A turbulent past, a surprising present
Over the centuries, Hull has always been an important seaport. Even today, many European people are starting their visit to Northern England in this city, which itself is proving particularly worthwhile. The Old Town is an especially pleasant surprise.
If one looked upon the five Northern Powerhouse cities as five sisters, Liverpool and Manchester would be the two elders, used to loads of attention and are constantly trying to outdo each other. Newcastle and Leeds have had to live with fewer suitor, but are now clearly preparing for a role more upfront. And Hull? Hull might be the shy sister, but one who is secretly aware she has admirers too. But she doesn’t shout it from the rooftops. Despite this modesty, Kingston upon Hull – as its full name goes – has always played a key role in northern England. Here the ferries moor that connect the north with Rotterdam Europoort in the Netherlands and Zeebrugge in Belgium. Those who visit Northern England from Europe often do so via Hull. But how many of the countless visitors that entered England via Hull actually visited the city? Our guess: not too many. In the past, that was perhaps understandable. Like her other four sisters, Hull has long been a city that did not really command a more extended stay. And as with her sisters, that has now changed considerably.
Navy, merchants and fishing
Hull’s history goes back to 1299 when King Edward I laid out a simple settlement at the Hull river as a seaport: King’s Town upon Hull. Hull soon became one of the most important harbours in the country, not just from a military point of view, but also for trade and fishing. It became a member of the Hanseatic League and played an essential strategic role in the English Civil War.
During the years before the First World War, the city was at its wealthiest and in 1897 Hull was granted city rights. Already during the Great War people were confronted with bombing, then from Zeppelins. But it was World War II that really hit the city. Not only was Hull the primary target of many bombings, as it was a strategic location. It also often happened that squadrons returning from other missions dropped their remaining bombloads on Hull before flying back to Germany. No less than 95 per cent of all buildings in the city were damaged or destroyed. After London, Hull was the most bombed city in the United Kingdom. But while everyone was aware of the fate of the capital, the drama in Hull remained out of the spotlight. News items talked about “a city in the northeast” without mentioning Hull by name. In the seventies, the city received a new blow as a result of the “cod wars” with Iceland. They led to the creation of a 200 nautical mile (370 km) exclusive economic zone, in which only Icelandic vessels were allowed to fish. It marked the end for the fishing industry in Hull. Thousands of jobs were lost.
High & pop culture
Anyone who comes to Hull with these events in mind expects the visit may well be a sad one. But exit Hull Paragon Station and walk towards Trinity Market and the Minster – the area is fully pedestrianised – and you are in for a pleasant and welcoming surprise.
In fact, the welcome starts at the station itself, through the statue of a rather hurried-looking Philip Larkin (1922-1985), in life the country’s most important poet and librarian of the Hull University Library. Larkin’s hurried pose is explained by a plaque with an excerpt from his poem “The Whitsun Weddings”: “That Whitsun I was getting late.”
Despite his deceitfully bourgeois appearance, Larkin was a pleasantly mischievous self-willed poet, famous for poems such as “This Be The Verse”:
They fuck you up, your mum and dad
They may not mean to, but they do
Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three (which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban
And the Beatles’ first LP
Hull Paragon Station honours not only high culture, but also pop culture. A blue plaque on the wall reports that David Bowie’s backing band The Spiders From Mars left the station countless times during the time of his Ziggy Stardust album, on their musical adventures in the mid-1970s. Honouring who deserves credit, we name the three by name: Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder and Woody Woodmansey. Just like Bowie himself, the first two are sadly no longer among us.
Hull Minster almost has the appearance of a cathedral but is, in fact, a parish church, dating from 1259. To acquire funds for the maintenance of the building, it is now used for all kinds of activities. You can organise a reception, meeting or festive dinner here, there is a visitor centre and a tearoom and there are exhibitions. Worldly music sounds through the speakers.
A friendly lady gives a tour and shows the baptismal font where one of Hull’s famous sons was baptised: the anti-slavery activist William Wilberforce. In addition to the victims from the two world wars, the Falklands and various other military confrontations, the church commemorates the crews of the hundreds of trawlers who have sunk over the years. More than 6,000 fishermen drowned. In January 1968, no less than three trawlers went down, costing a total of 58 lives. On the commemorative panels in the church, they are remembered with the words “Safely anchored”.
Lillian Bilocca, a resident of Hull who herself worked in fish processing, started a protest campaign in 1968 to improve the safety of fishers. She knew what she was talking about: both her father, her husband and her son worked on trawlers. The ships often did not even have a radio connection. Her protests were picked up by tv and the national newspapers, and finally by the powers that be. New safety regulations were implemented. Both at the town hall and at the Hull Maritime Museum, Bilocca’s actions are commemorated via plaques.
Are you lost?
After the impressive story we heard in the Hull Minster, a walk through the Old Town is an extra great pleasure. Fair is fair: we did not really expect all those charming streets full of beautifully renovated buildings, some of which house decidedly charming catering establishments. Locals and visitors drink their coffees on the terrace of Butler Whites, buy their vintage clothing in the Poorbody Boutique, have a pub meal at the Humber Dock: all of them venues with character.
Across the Hull river, where it flows into the much wider Humber, lies The Deep: a beautiful aquarium and sea centre, where you can see sharks, rays, giant sea turtles, as well as countless forms of marine life that you never thought existed. It is busy, especially with families, and rightly so.
Have the thousands arriving with the P&O Ferry by now found their way to The Deep, the covered Trinity Market, Hull Minster and the Old City? On our walk through the city, we are approached twice with the question whether we might be lost. Very kind, but please don’t worry, we are very fine indeed. It is as if the locals cannot really believe that visitors would merely be walking the streets of their city for pleasure and out of curiosity. Which happens to be precisely the case. Hull, the shy sister, has stolen our hearts.
Hull Maritime Museum & Museum Quarter: find out everything about whaling, North Sea trade and the fishing industry that was so important to Hull
Wilberforce House: the birthplace of William Wilberforce is now a museum, telling the story of the transatlantic slave trade
The Hull and East Riding Museum: view the famous Halsholme Logboat, a ship dating from the Iron Age (400 BC)
Ferens Art Gallery: important works by Frans Hals, John Constable, Henry Moore, Canaletto and William Hogarth
Trinity House: founded in 1369 for the benefit of sick or needy sailors, it later housed the world’s first naval academy; book your tour well in advance
Wining and Dining
Tapasya@Marina, 2-3 Humber Dock Street.
Indian food is extremely popular in the UK. Tapasya, indeed located in the marina, offers authentic Indian dishes, but acquires its ingredients from suppliers in the region.