Holderness is very much the forgotten part of East Yorkshire and has a very old fashioned feel as if time has passed it by. It is a flat and very fertile area but has one of the fastest eroding coastlines in Europe with over 30 villages lost to the sea between Flamborough Head and Spurn Point.
By the C15th the original village of Withernsea had disappeared under the waves. All that is left is a plaque on the sea front marking the position of St Mary’s Church and St Peter’s Church in next door Owthorpe, which had also disappeared by the early C19th.
The settlement moved to higher ground further inland and a village grew up around the newly built Church of St Nicholas, constructed from cobbles and boulders collected from the beach. The church lost its roof in a storm in the C17th and remained a ruin until the Owthorpe church was lost to the sea. It was then restored and used again. The church was declared redundant in 2014 and is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. Services have moved to the smaller St Matthew’s Church on Hull Road..
The railway arrived in 1854 as means of getting produce to markets in Hull. Holiday makers had been discovering the joys of the east coast since the C18th and the arrival of the railway meant Victorian workers and their families started to arrive. A prestigious three story hotel was built near the station, but the anticipated crowds of visitors did not come. The hotel proved too large and too costly and by 1902, it had become a convalescent home. It is now a residential care home.
Withernsea has a long stretch of sandy beach and groynes and a sea wall were built to prevent further coastal erosion. Guest houses and small hotels were built above the promenade. A Methodist Church was built in 1898 for the increasing number of holiday makers. The Hull and East Riding Congregational Board built a school room and church in 1902.
A long iron pier opened in 1877 with a splendid stone castle ‘gateway’ and the public were charged 1d for admission. It proved very popular with day trippers from Hull. A wide promenade was built to the north and south of the Pier Towers, protecting area from further erosion. Pleasure gardens with a boating lake were developed behind the promenade.
The pier extended into the busy shipping waters of the North Sea and has had a long history of disasters detailed in boards on the promenade. During its construction was struck by a Hull smack when the captain mistook the light on the pier for another steamer. Two years after completion it was struck by a Grimsby fishing smack. Although the pier was repaired it was again struck by two ships caught in a fierce storm in 1880, who punched a huge gap in the middle of the pier. A few years later another ship destroyed more than half of the pier, which was never rebuilt. By the 1890s, the length had been reduced to about 50’. By 1903, the pier was declared unsafe and was dismantled, although the Pier Towers were left. Steps lead down to beach.
There are “plans”:https://withernsea1.co.uk/PierPlans.html to restore the two towers and build a short viewing platform out into the sea and eventually to restore the pier. Towers are now open during the summer season contain exhibitions and art stalls.
A lifeboat has been stationed in Withernsea since 1862 and the present lifeboat station is on the South Promenade. A lighthouse was built in 1892-4 and was positioned well back from the sea front because of problems of coastal erosion. When it was built, it was separated from the sea by sand dunes. It is now surrounded by housing.
The lighthouse ceased operation in 1976 and is now a “museum”:https://withernsealighthouse.co.uk/ with exhibits about the RNLI and the history of the Spurn Lifeboats and coastguard, including details of shipwrecks. There is a local history section with photos of the town and also information about Kay Kendal who was born here. There are 144 steps to the top of the lighthouse which has good views of the area.
Although the railway shut in 1964, tourists still come to Withernsea and there are a few guest houses along the promenade and caravan holiday parks around the edge. Queen Street is still the main shopping area with small shops, although it does boast a Tesco and Aldi.
Withernsea has always been the main service centre for the area. This was mainly an agricultural economy although there was some fishing off the coast, with boats known as cobles being launched off the beach. One has been restored and displayed on the South Promenade.
Adjacent to the coble is the Withernsea Commercial Fishing Boat Compound. Catches are mainly crabs and lobsters. The fishing is carefully controlled to be sustainable with gaps on the pots to allow undersized crabs and lobsters to escape. Pots are also designed to cause minimum damage to the animals and the sea bed.
There is a “Fish Trail”:https://withernseatowncouncil.co.uk/fish-trail/ along promenade with a crab sculpture and stone plaques with images of different fish.
And finally, don’t miss the display boards with pictures of old Withernsea taken between 1880-1950s just south of Pier Towers. Withernsea is justifiably proud of its heritage. It may be the forgotten but that is part of its attraction.