William de Forz

Ravenser Odd

Originally a Viking community of just a few scattered fishing huts, Ravenser Odd was a small town that existed off the coast of Yorkshire, England, centuries ago. It was often confused with Ravenser, a small settlement not too far up the coast, but Ravenser Odd certainly developed a more memorable reputation.

The town was built up and officially put on the maps in the 1230s, thanks to the efforts of William de Forz. Known as a “feudal adventurer of the worst type”, the third Earl of Abermarle saw the land’s lucrative potential and laid down the town’s foundations. 

Photo courtesy of Caroline Lundberg via Flickr

Photo courtesy of Caroline Lundberg via Flickr

Being perfectly positioned as the first visible land for voyagers entering the Humber, this was where thieves, vagabonds, and even pirates flocked to. In the early days of Ravenser Odd, most of these men worked for the Earl, sharing a portion of their swindled fortunes with him. They weren’t your typical raiders—these rapscallions had a system and it worked. 

The locals of Ravenser Odd would intersect ships en route to the mainland and persuade them to dock, often by threatening them with force should they not cooperate. Voyagers forced to bring their ships in were taxed for their goods and cargo, and merchants often found that there was profit to be had for doing business here.

So how did this morally questionable establishment get away with such coercion?

In 1298, Ravenser Odd petitioned for and was granted a royal charter by King Edward I, “Hammer of the Scots”. This charter not only gave the citizens control over their own governance, but the right to charge ships for entering their territory and extract these fees as they may. And it wasn’t a completely lawless town; it had its own justice system, complete with a prison system, gallows, and had a mayor to keep things from getting too out of control. 

The King had no issue turning a blind eye, either, as Ravenser Odd was a reliable contributor to his military campaigns.

And while swindling was their favourite pastime, it wasn’t their only form of entertainment; Ravenser Odd had a lively market, was a lucrative trading hub, and hosted an annual fair. So it was basically just like any other Yorkshire town of the era—except this one was run by criminals. And despite the illegal activity, it was truly a thriving port that did well for itself.

Unfortunately, Ravenser Odd’s days of revelry vanished into the sea. 

Since the town was not set on solid land, but rather a sandy island just off the tip of Spurn Point, rising sea-levels eroded the town’s foundations, causing it to collapse into the sea. Locals were quick to grab their treasures and run, looting every village they ventured through. 

The final blow was delivered by the “Grote Mandrenke” (meaning “the great drowning of men”), a massive storm that swept in from the Atlantic Ocean and poured down upon northwestern Europe. The unusually high tides swallowed up the town for good, and thus, Ravenser Odd was no more.

Image courtesy of The British Library via Flickr

Image courtesy of The British Library via Flickr

Michelle Bonga

Michelle is a wandering soul. She doesn’t know what she’s doing with her life. She hopes she’s doing something right. She is a great person to talk to; doesn’t talk much herself. If you’re nice, she’ll haunt you forever. Or until she’s bored.

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.