Filey to welcome new festival and statue to commemorate US warship Bonhomme Richard

A mighty sea battle off the Yorkshire coast is to be commemorated with an annual festival and a statue of one of the leading players in the drama.

Monday, 3rd February 2020, 9:40 am
Updated Monday, 3rd February 2020, 9:53 am
Pieces of timber believed to have come from the Bonhomme Richard. Credit: Sam Atkins / Magnus News Agency.

A new Filey organisation will be planning the commemoration, it was announced at a meeting where the latest research on the shipwreck of the 18th century warship Bonhomme Richard was revealed.

The warship was captained by John Paul Jones, revered as the founding father of the US navy, and the galleon sank after a battle with HMS Serapis in 1779.

The meeting was held at the White Lodge Hotel in Filey where hotel owner James Hodgson 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.

"There can be a Community Interest Company to promote the sea battle, John Paul Jones, the British 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 millions of people every day.

"We can create locally replica items - the ship's bell, the figurehead, cannons and a statue. There could also be a visitor centre. These are all ideas for a new working party."

The meeting agreed to create the new group which could include Merlin Burrows, a Harrogate-based satellite company which has worked on international maritime projects, and has carried out 23 dives off the Filey coast, producing images and processing the X-ray data.

Also being invited to join are Filey Town Council, neighbouring local authorities including Flamborough, Bempton, Buckton and Speeton, Filey Tourism & Trade, Filey schools and the RNLI and coastguard, Filey Netsmen and the Yorkshire Coast Business Improvement Bid (known as the DBid).

Speaker Tony Green, of The Filey Bay Research Group, who has spent 35 years researching the Bonhomme Richard, said: "Co-operation between local people, businesses and related authorities to develop tourism and all that goes with it will bring benefits."

Whitehaven, raided by Jones in 1778, has had visits from the modern USS Bonhomme Richard.

Bruce Blackburn, of Merlin Burrows, said his divers have spotted the Bonhomme's timbers, partly-hidden ship's bell, the lion figurehead and other items on the seabed.

Despite scepticism from a member of the audience at the meeting, Mr Blackburn said: "The more research, the more successful the project becomes, and dozens of items from the cannon deck of a French-built galleon can only be the Bonhomme Dickie.

"A festival year-in year-out is there for the taking; it might start small but it can grow and grow."

The Bonhomme went down in flames and with great loss of life after a battle with HMS Serapis. It was formerly Le Duc de Duras, given by the French to the Americans who used it in their fight for independence to disrupt British supplies.

The 250th anniversary of the battle would also be commemorated, on September 23 2029.