under attack from an Americans, the Privateer John Paul Jones who was engaged in a sea battle in which his ship was sunk just off the Bridlington coast. Jones managed to escape. This daring American also launched coastal attacks at Alnmouth in Northumberland and at Skinningrove further up the Yorkshire coast.

Burton Agnes Hall and Sewerby Hall

Notable houses in the neighbourhood of Bridlington include the Elizabethan house called Burton Agnes Hall which was built in 1598 six miles west of Bridlington The hall was built between 1598 and 1610 by Sir Henry Griffith and is considered to be one of England's best historic houses. It was erected on the site of a Norman manor house built by Roger de Stuteville in 1173. It was historically the home of the Grifith family and then the Boyntons. In 1989 it passed to a member of the Cunliffe-Lister family but it is now owned by a preservation trust.

The name Burton means the farm on the burgh or fortified manor. The Agnes in question was Agnes de Albermarle who witnessed a deed at Burton Agnes in 1175.

Sewerby Hall with its gardens is a 19th century parkland hall stand just to the north of Bridlington. In pre-Norman times Sewerby belonged to a Carle and Torchil before passing to Robert, Count of Mortain, a, half brother of William the Conqueror after 1066. In 1088 Sewerby, as confiscated from Mortain and the property passed to the Sywardby family who held it until 1545.

Successive owners included the Carlylls of Bootham in York, the Greames in the eighteenth century followed by the Yarburghs and various descendants who eventually sold the property to Bridlington Coroporation in 1934. Most of the present day hall dates from 1714.


Holderness is the name given to the coastal stretch of East Yorkshire stretching from Flamborough Head to Spurn Head near the mouth of the River Humber. The district forms a in places rather boggy peninsula about thirty miles long and is bordered by the River Hull in the west, the River Humber in the south and the North Sea in the east. The name is Viking and means the headland (ness) of the hold. A hold was a man of high rank in those area of England known as the Danelaw.

The Holderness coast is prone to erosion and a number of villages that existed at the time of the Domesday Book have since been washed away. Erosion continues today and Holderness villages like Barmston, Ulrome and Skipsea just to the south of Bridlington were once much further from the sea than they are today.

Skipsea may have been the site of the Viking administrative capital of Holderness. It was later the site of a castle built by one Drogo, who was thought to be a Flemish adventurer who fought at the Battle of Hastings. Drogo's castle was destroyed in the reign of King Henry III.

Skipsea is a Viking name and means 'Ship Lake' - a lake on which ships could sail. The lake was perhaps an outlet to the sea which has long since eroded away. A few miles inland is North Frodingham, once the home to the Anglo-Saxon settlers called the Froddings who may have been the descendants of Froda, an Anglo-Saxon mentioned in the poem Beowulf.

A few miles further south we reach the village of Atwick and, inland, Nunkeeling, the site of a 12th century Benedictine monastery. Two miles further down the coast we reach the small town of Hornsea.


Hornsea's name means the 'horn-shaped lake' - the lake in question being Hornsea Mere, a freshwater lake less than a mile from the sea. It is remarkable, in that despite being only 467 acres, it is actually Yorkshire's largest natural lake although some man-made reservoirs up in the dales are considerably larger.

In the thireteenth century, the abbot of St Mary's at York and the abbot of Meaux near Beverley disputed the fishing rights at Hornsea Mere. They eventually settled their argument in a duel employing champions to fight their cause. St Mary's were the eventual winners, although it is said that no blood was shed during the dispute.

The main street of Hornsea is called Newbegin and there is a museum here dedicated to life in Holderness. Nearby is a shopping and leisure park called Hornsea Freeport and to the south of Hornsea the Hornsea Pottery which produces quality pottery. Hornsea's church dedicated to St Nicholas was built of cobblestones in the 14th century.


About 5 miles down the sandy Holderness coast from Hornsea is Aldbrough village situated inland with a name that means old fortified manor or old settlement - suggesting a site of some antiquity. Further inland towards Beverley and Hull are Skirlaugh and Burton Constable

Skirlaugh was the birthplace of the foureenth century Prince Bishop of Durham, Walter Skirlaw, who took his name from the place. The Bishop built the church at Skirlaw in 1401. Skirlaw had also been Bishop of Lichfield and Bishop of Wells. During his time as Bishop of Durham he built Yarm Bridge, linking on the River Tees linking the counties of Durham and Yorkshire.

