Flamborough Head, Yorkshire

Flamborough Head, Yorkshire

On our recent trip to England, I had a list of lesser attractions for us to see. They weren’t big enough to drive out of our way for, but they were interesting or scenic enough to add into our itinerary if we found ourselves with a little bit of extra time and happened to be in the area.

Flamborough Head was one such place.  I had seen pictures of white cliffs and a big lighthouse and thought, “Well, that will be a nice place to take a few pictures.”  I had no idea there was so much history attached to it.  As a result, I was pretty pleased that we had gone to check it out.

flamborough head old lighthouse chalk tower

We passed this chalk tower as we approached the Flamborough Head lighthouse.  Sir John Clayton built the tower in 1669 with the permission of King Charles II. It stands over 78 feet tall and would have had a coal or brushwood fire burning at the top. However, most historians agree that it was never actually lit. Perhaps the voluntary dues from passing sailors were insufficient to provide funding for it. The chalk tower is most likely the oldest surviving lighthouse in England.

When we arrived at the current lighthouse, Hubs took a moment to read the signs, and we got a little insight into the historical significance of the site:

In the middle of the American Revolution, on September 23, 1779, the Battle of Flamborough Head took place. The battle was a conflict between an American Navy squadron led by none other than John Paul Jones on the Bonhomme Richard, and two British escort vessels, the HMS Serapis and the Countess of Scarborough, which were protecting a large merchant convoy.

Battle of Flamborough Head

Jones’ initiated the conflict by engaging the Serapis in a violent gun battle. It seemed that a British victory would be inevitable because the Serapis was more heavily armed.

At one point in the battle, John Paul Jones’ ship collided with the Serapis, rendering both ships temporarily immobile. The British captain, a man by the name of Pearson, taunted Jones by asking if his ship had struck.  (This was a play on the word strike, which is also the term for lowering a ship’s flag as a sign of surrender – “striking the colors.”)

John Paul Jones’ response?  The famous quote, “I have not yet begun to fight!”

In the end, Jones claimed the victory, although he lost his ship in the process. Countless expeditions have looked for the wreckage of the Bonhomme Richard but none have met with success to date.

Samuel Wyatt, a noted architect, designed the current lighthouse at Flamborough Head.  Built in 1806, it held an oil lamp, which rotated by means of a clockwork motor.  The light was reportedly visible for 20 miles.  In 1925 authorities raised the lighthouse to its current height of 85 feet, which puts it 250 feet above the waves.

Flamborough Head Lighthouse

In addition to the impressive lighthouse, the view there was really beautiful.  Water lapped at the edges of the white cliffs and the North Sea stretched out in front of us as far as we could see.  It was the kind of place that you want to just stand and take it all in. So if you’re in the area and have a half hour or so to spare, stop by to soak up the history and the salt air.

Flamborough Head Cliffs

You can reach the Flamborough Head Lighthouse by way of Lighthouse Road (B1259) in Flamborough, Yorkshire, postcode YO15 1AR.

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