09
Feb-2020

Filey to host a Bonhomme Richard Festival?

Filey is set to host a new festival and could erect a statue or monument to mark one of the most famous events ever to take place on the waters of the North Sea.

In 1779 the American War of Independence spread to the unlikely location of Flamborough Head. A joint Franco-American squadron, attempting to draw the British Home Fleet northwards so a joint Franco-Spanish invasion could take place in the south of England, stumbled across a large British convoy of Baltic timber off Flamborough Head. Two Royal Navy ships, vastly outgunned by their French and American foes, saved the convoy, but were captured or sank in the act.

However, the real significance of the battle wasn’t about ships sunk, it became emblematic of the pluck and courage of the fledgling American nation. The American commander John Paul Jones, who was in fact a Scotsman sailing in a French ship, became known as ‘the father of the American Navy’. His ship, the Bonhomme Richard, despite being sunk during the battle, is now a legendary name in American naval history and to this day there is a USS Bonhomme Richard and a USS John Paul Jones serving in the US Navy.

USS Bonhomme Richard

The current USS Bonhomme Richard

Last week a meeting was held at the White Lodge Hotel in Filey, where it was agreed to set up a working party whose remit would include the organising of a new festival and to investigate the possibility of erecting a statue, or monument, to the Battle of Flambrough Head.

Heading the project is the Filey-born owner of the White Lodge Hotel, James Hodgson. At the meeting James said: “The Battle of Flamborough took place in Filey bay. Other places such as Whitehaven, where Jones carried out a raid, and Dumfries where he was born are exploiting the historic link and yet we have more. The intention is to form a Community Interest Company to promote the sea battle, John Paul Jones, the British Royal Navy Captain Richard Pearson and the wreck of the Bonhomme Richard.

“This would be for the benefit of tourism in and around Filey Bay and for education, maritime, local history and heritage purposes.”

James added: “There is a statue of John Paul Jones in Washington DC, a mile from The White House – there is huge interest in America, it is seen by thousands of people every day.

“Perhaps we could erect a replica of the statue that exists in Washington, or an obelisk that can be seen out at sea? We could work in conjunction with the Filey Museum to enhance their display about the Battle of Flamborough Head? We could look at a stand-alone visitor centre; the John Paul Jones birthplace museum in Scotland attracts 120,000 visitors a year.

“These are ideas that will be discussed by the working party. There’s a lot of ground to cover, but Filey needs to embrace this huge tourism opportunity.”

The group is seeking to build towards the 250th anniversary of the battle in 2029, but before that date there is likely to be annual celebrations of the battle, hopefully beginning in September 2020! The battle was fought on 23 September, it is expected that events will take place on the nearest weekend to that date.

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