A rich history in Hull

In the second of our new series exploring Britain’s urban areas, Tom Evans uncovers the hidden corners of the important and significant maritime city of Hull.

Princes Quay

Princes Quay

The city of Hull has shrugged off its dark days of industrial decline to re-invent itself and is now a major destination for groups looking to explore its fascinating past and many well-presented attractions.
Historically one of the great North Eastern trading centres, with a proud maritime history, the city has largely managed to retain its unique sense of identity following major regeneration programmes and offers visitors a distinctive experience.

Seven hundred years of Hull’s history spirals its way upwards in Trinity Square.

Seven hundred years of Hull’s history spirals its way upwards in Trinity Square.

Founded in the late 12th century, Hull’s strategic location at the junction of the rivers Hull and Humber ensured that it quickly became a major port town and its trade links have heavily influenced development. It was during the industrial revolution that Hull really began to prosper, with the opening of its docks, building of impressive civic buildings and a flourishing maritime industry; the city’s recent regeneration projects have significantly altered its nature and it’s worth visiting the Maritime Museum to see how much its centre has changed.
Another major influence on the look and feel of Hull’s city centre was the Blitz of WWII. As was the case in Coventry, German bombers destroyed most of the city centre. There are though a number of historic sites that did survive.
Hull has excellent transport links and is easily accessible by coach, with connections to the M62, M1, A1, M180 and M18. Coach parking is available across the city centre, including at the Princes Quay Shopping Centre, Water House Lane Coach Park and Charlotte Street Muse and GTOs are advised to book spaces well in advance to avoid disappointment. Drop off points are also available at Hull Truck Theatre and Museums Quarter High Street. The city is well connected to the rail network and the station is located close to the centre.
Many of Hull’s treasures and places of interest are well hidden, as is the case in many other British cities, and perhaps the best way for those looking to explore its streets and uncover its secrets is to organise a walking tour with a qualified guide. A variety of different tours of the city can be booked with the city’s English Heritage Tour Guide.

Our English Heritage Accredited Guide – Paul Schofield

Paul Schofield

Paul Schofield was the incredibly knowledgeable and approachable guide who took the author on his tour of the sites and streets of Hull. Paul was born and lives in Hull and is a fully qualified English Heritage Accredited guide. He has been conducting tours of the city, and the nearby market town of Beverley, since 1988 and has established strong links with Hull City Council and Visit Hull and East Yorkhire (VHEY), who awarded him their Ambassador Award in 2010. Paul gives numerous illustrated talks on topics of local history, and recently co-authored a book on the rugby league team, Hull Kingston Rovers. He offers a range of guided tours to groups. For a guided tour of Hull, you can contact him on 01482 878535, info@tourhull.com or www.tourhull.com

A number of themed walking trails can also be taken around Hull’s centre and are available in leaflet form or by following designated signs. Some of the many themed trails include the Wilberforce Trail and a Fish Trail, which is creatively marked out by an A-Z of fish sculptured into paving stones.

As mentioned earlier, groups may wish to start their tour at the Maritime Museum, which tells the story of Hull’s proud maritime past and is located at the centre of the city and on the edge of the Old Town in Victoria Square. Once home to the Hull Dock Company, the building is a striking example of Victorian architecture and incorporates some interesting maritime features, such as fishing nets and sea horses, in its interior designs. The building once sat on the edge of the old dock, but regeneration to the surrounding area has meant that the waters no longer come close to its doors and its interesting to imagine the scene 100 years ago. The museum has a whole gallery dedicated to Hull’s whaling industry that includes a full-sized white whale skeleton and an impressive scrimshaw collection, reputed to be the largest this side of the Atlantic. It’s well worth allowing an hour to visit the whole attraction, entry is free and guided tours can be arranged if booked in advance.
Some of the city’s finest buildings can be found in or around Victoria Square, which is also home to a bronze statue of the monarch. The ornate City Hall, opened in 1909, is perhaps the most impressive building in the square and features two interesting looking figures each side of its entrance depicting ‘drama’ and ‘comedy’.

