Thursday, 25 June 2009

Characteristics of Hull

John Netherwood from Hull Civic Society has sent Arc the following text from a document produced by the Civic Society in January this year:

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Characteristics of Hull:

  • Human Scale
  • Low rise
  • Completely flat – therefore nearly all views are “man made”
  • Outstanding water fronts
  • Unusually hard edges for a major city – but this helps to make it feel compact
  • Being split in half by River Hull creates sense of place and identity
  • By being largely cut off from the rest of the country, historically, it has the feeling of a “city state”. Very self sufficient place.
  • Still has a strong villagy feel
  • Rich architectural detail in centre/ high quality old buildings
  • Intact medieval Old Town
  • Seven radial roads – getting about is easy
  • Rich historical heritage – but under exploited (Civil War/ Pilgrim Fathers/ Bounty etc)
  • Centre is a set of linked distinct areas – as per CCAAP
  • Large pedestrian areas
  • Wide tree-lined boulevards on outskirts
  • Major central park- but looking neglected and needs opening up
  • Outstanding museums – but one or two more major attractions required on scale of the Deep
  • Some good public art but needs more – e.g. Newcastle
  • Own train set – Hull Trains
  • Lovely indoor market – but heavy under investment compared with, say, Barcelona
  • Old industrial area – Wincolmlee – needs exploiting and renovating
  • Plenty of parking round city centre for shoppers
  • Water into the heart of the city
  • Very “quirky" place
  • Many good old historic pubs
  • Very close to beautiful countryside and some of the best coastline in the country
  • Humber Bridge
  • Its own ferry service
  • Very close links to continental Europe
  • Overall the city is like a collection of linked villages and this could be exploited more – smaller units of locality need to be emphasised. The concept of eight regional centres each serving 30,000 residents, seems two big – needs emphasis on neighbourhood - centres of amenity within walking distance , serving, say, 10,000 people.

  • Poor quality and attractiveness of paving out of city centre
  • Many parts of the city still have a downtrodden feel.
  • Too few street trees
  • Needs more of a “continental feel”
  • Lack of views over the city (being flat) – needs a viewing tower
  • Twenty derelict railway bridges ring the city – a great eyesore
  • Large proportion of private property has derelict looking boundary walls, making streets look tatty – needs public intervention, like in St. Georges Rd.
  • Lack of residents pride in their city and lack of appreciation of how good it is compared with very many places.
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What do you think about the above? Leave your comment below!

Hullness - starting the debate

On Thursday 24th June at Arc, the debate was initiated with the help of PanelistsCatherine Ackroyd, Dave Windass, Dr David Neave and chair John Holmes - and of course the 50 invited guests and members that attended.

Presentations came from Dr David Neave...

... Architect Richard Scott

...and photographers The Caravan Gallery.

Watch this space for a further write-up - and of course don't forget to post your comments and responses to the event if you were here!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Hullness Pictures by Richard Scott

Richard Scott. Copyright 2009. All rights reserved
arc commissioned Hull-born architect Richard Scott to create artwork that reflects his feelings of Hullness. Richard concieved these images by walking the city and drawing a route that takes in the urban grain of Hull. The strong black vertical line represents the curve of the river Hull as a landmark that perhaps signifies the east/west divide in the city. This artwork is currently on display in the arc building.

Monday, 22 June 2009

RICHARD SCOTT'S - HULLNESS Assisted by Rahul Vishwakarma

Photography by The Caravan Gallery

The Caravan Gallery is, like the name suggests, a caravan. It is a visual arts project run by artists and psycho-geographers Jan Williams and Chris Teasdale who are on a mission to record the ordinary and extraordinary details of life. They are particularly drawn to absurd anomalies and curious juxtapositions, typical of places in transition and in the process of reinventing themselves.

arc commissioned Jan and Chris to get to know Hull, wander around, get lost a bit and photograph their findings. As newcomers to the city, many of us locals would probably agree with some of their observations of what makes Hull unique, but they have also captured interesting and witty idiosyncracies. The full collection of their findings is now on display in the arc building.

Saturday, 13 June 2009


‘A KINGDOM OF ITS OWN’ - HULLNESS – A historian’s perspective

What is special about Hull? In what ways is Hull distinct from other great English cities? What are the ‘identifiers’, although not necessarily unique in themselves, that when combined make up the unique city of Kingston upon Hull.

