Following in the footsteps of Newcastle and Liverpool, Hull has been named the UK’s City of Culture 2017. Hull was first mentioned in 1193, founded by the monks of Meaux Abbey who needed to transport their wool to various markets and built a quay where the rivers Hull and Humber met. King Edward 1 renamed it Kings-town-on-Hull in 1299. Since then it has been a market town, trading port, military supply port, a fishing and whaling centre and an industrial hub.
Despite its lengthy history I found the proposition that it was a City of Culture mildly improbable and accompanied by a friend, Chris, who knows rather more about Hull than I do, set off on public transport to test this proposition. And that is the first thing you need to know about Hull; it has an integrated train/bus and coach hub called the Paragon Transport Interchange right where you would want it to be for a pedestrian exploration of the city. I arrived by train* and found a large, very pink (hard to miss) Information Centre staffed by two helpful and knowledgable women on the concourse. They will provide you with an abundance of maps, brochures and advice, all for free. So don’t bother with the machine that will sell you a map for a pound. It is hard to miss the statue of the poet, Philip Larkin, also on the concourse. He is one of Hull’s more famous residents who started off, famously, loathing the place (‘a fish smelling dump’) but after 30 years seems to have reached an affectionate accommodation (his ‘lonely northern daughter’ with ‘its spires and cranes’ and ‘ships up streets’). For our purposes he provides a most convenient landmark to meet friends.
The second thing that you need to know about your day out in Hull; everything you might want to see is in walking distance of each other. If you enjoy wandering around a city exploring lanes and byways surrounded by architecture spanning several centuries then you will find Hull a joy. The port, the railway station and its position on the east coast made Hull a magnet for the Luftwaffe during the Second World War; between June 1940 and March 1945 there were 86 bombing raids. So it came as something of a surprise to see so many older buildings intact; a small sample: Blaydes House (1740), Maister House (1743, stick your head round the front door to see the Palladian staircase and hall, they don’t mind!) Custom House Building (1800ish) and originally the Neptune Inn, St. Mary’s church, (14th century) Hull Minster (granted Minster status in March 2017 after over 700 years of existence), the City Hall (Grade 2 listed, about 110 years old) and the Guildhall (also Grade 2 listed and the same age). This outbreak of signature municipal building was possibly fueled by Hull being granted city status in 1897 and a desire to emulate, even outperform, its West Riding rival Leeds!
The two institutions that I would like to recommend as outstanding to visit (bearing in mind that this is a personal choice, of course) are the Wilberforce Anti-Slavery Museum and the Ferens Art Gallery.
Wilberforce Anti-Slavery Museum 23-25 High Street, Hull HU1 1NQ
This is located in a Grade 1 listed building near the old water front in the ‘Museums Quarter’ and is the birthplace of William Wilberforce (1759-1833) MP for Hull and then Yorkshire. The garden is also worthy of a visit and contains a statue of Wilberforce that is Grade 2*listed. Wilberforce was a social reformer and a major participant in the anti-slavery movement that eventually abolished slavery in Great Britain and most of the British Empire. The Museum contains a celebration of Wilberforce’s life and many contributions to social reform (e.g one of the founders of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) as well as telling the story of slavery and its abolition. We spent hours in here. Strongly recommended.
Ferens Art Gallery Queen Victoria Square, Carr Lane, Hull, HU1 3RA
The Ferens was first opened in 1927 and has since established an international reputation both for its permanent collection and its curation of temporary exhibitions highlighting more modern art forms and the artists that create them. Well-known artists include Franz Hals, Antonio Canaletto, Pietro Lorenzetti, Stanley Spencer, David Hockney, Helen Chadwick and Gillian Wearing. The building itself has been awarded Grade 2 listed status. It has just undergone a 4.5 million pound renovation in order to host the Turner Prize in 2017 coinciding with Hull’s year as City of Culture – of course! There is something for everyone at the Ferens and if you try and take it in all in one go you will get cultural indigestion. Much better select a different focus for each visit so enhancing your chance of leaving wanting more…
Hepworth Arcade Silver Street, Hull, HU1 1JU
This is a quirkier choice but I really liked it. Named for the man who was responsible for building it, this covered passageway is a Victorian gem and is now Grade 2 listed. Messers Marks and Spencer opened one of their first penny bazaars in it – those were the days! It contains all sorts of treasures including Dinsdales’ joke shop, an enticing pre-loved (mostly) jewellery shop and various other stores the likes of which you generally no longer see.
I decided only to list in this section places that I visited; Hull Minster was closed for renovations when I was there and therefore access was barred. But I suspect it would have been included in this list if I had seen it. And the third thing you need to know about Hull? You may very well want to go back!
*Day return from Malton, with one change, in Seamer, costs £17.00 off-peak, or £20 anytime.
All photos from the Geograph website.
Many thanks to Veronica, other contributions always welcome. Ed