Chapter1. Along the Coast.
2. The Coming of the Saxons.
3. The Coming of the Danes.
4. The Coming of the Normans.




Along the Coast.

PERHAPS the earliest evidences of things which existed before even tradition begins to speak of this North-East corner of Lincolnshire are to be found in the stumps and roots of trees which may be seen here in common with other places on the English coast, at the far low-water mark. Silent witnesses, these, of a time when one of the great forests covered tracts which have since been successively river-bed, sandflats, marsh-lands and meadows.

The nebulous interblending of land and water Tacitus Vit. Agric. at the coast—the incursion of the sea among the hills, forming deep bays and inland lakes, were among those features of Early Britain which one Roman historian specially indicated.

By the time that the Britons under the Roman rule abandoned their wild and uncertain mode of living and began to trade among themselves and with other lands, the coast-line had lost its former contour, and the tide which in the earlier days had ebbed and flowed between the banks of a moderately broad river now began to encroach upon both shores and to flood the low-lands beyond. So by degrees the trees which had once stood upon solid earth were surrounded by water—at first only after an exceptionally heavy storm at sea, but afterwards regularly during the {4} tides of the new moon or the full: and being washed at the roots and watered with brine, they rotted and died, and, save where the salt water permanently embalmed their stumps all trace of them swiftly disappeared.

Steadily working its way inland the sea took possession of the flats which lie to the North of the high-land on which the Cleethorpes of to-day is built, and established as its utmost bound a curve skirting the hill foot and passing within a stone’s-throw of the spot which the Church of Clee was afterwards to occupy, and so on to the mouth of the Haven at Grimsby. This limit was maintained by the tides in all probability until after the 10th Century; and it may be that the bay under the lee of the hill was well known as affording a safe anchorage for the light and shallow craft of those days.

After the Conquest, however, the land appears to have slowly reclaimed itself—perhaps at the same time as the low-lands about the Grimsby Haven, which still retain the name of Ye Byrde of Gryme. the East and West Marshes though they have been built upon for many years. In districts affected by the constant flux and reflux of the tide the level of the ground may be raised six inches or even more in a century. The sea by depositing long heaps of sea-moss (commonly called “Poor Man’s Thread”) often assists in banking itself out; for the wind gathers the sand in great drifts against them, and unless there come an exceptionally strong tide within a short space of time the sea may not regain its old high water line for years—perhaps for centuries.

{5} During the 14th and the early part of the 15th Centuries there occurred a succession of phenomenal tides which swept away much of the Holderness shore of the river, Boyle’s Lost Towns of the Humber. the now-called “Sunk Island,” (which only re-appeared above water in the 17th Century) the town of Ravenser-odd and numerous seaboard villages. Much of the debris and sand was thrown up on the Lincolnshire side and, in addition to making changes in the coast-line there, silted up the Grimsby Haven to such an extent as to render it awhile unnavigable.

Yet at the same time there was much danger of loss from the inroads of the sea as well upon the Southern as the Northern Shores of the Humber, and to insure the safety of these

      “Low green meadows near the sea,”

and to prevent further encroachments embanking was resorted to, Cal. Rot. Pat. and such proportions had the danger assumed that no less than fourteen commissions were appointed by the Government between the years 1309 and 1409 to attend to the banks and seawalls along the Lincolnshire Coast, between North Cotes and Great Cotes upon Humber, particular reference being made to—“Teteney, Humberston, Thernesco, Itterby, Hole and Grimsby.”



The Coming of the Saxons.

CONCERNING the British inhabitants of our district we are absolutely destitute of information: Mon. Ant. Grimsby. they had no need to leave such traces of their occupation as exist in the mounds and hillocks at Grimsby; nature having here provided for them hills for seasons of peace and marsh lands for times of war. The proximity of Grimsby however guarantees some Celtic population—but more than this it is not safe to venture.

Neither does anything remain to tell us that the Romans ever made any use of the vicinity, though the great Fosse Way which extended from Exeter through Bath, Lincoln, and Ludford to the Coast could not have terminated at any great distance from here.

Reluctantly, therefore, we leave the district to the silence which enshrouds it until after the Roman legions had retired from Britain to buttress up their tottering empire.

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One day early in the 6th Century a band of Saxon Warriors sailed up the Humber and finding, not far from the sea, a smoothe piece of water under the lee of a hill on the Southern Shore, they anchored their keels and wading to land spread themselves {7} about in search of plunder and places of settlement. Like a new swarm of bees these Angles had left their parent hive on the Continent and had come to make a home wherever they could win one.

A party of them struck off to the flatlands towards the evening sun, and took up their abode at the head of the bay, within easy reach of their boats. See Sect. vi, Cap. 3. To the bay and subsequently to the settlement they gave the name “Céol-ee” which rapidly and naturally contracted itself into “Clee.”

“Céol” is the Early English or Saxon form of “Keel” a boat; and “Ee” or “Ea” is a shallow lake-like arm of the sea or of a river.

