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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Like A Tourist In My Home Town

I live in Hull. Now I'm not claiming that Hull is somewhere I'd choose to live if I had the entire world, or even the entire country to choose from, but it's where I live now. In fact it's where I've lived all my life, and family connections more than anything else have kept me here, so I make the best of it.

To be honest, it isn't that bad, and I suppose it's pretty much the same as living in any town or city. OK, I'm sure there are more exciting places to live, but then who wants excitement where you live?

In recent years, Hull has been the subject of a number of those 'worst places in the UK to live' and 'most unpleasant places' surveys, and I think that's unfair, because these reports are put together mostly by people who don't live here; I know there are a lot of places I've visited that seem bloody awful from the impression I get, but I realise that I'm just a visitor, so my impression probably isn't representative of what the place is really like.

A few years ago, even though a lot of people in the UK had heard of Hull, many of them had no idea what it was like; in fact even a lot of people here in the north of England had never been here and hadn't experienced the place first-hand. The thing is that Hull is in the north-east of England, on the north bank of the Humber, and there's no reason to go to Hull unless your intention is to actually go to Hull. People don't 'pass through' Hull on the way to somewhere else, because with the river to the south, people have no need to detour from their normal north-south routes, as there isn't really anything further east that people would be likely to pass through to visit.

As a result, I know that a lot of people that really should have known better, actually thought that Hull was a small fishing town or even a fishing village (The fishing industry has been gone from Hull for years now.) and apart from those aforementioned reports and surveys, there has never been any publicity to put their thinking right.

Recently though, there's been a lot of publicity in the media about the way Hull suffered from German bombing during the second world war, and for the first time in ages, we've had some exposure on national TV. I saw it, but was somewhat annoyed by the way the city was portrayed. The TV reports depicted Hull as a small backward town, that even now is only just recovering and rebuilding from the damage suffered by the Luftwaffe. They referred to 'the docks' while reporting from what is now no more than a tourist area, and even had river barges moored there for effect; personally that was the first time in about thirty years that I've seen boats of any kind in that location.

We still have docks, though these are used for freight terminals, and international ferry terminals and are located to the east of the city. The old fish docks to the west have all closed now, and have been mostly converted into shopping and leisure areas. In the town centre, the docks have all gone; some filled in and converted into urban gardens, a couple are now used as a marina, one even houses a shopping centre which stands over the water on stilts.

I went out yesterday, with my camera, to visit the city centre and to take a few photographs that might help give people a truer impression of what Hull is really like. I didn't deliberately attempt to show Hull in a good light, but then neither did I look for anything that might show the city up either. I just took snapshots of areas that I thought might be of interest to people. 

So the rest of this post takes the form of a photograph album. There'll be a bit of text where applicable,  and captions where appropriate. As always, the photographs exist in a higher resolution than shown here, which can be seen by clicking on a photograph, and then enlarging it again by clicking on the displayed image...

The Shopping Centres

There are three main covered shopping centres in Hull, and obviously lots of street shopping too. The two newer shopping centres also house places to eat and entertainment facilities too.

St Stephen's is the newest of Hull's shopping centres. It's appoached at the western side from just outside the city centre....

...inside, it takes the form of a 'covered high street'  with the imposing clear curved roof above. There are retail outlets on two levels, with car parking below and in adjacent car parks. The middle and upper levels house a number of eating establishments, and there's a cinema on the upper level.

Certain aspects of the architecture and design of St Stephens are distinctive and unusual...

Following the main 'street' of St Stephens gives access to the other levels by way of stairs, escalator and lifts, and eventually leads through to the eastern entrance, and from there into the city centre.

Overall, St Stephens contains many of the best known retail outlets, together with catering and entertainment interests.

The Prospect Centre was built in the 1970s on the site of the old Hull Royal Infirmary. 

It has shops accessible from both inside the centre and from outside, around the perimeter.

It's the oldest of Hull's shopping centres, and as such, though some 'household names' are still present there, it also houses independent retailers, minor chains and specialist stores.

The Prospect Centre is located at the very heart of the city centre and is easily accessible from most of the other major shopping streets.

Princes Quay was built in the 1980s and is unusual in that most of the structure stands on stilts over water, being located in the old Princes Dock.

