Dr. Cortis Speaks

On this day in 1857, at possibly his first meeting in the Town Hall after being elected Mayor of Scarborough, Henry SPURR introduced William Smithson CORTIS to the gathering. The good doctor of Filey read a paper about the recent finds of Roman artifacts on Carr Naze, following a landslip caused by heavy rain. I haven’t yet found a transcript online – and accounts of the more recent excavations of the Signal Station are not freely available either. Some of the brief online references to the discovery say Dr. Cortis led the excavation and gave his talk to Filey antiquaries. Neither “fact” seems to be true.

Dr. Cortis credits “a painter belonging to Filey, named Wilson” as the finder of the revealed objects. Filey Genealogy & Connections identifies Jeffrey WILSON as the man of that moment. He was about 65 years old at the time but still working in 1861 so could have been sprightly enough to descend “at some risk…down the falling cliff” to retrieve what he initially thought were pieces of jet. He died aged 76 in October 1872.

Carr Naze was then the property of the Reverend Richard BROOKE  of Gateforth and it was he who organized the excavation. It is not clear from the talk if Filey’s doctor got his hands dirty or was merely an interested observer at the dig.

You will see from Today’s Image how narrow the spine of Carr Naze is now. The Information Board at the site gives an indication of how much of the promontory has been eroded since the Romans left Britain.


The five stone blocks found at the base of the tower can be seen now in Crescent Gardens, and the “hunting scene” of the Information Board is described by Dr. Cortis as “a dog chasing a stag”. Over the years I have looked for the animals a number of times. I think they may still be visible if the light is favourable, but perhaps not as clearly as in this old photograph of poor quality and unknown provenance. (There is a more recently taken image here.)


William Smithson CORTIS is on the FamilySearch tree.

Henry SPURR, born Doncaster in 1795, died 30th May 1865 at Westfield House, Scarborough after a short illness. He has at least two nascent pedigrees on FST, both generated by “the system”. One gives his parents and the other his son, James Frederick, by first wife Eleanor WHITE. Eleanor died age 48 in 1844 and Henry married Louisa Amelia BLIGHT almost four years later, in East Stonehouse, Devonshire.

“Jeffry” WILSON is also unmarried on FST. His granddaughter, Mary WILSON, married the grandson of the William PASHBY who died suddenly in Friday’s post – but you will have to go to Kath’s Filey Genealogy to see that Connection.

Gristhorpe Man

William BESWICK senior was 54 years old when, this day 1834, he invited some friends from the Scarborough Philosophical Society to open up a burial mound on his estate.1834_BESWICKwilliamSarcophagus_news

A couple of months ago I walked the Cleveland Way along the North Cliffs, past Gristhorpe Wyke to the Blue Dolphin Holiday Park and went in search of the Bronze Age burial site. I couldn’t imagine there would be no sign whatsoever of the barrow and, ever the optimist, I refused to countenance Ignorant Man putting caravans on top of a place once sacred to our forebears.

I hadn’t researched the exhumation and a rather crude sketch plan in one article was the only indicator of the location I had. From the top of the 120 bus I had spied  a likely spot and headed there first. The broad hummock with a few small trees and gorse bushes felt right.


The path at the right of the photo gave easy access to the top but the surface was of  scattered broken concrete slabs overgrown with weeds, the remains perhaps of World War Two structures. The North Sea might have been visible from a not particularly high observation tower. The view inland towards Star Carr and the Wolds scarp is wide and, though not what you’d call spectacular, it is easy to imagine the Aboriginal Prince’s people being awed by it.

William BESWICK junior had recently turned 17 and I expect he took part in the dig. Six months older, William Crawford WILLIAMSON may also have been involved in the manual labour that day. His father, the curator at the Rotunda Museum in Scarborough, considered his son competent enough to write the first report on the discovery of the ancient warrior.

WILLIAMSONwmcrawf1695_pdI wonder if the two teenagers formed a friendship as a result of their shared involvement in what must have been a remarkable local event. Young Williamson would go on to distinguish himself as an “English naturalist [and] founder of modern paleobotany” (Encyclopaedia Britannica). This photograph of him was taken when he was 60 years old and the image, a scan from Makers of Botany, 1913, is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. His obituary in The Times fails to record family that survived him but someone bearing his name married in Bradford in 1874 (two years before the portrait photo was taken). The Find My Past newspaper collection for 1874 only records his receipt of a Royal Medal “for his contributions to zoology and palaeontology, and especially for his investigations into the structure of fossil plants of the coal measures”, (Western Daily Mercury, 13 November).  His appearance on FST (MGJ9-C6R) only records his baptism and parents. Young Beswick had ten fewer years on the planet and remained a single man. William Beswick the Elder died about three years after the discovery of 3,800 year old Gristhorpe Man.

Regarding Today’s Image of the Wave – I offered “apparition” as a tag. I hope this crop shows why…