A second band landed nearer the rising ground and climbing the gentle slope of the hill which rose before them, found on the other side of the brow a declevity between it and where the ground re-ascended a couple of bow-shots away, to slope off again towards the sea. The position attracted them. The River was close at hand and good anchorage for their boats. A few paces on either hand gave them a commanding view of the surrounding country; while the depression in the hill-top afforded shelter from the fierceness of the wind, or from what was more important—the onslaughts of any hostile force. To the South-West they had the eminence now called “Crow Hill”: to the South was the crest along which the main street of Cleethorpes extends to-day; and behind, toward the North was the ridge over which the Grimsby Road now runs.

A hollow such as this, the Saxon peoples termed a “Hole,” and so “Hol” the place was {7} named: a number settling down to live and either appropriating the huts abandoned by the displaced Britons or building others. Any settlement of men or junction of roads, or group of huts, was a “thorp” in Saxon parlance. But so common a title generally had to be distinguished by a descriptive addition. Thus in Lincolnshire we have Thorpe le Mire, (Thorp in the Mire), Thorpe on the Hill, Thorpe in the Fallows, and Tattershall (probably Tatters-hole) Thorpe. So the full name of the Thorp here established would be Thorp in the Hole. See Sect. vi, Cap. 3. However “Hole” was the name of common use, and “Thorp” is seldom mentioned until more modern times, when Hole became one of the Clee-thorpes.

Some few of the stranger band did not remain on the hill-tops, but made their way beyond them to the further slope where they founded a hamlet upon the undulating ground, which took the name of Thorns-hoe—probably because it was placed on a part of the ridge where some species of thorn was common. The furze has been more plentiful here than it is now. The word “hoe” meaning a little hill formed a part of the names of two or three Saxon Settlements in the vicinity. Beyond Clee a mound (Abbey Hill) with a spring or well at the foot was called “ Well-hoe,” and not far away a sand hill received the descriptive name “Sand-hoe.” These localities are included in the present Borough of Grimsby, and have both played their part in the history of that town.

Thus was it that our fore-fathers settled down in this corner of Britain, building cotes (or cots) {9} or inhabiting the huts deserted by the subdued Britons whom they drove before them—first into the Midlands and Southern Fens and at length into the fastnesses of the Cambrian Mountains: and thus it was that in course of time these whilom invaders came to regard themselves as natives, and established “thorps,” and “hams,” and “tons” and made laws and wars as free men with a good conscience.

When a century had passed over them there came the messengers of the Gospel to win them to the faith of the “White Christ.” Slowly and steadily the Kingdom of the Redeemer spread, thrusting out the wild worship of Thor and Odin, and rooting itself as firmly in Angle hearts as the Angles themselves were rooted in British soil. Paulinus began his mission at York in 627: it was years before the Christian Faith crossed the Humber and penetrated the kingdom of the Middle Angles.



The Coming of the Danes.

IT was nearly three hundred years after the invasion of this Eastern sea-board by the Angles that the Danes first began that series of onslaughts which later were to culminate in settlement and partial supremacy. By this time England was largely Christian and Christian Churches had sprung up all around. The Danes—fierce followers of Thor and Odin—were most bitter in their hatred of the religion of the “White Christ” and ruthlessly slew every Christian pastor and plundered every Church they fell upon, and before them the Saxons quailed as the Britons had quailed before their forefathers.

The first Danish outburst during the latter years of the 8th Century had little else than plunder for its object. The next Century marked the struggle for conquest and the Peace of Wedmore in 878 fixes the date of the Danish sovereignty over Lincolnshire and the North.

It was during this period that there grew up beyond the hamlet of Hole upon the crest of the hill another township called by the Danes the Outer-by or Itterby—“By” being the Danish equivalent for the Saxon ton or town. Itterby is the same word as Utterby of which name there is a village not far from Louth mentioned by the Lincolnshire laureate in his “Northern Cobbler.”


   “I could fettle and clump owd boöts and shoes wi’ the best on ’em all,
   As fer as fro’ Thursby thurn hup to Harmsby and Hutterby Hall.”

Another hamlet which sprang up at this period was that of Weelsby or Wivelsby. Streatfield’s Linc. and the Danes. Wivel as a personal name is equivalent to the Anglo-Saxon Wifel, a beetle.* Evidently some personage rejoicing in the name of “Beetle” crawled into the district from a Danish long-boat and having aided in devastating the district and thinning out its inhabitants, now settled down beetle-like to make a home among the wreckage. Here he and his family lived for a sufficiently long period for the settlement to take his name and Vifellsby or Wivelsby to be added to the innumerable “bys” which stud the face of Lincolnshire.

*There is about 5 miles S.W. of Grantham a village retaining the name Wyvill in its original form.

It is possible that the family of Wele derived its descent from the original Wivel. The race was at one time important in Grimsby: William of that name, alderman of the borough, Mon. Ant. Gt. Grimsby. serving as one of its members in the Parliaments of 1377, 85, 91 and 1404. In the Church of St. James at Grimsby there used to be (1634) two inscriptions referring to this family. The first on a freestone monument ran:—

“Hic jacet Walterus de Wele qui obiit undecimis die Febuarii Anno Dni mccclxxxviii, cujus animæ propitietur Dominus.”

