Caught by the River

Brighter Later

Brian David Stevens | 15th August 2014


By Brian David Stevens

16. Yorkshire

Brighter Later is a journey around Britain looking out to sea from each coastal county.

When I started the Brighter Later project it had a few aims, one was to produce a portrait of Britain looking out rather than looking in. As an island race we have always looked out; to find food from the sea, to find opportunity to trade, to find adventure, and to find ourselves.

Often I found myself photographing the future, seeing the weather and the waves that will at some point arrive at the shores of this island, I predict and record their inevitable, unstoppable approach.

I imagined the finished pictures would be empty but optimistic, full of promise and possibilities. I also thought they would be geographically unidentifiable.

I show a friend the results from the trip to Yorkshire.

“Oh, yeah thats up on the cliff up from Robin Hood’s Bay isn’t it?”

It is.

Bastard. He recognises the light. Yorkshire light. Better light. God’s own light.

Robin Hood’s Bay has a healthy tradition of smuggling, and there is reputed to be a network of subterranean passageways linking the houses in a maze of tiny streets.

During the late 18th century, smuggling was rife on the Yorkshire coast. Vessels from the continent brought contraband which was distributed by contacts on land and the operations were financed by syndicates who made profits without the risks taken by the seamen and the villagers. Tea, gin, rum, brandy and tobacco were among the contraband smuggled into Yorkshire from the Netherlands and France to avoid the duty.

The townspeople were feisty folk: in 1773 two excise cutters, the Mermaid and the Eagle, were outgunned and chased out of the bay by three smuggling vessels and in 1779 a pitched battle between smugglers and excise men took place in the dock over 200 casks of brandy and gin and 15 bags of tea.

Never get between a Yorkshireman and his tea.

A plaque in the town records that the ship Visitor ran aground in Robin Hood’s Bay on 18 January 1881 during a violent storm. In order to save the crew, the lifeboat from Whitby was pulled 6 miles overland by 18 horses, with the 7 feet deep snowdrifts present at the time cleared by 200 men. The road down to the sea through Robin Hood’s Bay village was narrow and had awkward bends, and men had to go ahead demolishing garden walls and uprooting bushes to make a way for the lifeboat carriage. It was launched two hours after leaving Whitby, with the crew of the Visitor rescued on the second attempt.

Like the tea, strong.

The complete set of Brighter Later can be viewed here
Brian currently has an exhibition of his screenprints at The Social. It’s on until September 30th and well worth a visit.