Princes Quay is built on a number of levels, which are known as 'decks' rather than floors, and feature various stores and services. The top deck houses a multi-screen cinema. The food hall on the lowest 'harbour deck' is currently undergoing a major refurbishment.

The layout of Princes Quay takes the form of a central area with various 'streets' off leading to individual retail and food outlets, and adjoining department stores.

The central area of the harbour deck is also used for providing community entertainment.

Recent Developments

The last major development in Hull city centre was in the St Stephen's area and was completed in 2007. As well as the St Stephen's centre, it involved the building of various car parking facilities, a major hotel, a new transport interchange and entertainment establishments around the nearby Theatre Square.

Much of the land previously occupied by the old outdoor bus station was used for the building of the St Stephen's Centre, so a new transport interchange was developed to house facilities for both buses and trains...

The development of the Interchange saw the merging of the traditional Paragon rail station building with more modern structures of steel and glass, to provide covered areas for train, bus and coach passengers together with a range of retail stores and a new travel centre.

The new Albemarle Music Centre provides rehearsal and teaching facilities for youth musicians, as well as a 250 seat accoustically shaped performance centre. 

The facilities are available to all primary and secondary schools in the city.

Next to the Albemarle Centre on Theatre Square are the purpose built new premises for the Hull Truck Theatre.

Quality drama productions are performed here.

Pedestrian Streets

Like most cities, the centre of Hull has a one-way traffic system. One of the advantages of this is that some thoroughfares are not required for through traffic, and have been converted into pedestrian areas.

Jameson Street runs from the Paragon Interchange, eastward. The majority of it from the western end is pedestrianised.

The south half of King Edward Street is pedestrianised from the point where it joins Jameson Street down to the southern end where it joins Paragon Street and Queen Victoria Square.

Paragon Street isn't technically pedestrianised, since it has a lane for through traffic along the southern side, but the majority of the width is given over to pedestrians.

This area, which runs down to the cenotaph at Paragon Square, nearby the Paragon Interchange, was totally levelled by bombing in world war 2.


Whitefriargate is one of the busiest pedestrian streets in Hull, and was once the main shopping area in the city. It forms the main route to the old town at the east of the city centre.

The name 'Whitefriargate' (pronounced locally as 'White-frer-gate',) stems from the time when Hull was a monastery town, The 'gate' part doesn't mean gate as in entrance or opening; it's root is the Germanic 'gehen' meaning to go. So Whitefriargate is 'the way of the white friars.' 

Queen Victoria Square

This square is at the heart of the city centre and apart from bus lanes, it's pedestrianised. It is located at the point where King Edward Street and Paragon Street meet, there's access from here to Princes Quay and the route down Whitefriargate to the old town to the east.

A statue of Queen Victoria stands at the centre of the square, over underground toilets. (It's something we do in Hull: we put our public conveniences under statues of past monarchs!)

The steps and seating around the statue provide a popular place for office workers taking al fresco lunches.

To the west of the square stands the city hall. This plays host to entertainments and civic functions, the more serious matters of city management and administration being handled at the guildhall, elsewhere in the city.

The north-eastern side of the square is dominated by the town docks museum. This unusual triangular building houses exhibits illustrating Hull's maritime history from its part in the whaling industry onward. Entry is free.

Ferens Art Gallery stands on the south side of Queen Victoria Square. It's a grade II listed building that houses both permanent and travelling art exhibitions.

Trinity Square

The area to the east of Holy Trinity church was originally used as an open market area, but there's no market there now, so it's become a quiet area to relax under the shadow of the church.

Trinity square is a large open area closed to traffic, it's accessible from the end of Whitefriargate, and Posterngate and from the old town via North Churchside and South Churchside.

There are shops, bars and pavement cafes around the perimeter, with some public seating.

Holy Trinity Church is the largest parish church in England. It dates from around 1300 and is constructed partly of stone, and partly of mediaeval brickwork. It's a Grade I listed building.

Andrew Marvell was a metaphysical poet, and was MP for Hull in 1659 and then again from 1660 until his death in 1678.

He was lecturer at Holy Trinity Church nearby, and was educated at the old Hull Grammar School, in front of which his statue now stands.

Not Quite The Old Town

I've always considered Hull's true old town to be the area east of Lowgate, but there are a number of areas west of there that are of particular interest.

