RAVENSER ODD

WHERE – WHAT - HOW

From the chalk outcropping of the Wolds at Flamborough Head 122m (400 feet) high, to the silt laden out-flowing of the Humber estuary, a distance of some 45 miles or 72.4k., during recorded history, have vanished beneath the ever encroaching waves of the North Sea some 30 habitations including the townships of:
Hartburn; Hyde; Withow; Cleeton; Northorpe; Hornsea Burton; Hornsea Beck; Southorpe; Great Colden; Coilden Parva; Old Aldborough; Ringborough, Monkwell; Monkwike; Sand le Mare; Waxholme; Owthorne or Sisterkirk; Newsham; Old Withernsea; Out Newton; Dimlington; Turmarr; Northorpe; Hoton; Old Kilnsea; Ravenspurn; and RAVENSER ODD. The last of these, Ravenser Odd, geographically was an odd place indeed. Its existence was but fleeting, but its historical impact more perhaps than should have been expected for a place of such physical insignificance.

To try to begin at the beginning, the township and port of Ravenser Odd was located at the mouth of the Humber Estuary, on the northern shore very close to the tip of the sand spit known today as Spurn Point. During its existence its name was recorded variously as Ravenser, Ravenser Odd, Ravenserodd, Ravenserod, and simply – Lod. This well known land/navigation mark is a fluid feature, it is thought to undergo a life cycle of some 250 years, during which it gets destroyed, is reborn some metres further westward, stabilises, and then is destroyed again. The causes for this phenomenon are dependant upon several geographical influences. Firstly the shore line of Holderness, of which Spurn point is the southern most extension, is composed of nothing more substantial than glacial tills, sands, and clays. Tidal influences, and long shore drift have been eroding this exposed clay coastline for the last several millennia, creating the bight known as Bridlington Bay. Washed out clay and sand deposits are then transferred hydrostatically southwards to where the Humber meets the North Sea, where some sediments are re-deposited. This is facilitated by the direction of the exposed, low-lying [4m. 12 feet high] clay cliffs of the Holderness coast, i.e. north and east facing plus the direction from which tidal and storm surges attack it, which is also from the north and east. Also the dominant tidal stream is from the north southwards. These in conjunction, provide for the necessary erosion of the Holderness shore at the northern section south of Bridlington, while at Spurn, some of the eroded sediment gets deposited, forming the spit.

The precise mechanisms and hydrodynamics employed making and destroying the Spurn peninsula are perhaps difficult to explain. However, George de Boer has said this on the matter “At the southern tip of the Holderness coast lies Spurn Point, a natural spit of sand and shingle extending into the Humber estuary. The history of this feature has been intimately associated with the coastal erosion of Holderness, which not only accounts for its construction, but also makes it susceptible to disintegration as the Holderness coast recedes westwards. The material from which the spit is built is transported southwards along the Holderness shore by waves. However, the spit does not continue the same alignment as the coast, but instead grows south-westwards across the mouth of the Humber, and thus gains shelter from direct attack by the waves that erode the cliffs to the north. The waves that approach its south-east facing shore on balance throw sand and shingle onto, or over its long narrow neck, thus building it up rather than washing it away. Some of the material is carried along the shore to the point and stays there so that Spurn grows longer, and some is carried round the point to the river side to form the broader tip. However, although Spurn retreats along with the coast to the north, the withdrawal of the tip of Holderness north-west-wards leads progressively to a loss of the shelter on which its existence depends, so that at intervals it is washed away. A variety of evidence indicates an alternation of washing away and re-growth over at least the last few centuries; this course of events is summarised in the maps opposite.” [Only one has here been reproduced for the sake of clarity RGH]

Each of the five spits of this reconstruction seems to have received a name after its appearance, and each name is topographically appropriate. Cornu vallis (the horn of the valley was the name on the Wilgils’ time, when the valleys in the bolder clay near Kilnsea and Easington would have been long enough, probably at least two miles, to justify this title. The spit on which Egil was wrecked was possibly that later named Hrafnseyrr or Ravenser (Raven’s beach or sand bank), from which Olaf sailed with the remnants of the Scandinavian army defeated at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, 1066. Later Ravenser became the name of the village at the tip of Holderness, and the next spit to appear was Ravenser Odd (the headland near Ravenser), which also became the name of the town established on it. By the time Bolingbroke landed there, the succeeding spit was called Ravenser Spurn or Ravenserspurn (the spur of land near Ravenser). The new name for its successor, Spurn Point, is first recorded in 1675.