Underlying everything else is the city’s location. When people, both residents and outsiders, write and talk about Hull they invariably refer to the city as ‘remote’, ‘isolated’, ‘cut off’, ‘end of the line’ and ‘a backwater’. As a Financial Times columnist recently commented: ‘Hull sits at the end of a motorway, staring out to sea with its back turned to the United Kingdom, isolated from the rest of the country by the muddy Humber Estuary, 200 miles from London, 200 miles from Edinburgh and some 100 miles from anywhere half-way decent.’

But this so-called isolation has given the city an independence that makes a positive rather than negative contribution to Hull’s distinctive character. The ‘isolate city’ of Philip Larkin’s poem ‘Bridge for the Living’ has ‘through centuries [held] her separate place’. Hull is not lost in some greater conurbation like most northern or midland cities where undistinguished urban areas merge one into another. The city is surrounded on the three sides by the East Riding, one of the most purely agricultural areas in England, and to the south is the Humber where in Larkin’s words ‘sky and Lincolnshire and water meet’. There is no matching built-up area on the south side of the estuary, as at Liverpool and Newcastle. Hull stands alone; its boundaries are distinct.

Hull’s ‘separateness’ was recognised in 1440 when the borough was taken out of the jurisdiction of the county of York and, with its ‘precinct’, created a county of its own. This independence was demonstrated in 1642 when King Charles I was turned away from the gates of Hull, and again throughout the Civil Wars when the town was at times the only Parliamentarian stronghold in Yorkshire. In the 20th century Hull’s determination to retain its own telephone service was another expression of individuality.

Although ‘a separate place’ Hull, as a leading port since the 13th century, cannot be considered insular or parochial. Its residents came into daily contact with merchants, seamen and settlers from continental Europe and from all over Britain who made a lasting impact on the trade, buildings and cultural mix of the town. Traders and sailors from Hull would spend much time in Baltic, Dutch and French ports, as did their counterparts from these ports in Hull. Merchants in particular would establish close links abroad, often opening agencies in continental ports run by sons or younger brothers who on their return would introduce new ideas to Hull. In the 17th and 18th centuries members of the Maister family were at times resident at Stockholm, Riga, St Petersburg, Helsingore, Dantzig and Gothenburg. At the last place the second son of Thomas Wilson of Hull, founder of what became the largest private steamship company in the world, settled as the company’s agent in 1843 and later established a firm in the Swedish port that still exists today.

Similarly the Dutch-born Joseph Pease, who came to Hull in 1708 as representative of his family’s Amsterdam merchant house, was founder of Hull’s first bank and did much to develop the port’s oil-seed crushing industry. Many others from the continent settled here and by the mid-late 19th century Hull was the most cosmopolitan town in Yorkshire, with proportionately far more residents born abroad than in the case of the larger towns of Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield. The ‘foreign’ settlers came chiefly from Russia, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Denmark and Italy. To serve the migrant communities, and visiting seamen, vice-consulates were opened, social clubs founded and churches established which have their legacy today. From these communities came businessmen, industrialists and city leaders as well as personalities such as the celebrated art dealer and benefactor Lord Duveen and, more recently, the actress Maureen Lipman.

It is to the continent, especially the Low Countries, that we owe Hull’s particularly distinctive early architecture. The city’s two finest early buildings, the 14th-century Holy Trinity church, by area the largest parish church in England, and the 17th-century Wilberforce House, both reflect strong Dutch influence. In the case of Holy Trinity church the influence comes in the use of brick for the chancel, transepts and lower part of the tower. The bricks would have been made in a brickyard established by c.1300 on the site of Prince’s Dock. The making and use of brick which had ended in the Roman period was underway by the 12th century in the Low Countries from where no doubt it was introduced into Hull. Over 4 million bricks were used in the early 14th century to construct the town walls, which with numerous other brick buildings made Hull ‘the one brick-built town of the Middle Ages in England’.

Wilberforce House built c. 1660 is also of brick, but here it is used in a far more original way and enriched with stone decoration. The style, referred to as ‘artisan mannerist’ because of the crude use of classical details, echoes contemporary buildings found in Holland and Belgium, and we do know that the builder, Hugh Lister, a wealthy merchant, probably spent some time in Holland. His ‘architect’ William Catlyn was also responsible for other ‘artisan mannerist’ buildings on either sides of the Humber, including Crowle House, further south along High Street, and the Master’s House at Charterhouse, which has a Dutch-style shaped gable and the earliest recorded use of pantiles in Hull. Pantiles, the curved clay roofing tiles, were imported into Hull from Holland in large numbers, as were the small yellowy clinker bricks, used for flooring, and Delft tiles, to be seen at Wilberforce House, and the black ledger gravestones that line the floor of the east end of Holy Trinity Church.