Burton Constable (not to be confused with Constable Burton in Wensleydale) is the home of Burton Constable Hall. Parts of this house date back to 1570, but most of the building is eighteenth century. It is the home of the Chichester -Constable family whose ancestors have lived in the area since the 11th century.

A few miles south of Burton Constable is Hedon. In the 12th century this was a busy port situated on a stream that flows into the Humber. Its role as a port was later eclipsed by Hull.

The medieval De La Pole family who developed Hull as a port originally concentrated their trade at Hedon. There are still some traces of Hedon's former importance. In the Town Hall there is an old mace which is said to be the oldest in England. It dates from the reign of Henry V. Hedon's church is dedicated to St Augustine and was commenced in 1180, but the nave and aisles are 14th century.

Patrington, further south has a fine cathedral-like medieval church sometimes described as the 'Queen of Holderness' while further north east on the coast is Withernsea, historically a coastal resort for Hull. It has a lighthouse dating from 1894.


South of Withernsea and Patrington, the Holderness peninsula begins to narrow until it eventually forms the tiny spit of sand and shingle called Spurn Head where the River Humber finally becomes the sea. Spurn Head is a hook shaped peninsula, some three and a half miles long and is as little as 50 yards wide in places. Formed by silt deposited from the Humber and sand washed down from the Holderness coast, Spurn Head is subject to erosion from the sea. It has occasionally been breached by the sea, but the deposits rebuild and Spurn Head can reappear a little further to the west. The Humber lifeboat is based at a jetty on Spurn Head, as are the Humber pilot ships that guide ships into the mouth of the Humber.


Market Weighton and Pocklington are market towns situated near the edge of the Wolds between Beverley and York. A Roman Road from York to Brough on the Humber runs through the market town of Market Weighton. The churchyard here is the burial place of a so-called giant called Wiiliam Bradley who died in 1820. He was eight foot tall and weighed 27 stones.

Pocklington has a 13th century church and a grammar school dating from 1514 which was attended by William Wilberforce. William's ancestors came from the village of Wilberfoss a few miles to the west of Pocklington on the road to York.


The Market Weighton and Pocklington area is thought to have been the first area of Northern England to be colonised by the Anglo-Saxons from Denmark and Germany (the Angles came from Angulus in southern Denmark).

The Anglo-Saxons formed the Kingdom of Deira in the Yorkshire Wolds and this kingdom gradually spread north and west , ultimately meging with the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Bernicia north of the Tees to form the Kingdom of Northumbria. Deira probably took its name from the River Derwent valley which lies on the northern and western outskirts of the East Yorkshire region.

The medieval church of All Saints at Goodmanham, just to the north of Market Weighton, is thought to have been the site of the principal pagan temple of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom called Deira. In the Easter of 627 Edwin of Deira, a King of Northumbria was converted to Christianity by a missionary called St Paulinus. The conversion and baptism took place at a church called St Peter's in York at a location that would become the site for York Minster.

Coifi the Pagan high priest of Deira followed Edwin's example and also converted to Christianity. To demonstrate his new faith Coifi destroyed the great heathen temple at Goodmanham, borrowing Edwin's arms and horse to destroy the site.

King Edwin is said to have owned a summer palace somewhere near Goodmanham from where Coifi rode out to destroy the pagan shrine at Goodmanham. It is known that in the year 626AD, a year before his conversion to Christianity, there was an attempt to assasinate Edwin at this palace.

Eumer, an agent of the King of the West Saxons attempted to assasinate Edwin while he was celebrating the Pagan festival of Easter. The assassin entered the King's court and asked to speak with the king on the pretence of having an important message from the West Saxon King.

On seeing the king, Eumer produced a poisoned dagger from beneath his cloak with which he attempted to stab Edwin. Fortunately for the king one of Edwin's men called Lillam jumped in the way and suffered a blow from which he was killed. A fight followed in which Edwin was injured but Eumer was eventually put to death. On the same night of the assasination attempt King Edwin's queen, Ethelburga is said to have given birth.

The site of Edwin's palace is however unknown, the two most likely locations being at Sancton to the south of Market Weighton, where a large Anglo-Saxon cemetery has been found or at Londesborough near Pocklington.

In 634 the palace - wherever its location may have been - was destroyed by the Welsh King Cadwallon of Gwynedd. It may later have been replaced by a new palace at Newbald, south of Sancton as Newbald means new building. Newbald formed a large estate in later medieval times and this may have been associated with the site of the palace. The name Sancton incidentally means something along the lines of holy place.

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