An Historical Atlas of East Yorkshire , edited by Susan Neave and Stephen Ellis, Hull University Press, 1996; The History of Spurn Point, by George de Boer, pp 8 and 9, ISBN 0 85958 65 29

For those with an interest in the natural forces at work destroying the coast of Holderness together with current thinking regarding any defensive measures to prevent it, see:
http://herakles.fzi.de/Eurosion/incoming/Holderness%20coast.pdf

There are, needless to say, other points of view, for very little in history is indeed hard fact, it is more by way of interpretation, consequently there is almost inevitably more than one theory to explain certain details. A rationalised, dare one say, cautious offering of the shifting/static Spurn theories has been penned by Peter Crowther:

There is today much debate about the historical development of Spurn with one theory suggesting that it has been destroyed by the sea and reformed, in a slightly different location, at intervals throughout its history, and another suggesting that it has had a more or less continuous existence with the broad tip or 'Point' situated on approximately the same site that it occupies today. What is not in question is that for most of recorded history there has been a promontory or spit of land at the south-east tip of Holderness which we know today by the name of Spurn Head or Spurn Point.

“The earliest reference to the headland is in the 7th century A.D. when according to Alcuin's Life of St. Willibrord, Wilgils, the father of the apostle to the Frisians, Willibrord, is said to have settled there as a hermit. Known as Ravenser, from 'Hrafn's Eyr' or 'Hrafn's Sandbank', there are several references to Spurn in the Icelandic sagas, especially in connection with its use as an embarkation point for the defeated Norwegian army after the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. The name Ravenser was also applied to a small settlement, probably of Danish origin, which seems to have been located somewhere near the base of the headland a mile or two south-east of old Kilnsea. Never itself a town of major importance and predominantly rural in character, Ravenser was to be completely overshadowed by what may be described as a mediaeval 'new town', its near neighbour, Ravenser Odd.”
RAVENSER AND RAVENSER ODD: THE EARLY HISTORY OF SPURN HEAD by Pete Crowther

On the 27 th January 1913, T. Sheppard delivered a lecture to the Hull Literary Club, of which this is taken: “it will be understood that, as the Spurn grows and extends there must come a time when the space between the Point and the Lincolnshire coast is hardly sufficient for the tidal waters of the estuary to pass in and out, and a break must occur in the bank, thus forming an island. If we go back to geological times it is possible that a number of such extensions, and a number of islands, have existed. Doubtless, it was at some such period in its history that an island was formed upon which Ravenser and Ravenser Odd were built. Then, as the sandbank gradually extended southwards, the waters rushing in and out of the Humber would wash away the sand island, and the town built upon it become entirely blotted out and consumed. In quite recent times breaks have occurred, allowing water to pass through; but these have been repaired by groynes or similar artificial structures.”
Hull Literary Club Magazine, A Record of Transactions, Session 1912-13, vol. IV., part IV; The Lost Towns of the Yorkshire Coast, by T. Sheppard F.G.S., abstract of a lecture, delivered January 27 th, 1913; Reprint edition Malet Lambert High School, 1981.
This would seem in the face of modern hydrographics, to be a rather primitive insight however, it might be the easiest way of understanding the mechanisms at work which make and destroy the peninsular.