Hull in the 17th century would have looked very much like a Dutch town, surrounded as it was with brick walls and gates, with the River Hull to the east, the Humber to the south and wide water-filled ditches to the north and west. It is a unique feature of Hull that it has retained so much of its medieval topography, not only in the street pattern of the Old Town but also in the clear definition of its boundaries through the building of the early docks along the line of the medieval walls. In no other great industrial or port city is the historic core so well defined.

Following the demolition of the town walls the built up area spread rapidly north and west and the docks, once located on the edge, were soon at the heart of the town. William Cobbett noted in 1830 that ‘as you walk round the town, you walk by the side of the docks and ships’. A hundred years later the popular travel writer H.V. Morton, in a piece very much in praise of the city, commented: ‘Ships sail right into the heart of Hull. They saunter casually across the main streets, their masts become mixed up with the electric cable poles. Trawlers steam in from the North Sea across roads and nestle their smoke stacks against the chimneys of Hull. Barges roll in casually, with the skipper smoking his pipe and looking up pleasantly at the long line of taxicabs, oil-cake wagons, cement carts, and tram-cars which wait respectfully for the bridge to swing back.’ Ships no longer sail into the centre of Hull, but the presence of Humber, Railway and Prince’s Docks and the filled in Queen’s Dock give the city a unique flavour. The Marina has been a great success and the setting of Prince’s Quay is so much better than any other shopping centre in Britain.

It is not only the new uses of the former docks, but also the greatly improved setting of, and access to, the Humber foreshore, that have highlighted Hull’s distinctive maritime townscape.
The open spaces that have been retained or created give the centre of Hull a sense of spaciousness rarely found in other cities. This spaciousness is enhanced by comparatively wide roads and the lack of tall office and apartment blocks which now dominate city centres elsewhere. Hull is a city on a human scale, a city for the people; long may it remain so.

Finally what of the people of Hull? Are they distinctive? J.B. Priestley writing in 1933 found the people of Hull ‘pleasant but queer. They are queer because they are not quite Yorkshire and yet not quite anything else’. Many Hull residents will dispute this view, but they must accept that they differ from the people of the West, North and, to some extent, the East Ridings. Most noticeable about the people of Hull is their dominant Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian origin and their distinctive speech which will have been modified by those who flocked into the expanding port in the 19th and early 20th century. In 1871 only 70% of the residents had been born in Yorkshire; of this group those not from Hull largely came from Holderness and along the river and canal network in the West Riding, some 8.5 % (over 15,000) had been born in Lincolnshire, and the rest from all over Britain and abroad. The rhythm of the Hull dialect is said to have similarities to that of Lincolnshire but the source of the particularly individual use of the long ‘er’ as in ‘fern’ for ‘phone’ or ‘er nerr’ for ‘oh no’ is unknown.

Within Hull there were distinct communities linked to locations and particular industries. The decline of the industries and clearance of most of the working-class housing, particularly the cul-de-sac courts that were distinctive to Hull, and the dispersal of the residents to large estates on the periphery of the city, has not totally destroyed the traditions and loyalties of these areas. The main divide was, and to some extent still is, between those who live to the East and West of the River Hull and the rivalry between the two sides of the city is displayed in support for Hull FC or Hull Kingston Rovers, the two Rugby League teams. Dominating the east side was Hull’s close-knit fishing community off Hessle Road. Here originating with migrants from Devon, Kent and Norfolk, the city’s most distinctive culture developed. As well as the use of particular words and phrases, many linked to the fishing industry, the hardships faced by the trawlermen and their families gave rise to a whole host of superstitions and traditional activities that have been recorded by Alec Gill. The fishing industry lasted for little more than a century from the mid-19th century but its impact on the life and image of the city has been immense. Thirty years since the virtual end of fishing, outsiders still refer to Hull as a fishing port.

Hull is still one of Britain’s leading ports, a position held for more than 700 years. This and its particular location have determined Hull’s distinctive economy, social grouping, cultural life, architecture and topography and made it a unique city. As Herbert Morrison, onetime Foreign Secretary, commented some fifty years ago, Hull ‘seems to be a sort of kingdom of its own, with an identity of its own. It is a remarkable place with an individual character’.

David Neave June 2009