The Filey Jenkinsons - a common ancestry

From the book "Filey - a Yorkshire fishing town" by Irene E Allen and Andrew A Todd

It would be expected in a community as closely related as the Filey fishing families there would be folk memories of their common ancestry. All the members of the family still part of the fishing community are descended from the five brothers Robert, William, John, Thomas and George, four of whom were still alive in 1860.

Yet research amongst living members of the family would say "oh, they weren't related to us". [Foster Holmes Jenkinson; Elizabeth Jenkinson Allen (nee Hoggarth). These distant cousins lived within a stone's throw of one another in Filey , were at school together and later lived in the same part of Scarborough, but were completely unaware that they were related.]

Even an informant live at the turn of the 20th century and still alive today did not realise that Jenkinson's living a few houses away, on Queen Street or Mitford Street, were related to her family. This is understandable,perhaps, where a family has spread its branches far and wide over several generations, but it seems strange when a family has remained in the same few streets over two centuries, and when its members have been bound by continuity of occupation and by intermarriage.

Our research seems to reinforce the common experiecne of family history researchers that the typical span of memory about ancestry rarely stretches back more than two generations from any individual; knowledge about ancestors prior to that, or about relations whose point of connection lies beyond those two generations is likely to be confused and sketchy,if it exists at all.

For example, we found Mrs Mary Elizabeth Robinson's recollections extremely accurate - she could slot scores of people whom she had known eighty years ago into their respective positions on our family group sheets; but she had not realised that they were all connected.

She told us the story of how, as a little girl, her father's first cousin, Gertrude Jenkinson, would visit the family: "she used to come to our house. I wondered why she would come because they called her Jenkinson ... She always got Penny." In this case, perhaps, "Gertie Penny's nickname clothed her true identity.

As Mary Elizabeth put it to us: "If you hear their proper names it stops you!" - an interesting comment on how important, and how much used the nicknames were.


There can be few communities in Britain today which have survived so long as the Filey fishing families. The same occupation has predominated for many centuries, and a handful of family surnames - cammish, Cappleman, Colley/Colling/Cowling, Crompton/Crumpton, Edmund, Haxby, Jenkinson, Johnson, Richardson, Ross, Scales, Scotter - can be found in countless intermarriages throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and in some cases much earlier.

The extent of this intermarriages between the fishing families is staggering, and can be gauged from the St Oswald marriage registers, which gave the occupation of the groom from 1st January 1813. There were 34 marriages between then and 1908 in which a Jenkinson groom was involved.

All 34 grooms were fishermen, and 27 of the brides were daughters of fishermen! One of the remaining seven was the daughter of a sailor. In other words, 82% of male Jenkinsons married girls from families connected with the sea.

In the same period, 321 Jenkinson brides appeared in the registers. All were daughters of fishermen! 20 of the grooms were fishermen; one was a mariner and one was a fishmonger. One was a labourer, but the son of a fisherman. So 74% of Jenkinsons found husbands connected with the sea.

The reasons for this repeated pattern of intermarriage are social and economic and are, themselves, subtly inter-related! First, the work of the women was closely involved in the occupation of the breadwinner.

Whilst men and older boys were at sea, the wives and daughters would collect bait; they would skein the 'flithers' and bait hundreds of hooks that a line fisherman would take out the following day, often assisted by the retired fisherman; nets might need repair ; and the women would knit the distinctive "ganseys" (guernseys) which all fishermen wore as their principal upper garment.

In these circumstances, it was inevitable that a fisherman would marry a woman whose upbringing guaranteed that she would be capable of performing these many and varied tasks. It was generally held "that a woman at weant work for a man is nea worth yan"[Rev. G Shaw "Our Filey Fishermen"]

Secondly, the fisher families found themselves constantly in one another's company: they lived in the same few streets and alleys, at the north end of the town; they all got up and went to bed at dictates of the tides and the fish(the fishing day often began before 3am when most people were sound asleep); and they would understand the skills, hardships and dangers of the fisherman's life, making it natural for them to seek out one another for conversation and social relaxation.

