The Emperor of Filey

Local historian Michael Fearon, in his Story of Filey Through the Centuries (1990) has this to say:-

The Romans were competent seamen and it is reasonable to assume that they were familiar with Filey Bay. There is, however, nothing to substantiate legends associating the Emperor’s Bath, a large rock pool on the Brigg, with the Emperor Constantine!

Bummer. It is such a romantic notion. When I first heard the “legend” after arriving in Filey about ten years ago, I so wanted it to be true.

I set out for an evening walk yesterday, diverting from my intended path because of mist rolling in from the sea. I was drawn to the Emperor’s Bath, aka Emperor’s Pool, which nestles in the Second Doodle at the back of Filey Brigg.


Heavy rain in 1857 caused a slip on Carr Naze which revealed a portion of a wall. The first people to notice this unexpected evidence of human occupation removed some of the stones, finding an earthen vase, human and animal bones and some ornamented shells. A more rigorous excavation was funded by the landowner, the Reverend BROOKE, and this uncovered the five stones that now reside in Crescent Gardens, in their original disposition as foundations for a Roman Signal Station.

Five such towers were built on the east coast about 370 AD, at a time of Pictish incursions from the north and “barbarian” raids from across the sea. Constantine the Great was long gone by then so the notion of him making the journey from York to inspect the outpost at Filey on a warm summer day can indeed be discounted. There is, however, at least one picture of him taking a bath (of sorts).


This is a detail from a Romanesque fresco in Santi Quattro Coronati Church in Rome, showing Constantine being baptized by St Sylvester.

Chronology appears to kill the legend but myths are like pearls. In so many instances they are found to have some grit of reality at their centre.

Enter Constantine III,  a career soldier at the sunset of Empire. Following a power struggle in Britannia, in 407 he declared himself the Western Roman Emperor before crossing to Gaul to establish his power base. He locked horns with Honorious, was accepted as co-Emperor in 409, abdicated in 411 and was killed soon afterward. Perhaps one of his last thoughts was of a day at the seaside and a refreshing plunge into a rock pool.

A pedigree on FamilySearch Tree shows Constantine III to be the great-grandson of Constantine the Great, the brother of King Vortigern of Britain and the father of King Uther Pendragon. No shortage of romance there already, even before reaching Arthur and Guinevere. Heading back in time will bring you eventually to Troy.

38 Generations

In the 1890s The Cardiff Times ran a series on Old Brecknockshire Families. If the anonymous author portrayed the Gwynns accurately there is a lot of work to be done on the FamilySearch pedigree. As we all make mistakes, there are probably errors on both sides.

It isn’t an easy family to deal with. Cousin marriages, duplicate first names of wives (without their family name given in baptism records), and the predilection to adorn male children with two or three middle names from the glorious past, (Howe, Sackville, Thynne), make it all too easy to place children with the wrong parents.

It is above my pay grade to deal with these difficulties on FST.

There is only one “Filey Gwynn” – Chedworth Morgan, born in 1904, but I have linked him to the illustrious pedigree on FST. A few generations into the past there are serious issues with a number of Gwynne children born after the deaths of fathers and/or mothers but I’m fairly sure these can be resolved and the descent of Chedworth from Charlemagne established.

I wandered today down different byways and discovered that I may be related to Chedworth. For a few weeks last year I found myself on a Super Pedigree. One of our common ancestors could be Mary BOLEYN.

Ann’s sister is just 12 generations distant, at which point we all have 2,048 great-grandparents. At 24 generations we have, notionally, over 8 million such. By the time we reach Charlemagne at Chedworth’s Generation 38 there are, impossibly, 137 billion plus.

Given my possible family connection to Chedworth and the mysterious way pedigrees “fold in on themselves”, it seems very likely that, if you can take your family tree back just far enough, a small army of blue-bloods will be yours. Really, we are all one big family.

It might be tedious to give you a complete route from Chedworth to the Holy Roman Emperor, (there are several), but here are some signposts along the way.

Gen 21. Edmund Plantagenet m. Eleanor of Castile

Gen 27. Henry 1, King of England m. Matilda Edith

Gen 28. William the Conqueror m. Matilda, Countess of Flanders

Gen 35. Robert 1 of France m. Beatrice de Vermandois

Chedworth left Filey but didn’t travel far to find a wife. He married Edith Joan TERRY in York and in 1939 he was living at Middlethorp Manor, now York’s “most expensive house”. Also in residence – Edith’s father Francis, the chocolate manufacturer.

The Surgeon and the Poisoner

Claudius Galen WHEELHOUSE, towards the end of his eventful life, filled his “retirement” hours serving the people of Filey in a variety of ways – JP, magistrate, and chairman (I think) of the Lifeboat Committee. He was also a churchwarden at St Oswald’s, Filey (Today’s Image). His compassion for humankind, or “peoplekind” if you prefer, was probably instilled into him as a child, but an early, and very public, demonstration of it occurred in 1856. Aged thirty and building his career and reputation as a surgeon, he added his name to a petition, pleading that the life of “The Leeds Poisoner” should not be taken by the hangman.