Another possibility is told of in the pages of “Baines’s Yorkshire, Vol. II, East and North Ridings, 1823, p. 227, in which it calls the place erroneously Ravenspurn [a totally different place RGH]. In a footnote it says: “Mr. Thompson, in his Ocellum Promontorium, fixes the site of Ravenspurn near the south-western extremity of the Holderness Promontory, about a mile within the Spurn Head.” To qualify this, it says in the body of the text “but so tenacious were some of the edifices of their station [Ravenspurn aka Ravenser Odd] that, not more than 50 years ago [c1770 RGH], the remains of the engulfed wall were visible to the fishermen at low water.” There was indeed a later Ravenspurn, which too was engulfed by the waves; the same Ravenspurn which was to be the landing place of exiled or aspiring kings over a century after Odd was lost. It might be that [on condition this was not yet another ‘fisherman’s’ tail], any remnants of upstanding masonry therefore actually did come from Ravenspurn, but not as Baines’s would have it, Odd. In the entire passage concerning Odd, Baines has the rights of some of his history of Odd, but his confusion between two disparate places has led to yet further confusion amongst researchers.

For myself, a total novice to this highly technical debate, I would refer the reader to look closely at the next image. It is an aerial photograph of the Point looking almost due northeast, from the very tip of it. The observer should focus mainly on the seaward side of the spit, and if my eyes do not deceive me, there can be seen the shallows from pervious migratory efforts of the feature. Perhaps! The 1855 Ordnance Survey, 1st Edition, shows the Point at that date as an island, with the lighthouse as a physical marker. The long sand and shingle spit is oft-times called – the Neck, which is a convenient title, and pretty well explains the nature of the feature, if this same map is continued north and eastwards, is indicated by a series of long narrow shoals. [See www.old-maps.co.uk and enter Kilnsea as the search parameter, then follow the coast south and east.]

This is reinforced by the current Admiralty chart of the area, which clearly indicates that some sort of westerly migration of the point has over time, occurred.

Somewhere, beneath the sandy, silted waves east of the Point [perhaps], lies buried the memory of the place called severally, Ravenser Odd. Wave action will over the centuries have likely removed any and all traces of the township and port, there will be, even if such a thing were possible to investigate, little or no archaeological traces. The apparent periodical shifting of the tip of the spit has led to much confusion among early antiquarians, between three very similar sounding places – Ravenser, Ravenser Odd and Ravenser Spurn. The three places are however, separated by both time and distance. Records prove that Ravenser Odd had long vanished when Ravenser Spurn was admitting exiled or aspiring kings into the country. If the shifting Spurn theory is correct, then by viewing the suggested plan made by George de Boer, it can be seen that while Ravenser Odd is located at the tip of the spit, Ravenser Spurn is located at the base of it, with an assortment of ‘Old Ravensers’ trekking north-westwards as time and erosion progressed. It is however, regardless of any diversionary tactics of history and/or geography, Ravenser Odd, on the tip of Spurn, to which this article is predominantly directed.

Upon this shifting land Orcadian and Icelandic sagas told of a place named ‘Hrafn’s Eyr’ or Raven’s Sandbank, used they said for the purpose in particular of embarking the remnants of Olaf’s [son of Harald Sigurdson] army after its crushing defeat under Earl Tostig and king Harald Hardrada of Norway, at Stamford Bridge in 1066, by the Saxon army led by king Harold II [Harold Godwinson].

Heimskringla or ‘The Chronicle of the Kings of Norway’
102.
Olaf, the son of King Harald Sigurdson, sailed with his fleet
from England from Hrafnseyr, and came in autumn to the Orkney
Isles, where the event had happened that Maria, a daughter of
Harald Sigurdson, died a sudden death the very day and hour her
father, King Harald, fell .”
http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/OMACL/Heimskringla/hardrade2.html

Roll Series 376 and 402 mentions the place also:
King the swift ships with flood set out with autumn approaching. And sailed from the port called Hrafnereyri.”
Lost Villages of the Humber Estuary, by Gordon Ostler, Local History Archives Unit, Hull College of Further Education, 1990, page 7.

