Filey was a small farming and fishing community until the arrival of the holiday makers in the C19th.
The original settlement grew up on either side of the steeply wooded Church Ravine which formed a natural harbour where it entered the sea. This was sheltered from the worst of the weather by the promontory of Filey Brig to the north, which formed a natural breakwater. In stormy weather, it provided good shelter for shipping between the Humber and the Tyne. The original stream was culverted when the road was built.
St Oswald’s Church, built by the monks at Bridlington Priory, is to the north of the ravine and is the oldest building in Filey. Parts of it date back to the C12th.
A bridge over the ravine connects the church with the rest of the settlement. This retains a lot of its character and Church Street and Queen Street still have many C17th houses. The Museum on Church Street dates from 1696 and was originally two cottages, belonging to a fisherman’s cottage and a farm worker. Queen Street was the original shopping street, although the shops are now long gone. It drops down to Coble Landing by a flight of steps.
This is a slipway where fishing cobles were launched. About seven cobles still fish from Filey. Local fisherman traditionally had a distinctive Gansey (woollen sweater) with their own family knitting pattern so if drowned at sea they could be recognised by their pattern. The lifeboat station is here. There are also a few arcades, a cafe and other amusements.
The railway arrived in 1846 and Filey became a prosperous and fashionable watering place with visitors coming for the peace and quiet, and for the long stretch of sandy beach. This stretch of coastline is subject to rapid coastal erosion and the Spa built to the north of Coble Landing has since fallen into the sea.
A stone sea wall was built in 1893 along the foreshore promenade now called The Beach Road to prevent further erosion. Initially visitors stopped in local homes until new guest houses were built.
The Crescent was built high above the beach to the south of the town in the mid C19th. The impressive six blocks of terrace houses soon became one of the most fashionable streets in the north of England, attracting Royal visitors and the aristocracy. In 1911, Filey was described as a “town of most elegant appearance, with crescents and rows of mansion-like houses facing the sea, with streets of well appointed shops and broad avenues, bordered at intervals with excellently designed villas, substantially built. Untrammelled by anything garish, free from bustle, and as yet preserved from inclusion in the list of ‘excursion” towns’, Filey is distinctly the most aristocratic seaside resort in the North”. The high class visitors continued to visit well into the interwar period. In front were the Crescent Gardens which could only be used by the house owners who paid a yearly subscription or visitors staying there. There was a band stand for concerts and open air dancing several times a week in the 1920s and 30s
The town grew rapidly and a new church dedicated to St John the Evangelist was built in 1870-71 as a chapel of ease to St Oswald’s and also to accommodate the increasing population.
A Methodist Church was built on Union Street in 1876 with attached school room. The present building is a well known landmark and dates from the early C20th, replacing the original building which burnt down. Just down from it is the brick built primitive methodist chapel, often referred to as the Ranter’s Chapel, because of its powerful sermons. This is now closed and is a block of flats.
After the Second World War, the land to the south of Filey was developed with large caravan parks and Butlin’s Holiday Camp opened. This rapidly became a very popular holiday centre for families and even had its own railway station. By the late 1950s it could accommodate 10,000 holiday makers every week. It closed in 1983 as numbers were declining rapidly a with the increase in cheap foreign holidays. The site is now part of Primrose Valley Holiday Park.
Visitors still come, but most are day visitors. The main shopping street has moved to the area around Belle View Street and Murray Street. The Memorial Gardens are off Murray Street and are entered via a ceremonial arch listing the dead of both World Wars.
Filey has retained its charm and, unlike near neighbours Bridlington and Scarborough, hasn’t grown into a large tourist resort.