{12} Inquis. Post Mort. The Walter here commemorated bequeathed land in Grimsby and Clee to the Abbey of Wellow.

The second inscription surrounds the portraitures of a man and his wife carved upon a tombstone. The Collar of S,* a badge of considerable dignity, hangs around the man’s neck, and the legend Hist. Conv. Ch. St. Jas. Gy. is—or rather was for it is now almost entirely obliterated:—

“Hac sunt in fossa Wilelmi Weel miliscante corpora suffossa Christo. . . . . . Anno calerio Julüq die quasi seno.”

The arms borne by this family were:—

On a band between a Roman W and an annulet three hearts.

* The Collar of S.S.S. standing for Sanctus Simon Simplicus an uncorrupted judge of primitive times.



The Coming of the Normans.

JUST as the Saxon, and, after him, the Dane had conquered and settled in the land, so in 1066 an army of Normans set foot on English shores, and establishing their right by winning the battle of Senlac (or Hastings) against Harold the last of the Saxon kings, gave evidence that they had come to stay by turning out of their possessions all whomsoever it was worth while to evict, and more particularly those who had been most active in opposing them.

By one decisive victory, William the Norman duke made himself master of England and was duly crowned at Westminster by the Saxon Archbishop of York. But the Anglo-Danish inhabitants had come of too war-like a stock to accept without a struggle the position of serfs in a land which had once been theirs. From time to time revolts broke out, especially in the North where the influence of the English Earls, Edwin and Morcar, was the most felt. Twice William was forced to march into Yorkshire to quell insurrections and when at last the two sons of the King of Denmark sailed up the Humber with a fleet and killed 3,000 of his soldiers at York, the new king swore “by the splendour of God” to wreck dire vengeance upon {14} a district which so readily sympathised with every revolt against him. In savage rage he again invaded the North, carrying death and devastation. The Vale of York was ravaged and burnt—crops, forests, mills, and homesteads being left a charred and blackened desert; the Sea-board was laid waste and the shores of the Humber swept bare by the flames so that a hostile fleet might find no sheltered landing-place.

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William the Conqueror had no wish to become the tool of his barons by making them too powerful. He was generous enough with the land they had enabled him to conquer, but he took care that no man held too great a domain in one place. If he made large grants to any he made them up out of different counties.

This method of distributive land-grants is well illustrated in the case of the king’s half-brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux. Along with the Earldom of Kent, this ferocious ecclesiastic received no fewer than 439 Manors, of which 76 were in Lincolnshire.

Among these last was the Manor of Healing—let by the Bishop to a certain Wadard—which included Domesday. 85 acres in Clee and 60 in Thrunscoe. His also were the Manors of Laceby, Bradley, and Scartho to which there was attached land in Itterby and in Thrunscoe. Of the two Manors of Clee also, one was in possession of the Bishop—and Ilbert his tenant lived in the Manor-house belonging to it, which was situated in Itterby.

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{15} Let us imagine ourselves to be standing on the top of the Church-tower at Clee one summer day in the year 1075, and ready for a survey of the surrounding country. To the Northward lie the marsh-lands of the Clee Ness, veined with muddy “fleets” and creeks and spread with rank marsh-grass and rushes, the home of wild-duck and plover. Toward the East there rises See Sect. vi. Chap. 3. the “Mag highland” over the first ridge of which nestle the low, thatched huts of the hamlet of Hole. A little beyond is the village of Itterby where standing removed from the mud-daubed cottages of the serfs is the Manor house where Ilbert the Bishop’s “man” resides.

Over the far side of the hill and more to the Southward lies Ternescou (or as we now call it Thrunscoe) another small hamlet, attached mostly to the Manor which Wimund farms for Ivo Tallibois, the manor house of which lies not a bow-shot from our feet towards the South.*

* The site is probably that of the present Clee Hall.

Away to the sun-setting lies Wivelesby (Weelsby) where the Manor is held of Drogo de Beurere by Robert, his manor-house marking the centre of the hamlet.† There are trees here and beyond there is forest. A trifle to the North again, stretching away from the tower-foot, is the land of that Manor of Clee which Ilbert farms, part of it lying charred and black from the fire which but a few years ago had swept it of trees and dwellings. In {16} the background rises the Holme and Welhou (Wellow) and the two churches of Grimesby (Grimsby).

† The present new hall marks the site of the original manor-house.

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If we were to have visited Ilbert’s manor-house at Itterby we should have found it very rough and bare compared even with “the cottage homes of England” of our day. Single storied—often single roomed—the walls of rough rubble stones and clay—the roof of thatch, with a hole in the crest to let the smoke out (and the rain in)—the windows few, narrow and unglazed—for floor the bare earth spread with rushes and reeking with household refuse—the furniture restricted to a stool or two and perhaps a bed—a manor-house or hall in these days would not satisfy even the sanitary inspector now.

The cottages of the labourers were huts of wood or of wattle and mud, wherein the family shared its single room with the pigs and fowls and various other live-stock too numerous to mention. The household goods and chattels usually consisted of a log or two and an iron pot.