In short, like the coalmining communities of the northern industrial towns and villages, they developed a sense of social cohesion which made it natural for men and women to seek out marriage partners from their own kind. Fishermen from other places certainly classed the Filey fishermen as a "race apart", even around the time the First World War, according to one of our Scarborough informants.

It was reckoned that they even had to have a violet tinge in their ganseys and socks, whilst the rest of the British coast made do with blue!

Thirdly, it has been pointed out that the versatility of coble fishing provided employment for fishermen throughout the year. Whereas fishermen on the other parts of the British coast needed to supplement their income in farming or in other seasonal jobs, the fishermen of the English north east coast could live off the sea's harvest in every month of the year.

The diversity in the type of fishing for which a coble could be used may explain why the fishing gear used stayed fairly simple and did not evolve into the highly specialised and complex tackle generally associated with more modern fishing.[The English Coble p21]. As coble fishing remained fundementally unchanged for centuries, the family retained its key role in providing the support services to the men at sea.

Family employment in fishing has thus survived into this century in Filey, and there are , to this day, whole families in Queen Street dependant upon the daily catch. Another result of the survival, in Filey, of this traditional form of fishing, with its year round employment, was that the menfolk found fewer opportunities to meet potential brides outside the fishing community. In this century, people have increasingly married "out" of the fishing community, and "outsiders" have married "in".

But the pattern of intermarriage persisted for generations, and continues to this day.

A fourth cause of this convention of intermarriage may have been the tendency of the fishing families to mirror their occupational seperateness in their religious life. The Primitive Methodist community, which drew so many of its adherents from the fisher folk, may well have tended to marry co-religionists, but this is difficult to prove as long as the marriage registers for the Union Street Chapel are inaccesible.

Intermarriage among Filey fishermen was sufficiently pronounced to be a source of mirth even amongst nearby fishing communities. "If you kick one, they all limp", was the verdict of the father of one of our informants, who worked with Filey men from scarborough Harbour for years.

Another story concerned the crew of a Filey coble which landed a ling, not a very saleable fish. "What'll we do with it?" one asked, looking down at it. "Cut it in three", came the reply, "and have half each". A third story may be apocryphal, but the fact that it has survived says much about popular perceptions of the insularity of Filey fisher folk.

It concerns an old Filey woman who decided to use the railway for the first time. (It had opened in 1846).

"Where are you going?" asked the booking clerk. "Mind your own business", she retorted, "Just like all your family... I'll walk".

The fishing families, interestingly, still use dialect terms which have a strong Scandanavian flavour. Perhaps the fishermen have a racial, as well as occupational distinctiveness: it could well be that Danish Vikings figure more in their ancestry than in the ancestry of other East Riding Yorkshiremen.

Common Scandanavian terms like "garth" for garden are in use; so also are rather more obscure phrases and words like "All-uh-wand" as an expression of surprise, "wear-be-or-zit" - to whom does it belong, "skeel it" - a pan, or "Ewn" - an oven.

There is a story about the First World War when all the Filey men were in the Naval Reserve. They were on York Station, waiting for a train south, during that period at the beginning of the War when rumours were rife about Russian reinforcements for the Western Front.

The Filey men, speaking in their broad and unintelligble dialect, were supposedly taken for Russian soldiers! Even today, Filey fishermen occasionally get the nickname "Filey Russians!"

Middle names

One result of this pattern of intermarriage has been that the same stock of surnames has been found in the fishing community for over a century. As Filey populations grew, it was inevitable that many people would have the same christian name and surname.

The Jenkinson family is possibly the most pronounced instance of this, although the Cammishes have, on occasions, been a close second!

In the year 1900, there were ten jenkinsons with a first name John, eight Matthews, six Williams, six Thomases, six Georges, five Richards and four Roberts! At virtually any time after about 1850 there were at least six John Jenkinsons of fishing age! Even as late as 1970, there were five Tom Jenkinsons in the town.

Earlier in the century, there had been no fewer than ten. Around the same time, there were 48 Mrs Jenkinsons on the books of the Sheperds Club, the local friendly society!