Your petitioners…humbly pray that your most gracious Majesty will be pleased to spare the life of…William Dove.

Claudius and about twenty other citizens were of the opinion that:

…if persons of such unsound and defective intellect as…William Dove are to suffer the extreme penalty of the law, the effect upon the public mind will be most injurious, and will tend more than any other cause to bring capital punishment, under whatever circumstances imposed, into general odium and disrepute.

They seem to have believed that locking him up for the rest of his life would be “the most just and adequate punishment”.

The woman who sent her armies to slaughter people in the hundreds of thousands was unmoved, and a large crowd gathered in York on Saturday, 9th August, to watch “the drop”. A novice hangman added a certain amount of extra drama to the terrible occasion but William was eventually dispatched. He didn’t struggle much.

His family was, apparently, of “the Wesleyan persuasion” and he had been attended by several religious gentlemen in his last days. He had admitted his guilt but, from my reading of the case thus far, he didn’t seem to care for his wife much. I doubt they diagnosed “borderline personality disorders” 150 years ago but that section of the DSM-5 would be my first port of call in an attempt to understand the wretched fellow.

Poor Harriet JENKINS. She had met and married the handsome northern man of limited, but independent, means in Plymouth in the summer of 1852. She was from a good family. A  clergyman brother was also a professor of mathematics in Madras, and her mother and sister, traveling up from Devon to look after her, crossed the letter announcing Harriet’s death. A saving grace, perhaps – there were no children born to the unhappy couple.

You will find the Poisoner and his victim on FamilySearch Treeand there is a lengthy PDF of the inquest, trial and execution online that can be freely downloaded.


Young William Tout

On the 3rd April 1881, the census enumerator found William Robert Geatches TOUT boarding with about a dozen other 21-year-old students, at the Diocesan Training College, in York. Three months later he died at the Coastguard House, Cliff Top, Filey.

Photographed this morning

A week or so before Christmas that year, William was remembered at the College’s Prize Giving Ceremony. The Principal, Rev. G. W. De Courcy BALDWIN, introducing the Very Rev. Dean of York, honoured guest and prize-giver, said that this yearly gathering was in many respects the most pleasing of their College meetings, but continued:

No retrospect, however, could be altogether pleasant in this world of change, and they had had their share of trials. A plain, simple white marble tablet had just been placed in their chapel to the memory of one of the most promising young men he had ever had under his care. William Tout, a senior student of that college, died at his parents’ home in Filey in July last. He was a young man of great intelligence and many virtues, among which moral and physical manliness, unswerving integrity, and, thank God, a deep sense of religion were conspicuous. The simple memorial to which the speaker alluded had been erected at the sole cost of William Tout’s fellow students, by whom he was loved as well as respected.

The College, in Lord Mayor’s Walk,  has been incorporated into York St John University but you can read about its Victorian existence here.

In the spring of 1891, the sadly reduced Tout family was living in Cliff Terrace, part of present-day Belle Vue Street, rather than Cliff Top. The Coastguard house was occupied by the retired surgeon and Justice of the Peace, Claudius Galen WHEELHOUSE. While looking in local newspapers for Tout information, I found an intriguing snippet.

In a report on Local Board business (Miscellaneous Items) –

Mr. Tout, coastguard officer, sent an application to the board for leave to erect a target near Mr. Wheelhouse’s property for the coastguard men to practice at. It was decided that the site be inspected before leave be given.

Scarborough Mercury, 9 February 1878

In 1881, at the age of 54, Claudius was still happily and successfully knifing people in Leeds, but had clearly settled on the place – and the house – in which he wished to end his days.


In late November 1863, Filey’s second lifeboat and its transport carriages were conveyed from Limehouse to the town, free of charge, by the Great Northern and North-Eastern Railway Companies. On Thursday, the 26th, it went on show.

Front and centre of proceedings were the Lord and Lady Mayoress of York, Richard Welch HOLLON and Mary née TROTTER. The lifeboat was their gift to the town. Before a procession set off to the seashore, Mr. Hollon addressed the crowd.

Ladies and gentlemen, for this extraordinary demonstration of your feelings towards me, I can scarcely find words of  acknowledgement; but I assure you it is from my heart that I thank you on behalf of myself and Mrs. Hollon. We feel that if ever there was a worthy institution amongst us – one deserving of the generous support of all classes – it is the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. (Cheers.)  We are all in some measure indebted to the service of our brave sailors for many of the comforts we enjoy – from the tobacco of the poor labouring man to the more costly luxuries of the rich. Nationally, we ought to feel bound to protect the lives of our loyal tars, who have ever been ready to defend our shores from the attack of the invader, both in times of yore and even now. (Cheers.) But for them our homes might be subject to the torch of the invader and we might have to sit down like Marius and deplore the fallen glory of our once great empire. (Cheers.) It must indeed be a proud consideration for the men of Filey if they have to think hereafter that they have saved but one single life. (Cheers.) It may be thought singular that I, who reside in an inland part, should be the donor of a lifeboat to the coast. But we once – my wife and myself – had the misfortune to be placed in a situation of the most imminent peril at sea during a storm. We were providentially saved from a watery grave, and since then Mrs. Hollon suggested to me the appropriateness of commemorating our merciful preservation by presenting a lifeboat to some place where it might be needed. This boat is the result of my acquiescence in her wishes, and I assure you nothing could give me greater pleasure than I now feel in presenting this boat to the people of Filey.

