Distressing Event at Filey

That was the headline to a news report in the 11th August 1903 edition of the Yorkshire Post. It continued: –

Boy Overwhelmed at the Foot of a Cliff

By a Fall of Earth

The Victim’s Mother and Nurse Also Injured

At Filey yesterday, a little boy, six years old, one of a family of visitors from Harrogate, met his death. The unfortunate little fellow was John Dixon, the son of Mr. Frederick Dixon C.E., of Harrogate, one of the engineers on the Corporation. The family were staying at Carlton Road.

Yesterday afternoon Mrs. Dixon and the children, of whom there were three, proceeded to the sands, accompanied by a Miss Burnett, also of Harrogate, and a nurse. The children took off their shoes and stockings and went into the sea wading.

Shortly after five o’clock, the children gathered at the foot of the cliff about one hundred yards to the south of Filey foreshore, to dress. Jack Dixon sat apart from the others, and his mother was drying his feet, when suddenly, without warning, a quantity of earth, estimated to weigh between two and three tons, fell from the top of the cliff, a distance of forty feet, straight on to the unfortunate boy, whom it entombed.

The mother was knocked down, and her feet pinioned, while the nurse standing some distance away was also knocked down.

The screams of the other children brought a boatman and other male visitors to the scene, and Mrs. Dixon was extricated in a fainting condition.

The boy was afterwards found in a fearful state, his head being smashed, and his back and both legs broken. The body was conveyed to the lodgings.

The affair created a painful sensation among the large number of visitors in Filey. A fall of the cliff is most unusual at this time of the year. This is the first accident of the kind, indeed, which has occurred in the neighbourhood of Filey.

Thomas Robinson, the boatman who helped to extricate the lad, states that on rushing to the spot he found the lad absolutely buried.

Mr. Dixon, who had left Filey for home yesterday morning, was made acquainted with the sad news by telegram, and at once went to Filey.

Mrs. Dixon’s injuries are not serious, consisting of bruised feet, but she is suffering from shock.

The accident is the sole topic of conversation at Filey today. Mr. Frederick Dixon, father of the boy, whose address is Ganstead Rise, Ripon Road, Harrogate, informed our correspondent this morning that it  was a great wonder the whole of the children were not killed. They were quite near the deceased. Mrs. Dixon was struck on the back by the falling earth and her feet were fastened. She was reported this morning to be progressing favourably. The boy would have been seven years old on the 20th of this month. He was the eldest of Mr. Dixon’s family. The inquest has been fixed for 6.30 this evening, and the boy will be buried at Filey on Thursday morning.

I wrote about this event in Looking at Filey a few years ago but I didn’t realise young Jack had been laid to rest in St. Oswald’s churchyard, so I went up today to photograph the cross that marks his grave.


Some of the lead letterings have fallen away over the last 100 years or so. The inscription reads:-


In Sad Memory of JACK DIXON killed on Filey Beach Aug 10th 1903 aged 7 years

Crimlisk/Siddle Grave D360. East Yorkshire Family History Society, Part Two, 1603 page 86, adds the Burial Register information – 1903 Aug 12. John Dixon. Filey. 6.  I checked the entry online – Arthur Neville Cooper signed the register.

I wondered how the family had fared after the tragedy. I found a good source in Grace’s Guides for father Frederick John which tracked his fine career. He received a CBE in the 1943 birthday honours and died in his eightieth year on 26th June 1949. Mrs. Dixon was Mabel, born BODDY, in Ganstead just outside Hull. I need to check but I think Mabel outlived her husband, reaching the grand age of 89. There is a death registration in Lichfield  (June Qtr 1959) which fits with the 1939 Census entry. The couple was living then at Longdon Lodge, Lichfield R.D., with their two unmarried daughters, Hazel Audrey Boddy and Ivy Mary Sherwood.

Their boy taken so dreadfully had also been given some extra names. John Forrest Willingham Boddy Dixon. John had a brother who may not have been with the family on that fateful day in 1903. The newspaper says there were three Dixon children on the sands but the birth of Norman Edward had been registered in Lincoln in the June Qtr of 1901 and he was with the sadly reduced household in 1911, in Mellor Road, Ashton under Lyne. I haven’t found a marriage or death registration for Norman. I hope he had more luck than his bro.

After photographing the stone in the afternoon (it was partly shadowed in the morning) I went down to the foreshore and snapped the picture below of the the cliffs that shed the lethal two or three tons of clay in 1903. On this bright afternoon they looked benign, their grassy slopes not threatening at all. But above the Lifeguard flag you will see one outcrop near the beach and another a bit further south. These look to be about forty feet high and have steeper faces. I suspect one of their forebears was responsible for taking the boy’s life. I wonder, though, what might have happened to him between the ages of 17 and 21 had he survived the fall.


I called in at the church this morning to photograph Elinor’s window to add to yesterday’s post and met Reverend Paul for the first time. When I mentioned Jack he asked to be shown the boy’s grave. I hope you have found your way to LaFRedux Reverend!

(Frederick John is on FST, but I found no sign there of Mabel or the children.)

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