Ferens Art Gallery

Ferens Art Gallery

Across the square from the hall, you’ll find the Ferens Art Gallery, home to a magnificent collection of paintings and sculptures. The classical style gallery boasts work by Antonio Canaletto, Stanley Spencer and David Hockney, to name but a few, and also has a café where groups may wish to stop for some light refreshments.
To the edge of the square is Princes Quay, one of Hull’s four shopping centres. Built over three levels above the former Princes Dock, the building features around 70 high street stores, as well as cafes, restaurants and a cinema.
To the side of Princes Quay, you could walk down Posterngate that takes you further into the Old Town. A good place to stop for lunch, a little way along Posterngate, is the Mission pub. The building was originally a Seaman’s Mission and features a charming area, once the mission’s chapel, ordained with stained glass windows and wooden pews. The spacious pub serves reasonably priced food and is well used to catering for groups.

The Mission pub

The Mission pub

Halfway along Posterngate, groups can wander down the frighteningly named Dagger Lane to Prince Street, the most picturesque street in the city. From here, the curving terrace of Georgian town houses lead through an archway onto King Street and Trinity Square, where some of the city’s most historic buildings stand. It is worth spending some time around this area to take in the impressive Holy Trinity Church, England’s largest parish church by area, Hull Trinity House, with its magnificent 18th century façade, and the old Hull Grammar School, dating from the 16th century and boasting poet Andrew Marvell and anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce amongst its alumni.
The old Grammar School now houses the Hands on History museum and offers an insight into the story of Hull and its people. The small museum is worth a short visit, even if it just to see some of the old film footage of the docks and the couple of dresses designed by Hull’s famous designer Madame Clapham.
From here, a short walk along Fish Street and across Castle Street brings you to Hull Marina. The pleasure boat marina was opened in 1983 on the site of the former Railway and Humber docks and at its north end groups will find the Spurn Lightship, which was used to guide ships through the treacherous River Humber.

From the Marina, groups may wish to head toward The Deep, the world’s only ‘submarium’. On route, take a moment to look out for the Tidal Surge Barrier, a tall structure resembling a large lift bridge, which was built in 1980 to eliminate the risk of flooding in the city.

The Deep designed by Sir Terry Farrell

The Deep designed by Sir Terry Farrell

The Deep is one of the most popular attractions in the city and tells the story of the world’s oceans. The striking building, designed by Sir Terry Farrell and opened in 2002, overlooks the Humber estuary and offers great views from its top floor. Home to around 3,500 fish, including sharks and rays, it boasts one of the deepest aquariums in the world and even has an underwater lift. The exhibitions are split into different zones, ranging from coral reefs to ocean depths, and as well as being a major visitor attraction, The Deep also acts as a conservation and educational charity. The best time for groups to visit The Deep is in the afternoon after 2pm as the attraction is very popular with school visitsbefore this time. There is a café that can cater for groups and pre-booked parties of more than 10 are offered a discount on the entrance fee.

A walk across the River Hull will bring you to the High Street, where a great example of Georgian architecture and a symbol of Hull’s 18th century heyday can be found. At 160 High Street stands Maister House with its impressive hall in the Palladian style and artistic wrought-iron banister crafted by Robert Bakewell. The house is now home to a firm of architects, but the hallway is open to the public during office hours.
The city’s museum quarter, centred around the pleasant Nelson Mandela Peace Garden, is just a short distance from Maister House and is home to four excellent and very different museums; the Streetlife Museum, Arctic Corsair trawler, the Hull and East Riding Museum and Wilberforce House. All provide free entry and a diverse insight into the history of the city.

The Streetlife Museum

The Streetlife Museum

The Streetlife Museum tells the story of 200 years of transport history and houses a number of collections acquired by Hull’s influential first curator, Thomas Sheppard. An account of the curator and his work appears at the entry to the museum; stop a moment before entering the exhibitions to read the story of this fascinating man. The museum’s galleries house a range of transport collections, from trams and buses to tricycles and carriages, and are complemented by street scenes and shop layouts from the past. On the ground floor, a well-designed exhibition space plays host to some of the larger vehicles, including the oldest tram in Britain, the Ryde Pier 3. Most of the larger vehicles can be boarded and as you move around the museum, the interactive nature of the exhibitions becomes more apparent with visitors able to sample the sights, sounds and smells of years past. One experience well worth queuing for is a ride on the Hull-York mail coach where you can experience every bump and sound while travelling along a 19th century road in a horsedrawn carriage. The simulation forms part of the museum’s fabulous carriage collection, which is located on the second floor and claims to be one of the finest in public ownership in Britain.

