That small villages can have churches of substantial age and structure is an indication of the prosperity and wealth of the land when the main occupations were agricultural. These drawings evolved through a process of making and disruption that I came to see as an oblique reference to the buildings’ survival over centuries of change and struggle. It is right that parts of the drawings are obscured and lost as are the lives and stories of the people that once invested so much in these places.
The church was built in the 1460s and restored in 1901. The church stands a little aside from and to the south of the village. The drawing depicts a window in the south aisle by the tower and its worn sill and broken lintel seemed to suggest the age of the structure and the stories held within it.
The oldest parts of St. Mary's are twelfth century and, as a very prosperous parish, extensive rebuilding and enlargement was begun in the fourteenth century using dressed limestone brought downriver by barge from near York. But in 1347 the village was struck by the plague and perhaps as many as half the population died. When the rebuilding resumed in the 1360s, the now no-longer prosperous parish could not afford the extravagance of stone and the work was completed using beach-cobble and brick.
The drawing is of the window in the west wall of the tower and it seems to demonstrate the mix of styles and materials evident in most of the structure of St. Mary's, and that reflect the parish's fall from prosperity.
As more of the marshland to the south of Ottringham was drained for agriculture, the population grew, the village prospered and Richard of Ottringham petitioned the King (Edward I) to have a chantry chapel built in the church. This was common practice for those who could afford it.
King Edward however, wanted control of the port at the mouth of the River Hull, then owned by the monks at Meaux Abbey. The King allowed Richard to have his chapel but gave it to Meaux rather than the Bridlington Priory and in return Edward gained control of the port which became King’s Town upon Hull, now Kingston upon Hull.
The (now unused) priests' door in the south wall of the chancel gave the priest direct entry to the chancel where the high altar was located, so that he did not have to pass through the nave where the congregation sat—or more likely stood, when this door was in use.
As much as nine tenths of the property in Keyingham—including the church—was destroyed by William the Conqueror in the Harrying of the North. William gave the Holderness area to Drogo, but Drogo killed his wife, maybe by accident, maybe not and was obliged to flee the country and Holderness passed to Odo, William’s brother-in-law. Odo’s son Étienne gave over the church at Keyingham to the Priory at Birstall, which they must have seen as something of a poisoned chalice as the church now lay in ruins.
Rebuilding began in the early twelfth century but disaster hit the church again when, towards the end of the fourteenth century, during a ferocious summer storm, it was struck by lightning and caught fire. The roof and one side of the tower was destroyed and the monks of Meaux Abbey who were now responsible for the church were faced with a very significant rebuilding programme.
This bricked up opening is in a dark, damp corner of the north wall of the tower. It's very low, only about five feet high and it's original purpose is unclear; it may have given access to the tower for the ringing of a passing bell, or more mundanely may even have been a 'coal hole' for the furnace that was installed in the 19th century.
At the end of the thirteenth century the Easington rectory was one of the richest in Holderness; it had a value of forty pounds in 1288; a lot of money when the very best grass-fed ox could be bought for less than sixteen shillings (80p). The parish once also included the villages of Turmarr, Hoton, Northorpe, Old Kilnsea and Ravenser Odd, all of which have disappeared due to coastal erosion.
Easington was given over to the Abbot of Meaux in 1340 as part of Edward’s bargaining to gain control of the port at the mouth of the River Hull and in 1395 the Abbot of Meaux directed that the bones of the dead that had been uncovered by the sea at Ravenser should be gathered up and reburied in the churchyard at Easington. The largest of the three bells in the tower is also said to have been brought from Ravenser when the church there was dismantled because of the encroaching sea.
The origins of the present church are twelfth century with additions and alterations through the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Much of the structure standing now is Victorian. The drawing is of an unused—and rotting—doorway with a rounded, Norman arch, in the north aisle. It is said to have been brought to Easington from Birstall Priory when the abbey was dismantled in Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries.
Around 1560 a new sand bank arose from the water of the River Humber and a hundred years later it was big enough that it flooded only at very high tides. At that time the island was about a mile and a half from the bank. By the mid eighteenth century the channel had silted up completely and Sunk Island was an island no more.
Built in the 1870s Holy Trinity is a relative newcomer; it is an architect-designed building and whereas the other churches here have seen—endured, even—centuries of not always sympathetic rebuilding, additions and restorations, Holy Trinity still stands very much as it was at the time of its completion. It differs also in that it was built at a time when industry not agriculture played the dominant part in the economy of the country as a whole—in the 1850s as much as 75% of all manufactured goods in the world were produced in Britain.
The names of the roads and farms of the Sunk Island area reflect the origins of the land; Marsh Lane, Marsh Road, Marsh House Farm, East Bank Farm, Channel Farm. There are places where you can stand looking out across a field of wheat while a ship passes along the river beyond the hedgerow.