Many Filey women took in holiday visitors during the summer, and it became a standing joke how unsuspecting newcomers arrived with their bags at Filey Station asking for directions to "Mrs Jenkinson's!" Mary Elizabeth Robinson told us of a visit she made to the doctor's when she was a young, unmarried Jenkinson before the First World War.

On hearing the name "Mary Jenkinson" announced, Dr Simpson asked:

"are you number one or number twelve?"

One way of preventing confusion was to increase the stock of christian names. This could be one explanation why maiden surnames of brides came to be used as christian names for the couples children.

Edmond(baptised 1811) and Castle (baptised 1824) are the earliest examples in the Jenkinson family. Both, incidentally, became firmly established as christian names in Filey, although Edmond was often rendered as Edmund(incorrectly according to some purists!) Castle figures mostly in the Mainprize family, after the marriage of Castle jenkinson's daughter, Rachel Cammish Jenkinson (1857-96) to George Jenkinson Mainprize in 1879.

In the 1840's, the custom grew up of giving the son or daughter the mothers maiden name as a second christian name. This, of course, explains the magnificent names that we have noted in Filey churchyard! We found that around one in five of all the 400 or sons Jenkinsons that we fitted into our tree had a surname as a christian name.

The other fishing families were the same. A total of 30 surnames were used in this way. This certainly made the names of Filey fishermen rather more distinctive than most working class names of the time!

This naming pattern makes the job of ancestor hunting a lot easier than in most places! We found that about half the Jenkinson couples perpetuated the maiden name of their wife in the names of their children. The example of Thomas Cappleman Jenkinson (c1886-1963) received his great grandmother's maiden name.

The marriage from which this name derived had taken place in 1816, 70 years before it was first used as a christian name in the family! The tree also shows the origin of the name "Ross" as a christian name in the Jenkinson and related families.

Some families took their naming very seriously indeed! Matthew Crompton Jenkinson (c1869-1946) gave seven of his eight children the middle name of Crompton, but this was a very special case. He had, in a sense, been deprived of his "real" surname by being born just before his parents got married.

He obviously didn't want anybody in Filey to be in doubt as to what his surname whould have been!

"Bell Taffy"

One example of some of the common features in the Filey fishing community is in the "Eamen" Jenkinson family. Intermarriage between cousins is well in evidence. Another common feature was the marriage of one family to another! Two brothers might marry two sisters! In this way the children would become cousins twice over!

In this example, two Cammish sisters, Isabella (born 1860) and Susannah(born c1869) married two Jenkinson first cousins, Edmond Ross(born c1862) and Robert Jenkinson (born c1868). Edmond Ross fished from the herring coble "Unity", along with Isabella's brothers John and Richard Cammish.

As we shall see, this was a common practice and one which could bring multiple tragedy to one family. We found that this was the case here : the "Register of Sailing Vessels registered at Scarborough" records that the "Unity" was lost, with all hands, off Scarborough on 25th April 1892.

A Filey gravestone records the sad event, but has the date as the 28th April.)

Poor Isabella was, like so many Filey widows, left to bring up a young family: in this case, there were six children, the eldest being ten years old. She subsequently remarried to Jack "Wraxer" Cappleman.

Isabella was always known as "Bell Taffy" on account of the excellent toffee she made. In later life, she cut a daunting figure in Queen Street. She wore a black cap, black apron, black bombasine dress and a little black shawl if it were Sunday.

She wore glasses and smoked a pipe! It was politic not to cross swords with her, and it took a brave person to call her "oul four een" as at least one had the nerve to do. "Bell Taffy" did not get on well with one of her daughters in law who lived at the house, and made her sit outside in the street all day!

Share this article

Request our email newsletter for all our latest news and information
Contact us

01723 369361
45 Eastborough, Scarborough, North Yorkshire, YO11 1NH, England

We are here

Opening times

11am - 4pm
11am - 4pm
11am - 4pm
11am - 4pm
11am - 4pm
Registered charity No 1144532. Company No 06755717.