Scarborough Mercury, 28 November 1863

This generous man would present Filey with successor boats – Hollon II and III – and leave the bulk of his estate to what we now call “good causes”. He died in York in July 1890 at the age of 83 and some of his bequests are still being managed today. His wealth derived from selling drugs. At the 1881 Census he described himself as a “retired drug merchant”, and I imagine he must have had a chain of chemist’s shops to amass so much loot.

Richard was 49 years old when he married for the first and only time; Mary just thirty. They did not have children of their own but amongst the institutions to benefit from Hollon generosity were the York Blue School for Boys, the Grey School for Girls, the Victoria Blind School in Newcastle, the Newcastle Deaf and Dumb Asylum and Dr. Barnardo’s Home Missions.

Though much younger, Mary died before her husband, in 1880 aged 55. He had “found” her in Morpeth and in her memory made a gift to the town of £7,000, about £350,000 in today’s money. From the interest on this sum, 25 of the town’s elderly poor would be paid a quarterly sum – in perpetuity. Such was the size of the gift that more than this number benefited each year and the grateful town opened a subscription scheme, the proceeds of which paid for the Hollon Fountain. (The current income of the gift is £8,500 per annum. The fountain was accidentally demolished by a car some years ago but has been rebuilt in a nearby location at a cost of £600,000 – and the annual Hollon Tea tradition revived.)

The forebears of both Richard and Mary have proved to be quite a challenge. I introduced Richard to Mary on the FamilySearch Tree a couple of weeks ago but today discovered that his mother, Dorothy ANNET(T) was a widow when she married John HOLLON. Her first husband was one Nicholas Philipson – and another man of that name married Ann ANNETT. And, yes, Dorothy had a sister called Ann. Further investigation suggests there are two Ann Annetts and two Nicholas Philipsons of the same vintage and location. I don’t envy their descendants sorting the tangled web. The Allendale PHILIPSONs may be connected in some way to Dorothy. They have a long pedigree.

Mary TROTTER was born in India or “the East Indies”. A Richard & Mary Marriage Notice on FST gives her father as “Spottiswoode TROTTER. This points to HIS father being the Robert Trotter who was instrumental in encouraging Francis EYRE to challenge placemen of the corrupt Earls of Carlisle for the Parliamentary seat of Morpeth, a rotten borough if ever there was one. But back to the main subject of this post.


Love & Grief

Robert SNARR’s betrothed, Elizabeth CAMMISH, died this day 1848 of consumption. For six months or so he often visited her grave in St Oswald’s churchyard. On the 12th March 1849 he said farewell to his lost love and spoke for the last time with her mother, Mary. Charles Dickens has left an account of this bitter-sweet encounter and I wrote about it in Romance and Railways.

I was much affected by the story and sought more information about Robert. The son of William Snarr and Elizabeth Blades, he followed his father’s trade as a bricklayer. In 1841 brothers William and Thomas were also bricklayers, George a butcher, and the youngest two, James and Henry were apprenticed to a cooper and a glass cutter. There were two sisters. They lived in York, hard by the Minster.

Robert was born in Appleton Roebuck in 1817 and was, therefore, about ten years older than his beloved. Dickens wrote that Robert “continued to regard [Elizabeth’s] parents as his own” but her father, Robert, had died five years earlier, in 1844. If the courtship had been a long one it must have begun when Elizabeth was sixteen or so.

That Robert Snarr was devastated by her death is not in question. Dickens gives us a sense of foreboding and then delivers his bloody corpse. But he says the body was brought from the railway line within half an hour of speaking to Mary Cammish – a clear case of artistic license – and the reference to Robert quitting Filey for an engagement in Northumberland may not have been true at all.

It appears the poor man walked to Filey station, traveled to Scarborough and there boarded the York train. If his intention was to say goodbye to his family before heading north it would appear he changed his plans.  Approaching Seamer station he did something puzzling and his life ended violently in the blink of an eye. The coroner’s inquest decided it was an “accidental death”. I’m not so sure.


Robert Snarr’s body was brought back to Filey and he was laid to rest beside Elizabeth on the 16th March.


The bizarre nature of his death seems to have delayed registration until the third quarter of the year.  (1849 Sep Q Scarborough Volume 24 Page 418.)

FamilySearch Tree Robert SNARR, Elizabeth

The CAMMISH pedigree is more extensive on Filey Genealogy & Connections but Kath has Elizabeth reaching a significantly greater age. If you choose to roam the Cammish byways you may soon find familiar names from a recent post – Elizabeth is the 4th cousin three times removed of Ruth Charlotte PRUDAMES; common ancestors John CAMMISH and “Mrs. John CAMMISH”.