The Streetlife Museum

The Streetlife Museum

From the window of the museum’s second floor, you can get a good view of the Arctic Corsair moored outside on the River Hull. The ship is Hull’s last surviving sidewinder trawler and has been sympathetically converted into a museum ship to tell the story of Hull’s deep-sea fishing industry. It has had a colourful past and was rammed by an Icelandic gun boat during the Cod Wars of the 1970s. Finally decommissioned in 1987, the ship is now a popular attraction with visitors to Hull, providing a great insight into the city’s fishing industry and the working life of its crew. It is open from Wednesday to Sunday, between the middle of March to the end of October, and guided tours by retired trawler men are available if booked in advance.

Moving back to the Peace Garden, those wishing to take a step further back in time might be interested in visiting the Hull and East Riding Museum of archaeology, located to the side of the Streetlife Museum. Here the story of the region’s 10,000 years of archaeological history is represented, with highlights including an Iron Age log boat and the only dinosaur bones to have been found in East Yorkshire.

Wilberforce House

Wilberforce House

A walk across the garden and through a door in its walls brings you to Wilberforce House, the birthplace of Hull’s most famous son. The 17th century building is where William Wilberforce spent his early years and now houses a small but well curated museum that tackles the story of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and its abolition. The clear and insightful exhibition includes displays on contemporary forms of slavery, the history of slavery and the life of the famous campaigner. Journals, books and other personal belongings owned by Wilberforce are on show, but perhaps the most fascinating and shocking display is the Brookes ship model that was used in parliament to show the conditions in which slaves were transported. Tours of the museum are available if booked in advance and are usually undertaken by the museum’s knowledgeable curator.

Upon leaving the museum quarter, groups may wish to head towards Alfred Gelder Street to visit the impressive Guildhall. The building, designed by Sir Edwin Cooper and opened in 1916, is the headquarters of Hull City Council and houses a public collection that includes civic insignia and the Hull Tapestry. Tours can be pre-booked.
Heading back along Market Place, look out for the wonderful Hepworth’s Arcade. Built in the late 1890’s, it specialises in quality independent retailers and features a fabulous joke shop and some great vintage clothes shops.
The city’s Edwardian indoor market, Trinity Market, can be accessed through the arcade and is worth a visit if only to see the pictures of wellknown personalities from Hull that hang outside the Spin Off Records store.

Hull’s famous side

‘The Wall of Fame’

‘The Wall of Fame’

An astonishing number of famous people and high achievers come from Hull and most, if not all, can be seen on a ‘Wall Of Fame’ outside the city’s Spin Off Records shop in Trinity Market.
Steve Mathie, the record store’s owner, has been collecting pictures of Hull’s well-known personalities for years and has recently published a book which details their exploits, ‘The Famous Side Of Hull’.
Whilst Hull is perhaps best known for past residents William Wilberforce, the famous leader of the movement to abolish slavery, Philip Larkin, the former librarian at the University of Hull and more recently John Prescott, the former Deputy Prime Minister and Hull East MP, the city has been home to many more extraordinary people.
The adventurer Amy Johnson, who in 1930 at the age of 26 became the first female pilot to fly alone from Britain to Australia, was born in Hull and a statue in Prospect Street marks her connection with the city. Another statute in the city, at Trinity Square, reminds visitors of Hull’s famous MP and poet Andrew Marvell.
Others of note who have come from Hull include: John Venn, inventor of the Venn diagram; Joseph Arthur Rank, the film producer and founder of the Rank Organisation; Keith Devlin the mathematician and popular science writer; Maureen Lipman, actress and columnist; Roland Gift, lead singer of rock band Fine Young Cannibals; singer Joe Longthorne; Mick Ronson and Trevor Bolder from David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars; and the film director Gerald Thomas.‘The Famous Side Of Hull’ can be purchased from Spin Off Records in Hull’s Trinity Market.