Boyle quotes from the Harald Hardrada Saga also, which described the place in grater detail:

“Olafr, son of Harold Sigurdon, led the fleet from England, setting sail at Hrafnseyri, and in the autumn came to Orkney. Of whom Stein Herdisson makes mention.
“The king the swift ships with the flood
Set out, with autumn approaching,
And sailed from the port. Called
Hrafnseyrr (the raven tongue of land).
The boats passed over the broad track
Of the long ships; the sea raging,
The roaring tide was furious around the ships’ sides.
Fornmanna Sögar (Copenhagen, 1831) vi., 427. Scripta Historica Islandorum, (Copenhagen, 1835). Vi., p. 396-7 as contained in The Lost Towns of the Humber, by J. R. Boyle, F.S.A., Hull, 1889, p. 9.

Of this appellation concerning ravens, Ravenser [and its derivatives] was in most probability therefore of Danish or Viking origin and it appears to have included more than a single location within a distance of but a few miles. The original Ravenser was most likely situated at the northern base of the spit we today call Spurn, this place was distinctive from the other place of relevance, Ravenser Odd, which became established at the other end of the spit [or the Neck as it is called today], the south end, where its access to Humber shipping was unassailable. The suffix of the place name – Odd – could also be of Danish origin – one source tells it thus: odde (en -r) spit, (større) point, F tongue of land. Therefore, if Ravenser pertains to the landward end of the Neck or spit, then Odd means the point at the far end of it. This is supported by Dr. Matthew Townsend , MA Phd (Oxon), Senior Lecturer in English at the University of York, who has told me “The Odd part of the name is likely to be from Old Norse 'oddi', meaning 'point, tongue of land' - compare for example the place-name Greenodd ('green tongue') in Cumbria”. It is curious to think, that if the above is correct, that even in the 13 th century, the people of eastern Holderness were still using the language of their Viking ancestors rather than any form of Old or Middle English. Backing up this theory, even the earldom in which these places were located, Holderness, has its roots firmly planted in Old Norse: English: regional name from the coastal district of eastern Yorkshire [now East Riding of Yorkshire RGH], the origin of which is probably Old Norse holdr, within the Danelaw (the region of pre-conquest England where Danish rule and custom was dominant) a rank of feudal nobility immediately below that of earl, + nes ‘nose’, ‘headland’.
http://www.ancestry.com/learn/facts/Fact.aspx?fid=10&yr=0&ln=Holderness
Reverting again to the Heimskringla, but slightly earlier in the saga:

98. OF STYRKAR THE MARSHAL.
“Styrkar, King Harald Sigurdson's marshal, a gallant man, escaped
upon a horse, on which he rode away in the evening. It was
blowing a cold wind, and Styrkar had not much other clothing upon
him but his shirt, and had a helmet on his head, and a drawn
sword in his hand. As soon as his weariness was over, he began
to feel cold. A waggoner met him in a lined skin-coat. Styrkar
asks him, "Wilt thou sell thy coat, friend?"
"Not to thee," says the peasant: "thou art a Northman; that I
can hear by thy tongue."
Styrkar replies, "If I were a Northman, what wouldst thou do?"
"I would kill thee," replied the peasant; "but as ill luck would
have it, I have no weapon just now by me that would do it."
Then Styrkar says, "As you can't kill me, friend, I shall try if
I can't kill you." And with that he swung his sword, and struck
him on the neck, so that his head came off. He then took the
skin-coat, sprang on his horse, and rode down to the strand.
Olaf Haraldson had not gone on land with the others, and when he
heard of his father's fall he made ready to sail away with the
men who remained.” See above.
http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/OMACL/Heimskringla/hardrade2.html
It seems plain enough that a local waggoner of Holderness, was able to converse freely, all be it briefly with the Norseman and, that the common language between them survived until at least the 13 th century if the title of the township is any kind of guide.

 

 

Designed by Richard Hayton 2006
email hayton@hayton.karoo.co.uk