Unique name: The Land of Green Ginger

Unique name: The Land of Green Ginger

A short distance from Trinity Market is the curiously named Land of Green Ginger. The narrow street, of mainly commercial and residential buildings, is where you will find what is reputed to be the world’s smallest window. Take a moment to seek out the small opening at the front of the George Hotel, which was originally used by the gatekeeper of the inn to look out for stagecoaches and customers.
The George Hotel is one of many historic pubs in Hull and others well worth a visit are Ye Olde White Harte on Silver Street and Ye Olde Black Boy on High Street. Those with a real interest in pubs and their history can even book a tour of Hull’s historic pubs.

Ye Olde White Harte.

Ye Olde White Harte.

Heading out of the Old Town along Whitefriargate and then King Edward’s Street, you will find Hull’s main retail area, where three large shopping centres and a range of high street stores offer a dizzying array of goods and eateries.
Nestling amongst the global brands and large glass buildings on Ferensway is the independent theatre company, Hull Truck Theatre. For those planning an overnight stay, the theatre is a good option for an evening’s entertainment and meal or drink in its bars and restaurant. It has two auditoria and runs a varied programme ranging from comedy to high quality drama. Groups can take advantage of discounted ticket prices and the venue is happy to offer back stage tours. Even if you don’t plan to see a production, the venue is ideal for its excellent menu alone. Created by the theatre’s passionate chef, he uses only local produce and is happy to cater for group bookings as well as providing menu choices in advance.
Hull’s transformation in recent years has been truly remarkable; by walking through the streets of its Old Town and visiting some of its magnificent attractions, you will find a city that has a long and proud history and rich visitor offer. It would be impossible to experience all that Hull has to offer in a single day and this city trail highlights some of the key sites that groups may visit as part of a day trip or a longer excursion.

Designed over time

The decorative interior of the Maritime Museum.

The decorative interior of the Maritime Museum.

As an important trading centre since medieval times, Hull has developed a rich architectural heritage and this legacy is investigated in a fully revised Pevsner Architectural Guide to the city, which was published for the first time in September.
The city’s long history as a centre for population and economic activity, says the guide, is “reflected in its buildings and urban form”. Many of the streets in the Old Town follow their original route and, while only two churches and a small timber-framed structure remain of the town’s early buildings, the typography of the medieval town is better preserved here than in many UK cities.
A lot of building took place in Hull from the 1650s onwards with merchants beginning to rebuild their houses in a distinctive ‘Artisan Mannerist’ style with strong Dutch influence. As the guide points out, there are a plenty of signs of the impact that trading connections with the Low Countries had on building designs.
As trade boomed in the last part of the 18th century, Hull expanded and a number of terrace streets, such as Parliament Street, were built and are still standing today.
The guide notes that “Hull was at its most prosperous and self-confident in the years before the First World War” and the impressive Edwardian Baroque Guildhall, on Alfred Gelder Street, and City Hall, in Victoria Square are testament to this.
Many of the city’s building’s were destroyed during the Second World War and, barring the University of Hull, which features notable buildings from the 1960s, there were few buildings of merit constructed after this time in the 20th century.
The regeneration experienced in the city during the first part of the 21st century, however, has seen a surge of new buildings, including Terry Farrell’s The Deep, and a new appreciation of the city’s character.
‘The Pevsner Architectural Guide to Hull’ by David and Susan Neave is published by
Yale University Press, priced £12.50.

Finding help when planning a trip

Frank Wilson on his trip to Hull.

Frank Wilson on his trip to Hull.

VHEY has a dedicated team to help groups plan their trip to the city. They offer a one stop shop for GTOs and can assist with creating itineraries, sourcing accommodation, booking lunches and arranging tickets for city tours and attractions. Their ‘Shop Ahoy’ day trip package offers good value for groups and includes coach parking, morning coffee, a choice of six tours of the city and lunch.
Frank Wilson of Sainsbury’s Veterans and the City of Derby Retired Teachers is one GTO who took advantage of the ‘Shop Ahoy’ offer when arranging a trip to the city; he was very pleased with the result as we found out when we met him on our trip to Hull.
The team at VHEY are happy to help with any requests – email groups@vhey.co.uk