Posterngate leads east from Princes Dock Side, (near Princes Quay shopping centre) to Trinity Square.

There are some interesting buildings there, not least the methodist mission now housing a pub, but still containing the original pulpit.

Ye Olde White Harte is one of the oldest pubs in Hull being built in 1550. It's a grade II listed building and became a pub in the late 1700s. It's situated in a yard accessible from Silver Street at the east end of Whitefriargate.

The name of 'Land of Green Ginger' has been used in fiction and poetry by a number of writers, but many of them are probably unaware of where it is, or even that it actually exists. 

It's a narrow street adjoining Whitefriargate, where it meets Silver Street. It's not certain from where the name originates, but it probably relates to the storage and trading of ginger and other spices here in mediaeval times.

**Since originally posting this, I've discovered that there was once a Dutch merchant family active in Hull called the 'Lindegroens'. There's a possibility that one of the sons of that family went into business on his own in the area near Whitefriargate. It's quite feasible that he, and the area he started his business in would have been known locally as Lindegroen Junior, or in Dutch as: "Lindegroen Junger".**

It's also the location of the George Hotel, where certainly Britain's, and probably the world's smallest window is located.

The window, shown here (the dark area between the two stone blocks in the top half of the picture,) was originally used when the George Hotel was a coaching inn. The gatekeeper, responsible for noting the arrival of coaches, would use it to watch the street from his seat inside the hotel.

If you don't believe that it is indeed a window, enlarge the picture and take a closer look.

The Old Town And The Museum Quarter

Scale Lane leads from Lowgate (Opposite the eastern end of Silver Street,) down toward High Street.

Number 5 Scale Lane is Hull's oldest domestic building. It dates back to the 15th Century. It's a grade II listed building and now houses a wine bar.

High Street is the main street of the old town in Hull, it runs south to north parallel with both Lowgate to the west and the River Hull to the east.

It's the main route to 'The Museum Quarter' at its northern end.

Ye Olde Black Boy is a Hull pub, first licensed in the 1720s, and a grade II listed building. It's name apparently stems from it's involvement in the slave trade.

The rear bar houses some chilling slave auction posters and slavery artifacts.

There are many narrow lanes leading into High Street from Lowgate to the west, and opposite many of them are narrow alleyways or 'staithes' leading down to the River Hull.

Many of these are used as car parking space for adjacent premises these days, but a few still provide through access to the riverside walkway.

Historically, High Street was the location of the family home of William Wilberforce, Hull's MP and anti-slave trade campaigner.

It's a grade I listed building and houses a museum showcasing Wilberforce's life and work.

Wilberforce House forms one third of 'The Museum Quarter.' Exhibits show all aspects of the slave trade that Wilberforce fought to abolish, and slavery in general. There are some chilling and upsetting details in there, so care should be taken if you're accompanied by small children.

The 'Streetlife' Museum houses exhibits concerned mainly with the history of transportation, and particularly public transport, though there are also exhibits demonstrating everyday city life through the ages. Many of the exhibits are hands-on and interactive.

 The East Riding Museum covers the archeology of the area in and around Hull from prehistoric times, through the Bronze Age and Iron Age, to Roman and Mediaeval times. Exhibits include artefacts, recovered mosaics, and the star exhibit: a preserved bronze age long boat recovered a few miles up the River Humber from Hull.

The Church Of St Mary The Virgin is situated on Lowgate at the northern edge of the old town. It was first consecrated in the early 14th century but has undergone various restorations and additions in the 15th, 17th and 20th centuries.

The Marina And Nearby

South of Princes Quay is Castle Street which forms the south orbital road, and is particularly heavy with traffic most of the time. Beyond that is what was once the Humber Dock and the adjacent Railway Dock; these two together form Hull's marina. Humber Dock is the southernmost of Hull's old city centre docks and has access directly to the River Humber via the gates at the marina's southern end.

The Railway Dock section of the marina joins onto the main Humber Dock section from the west and has new waterside housing developments on one side, and a hotel on the other.

Just south of Castle Street at the marina's north end, the Spurn Lightship is moored. This is now a museum, but originally it served as an aid to navigation from 1927 until 1975 when it was moored in the North Sea about four and half miles east of Spurn Point.

Hull Marina is intended mainly for pleasure craft, so the number and size of the boats moored there is indicative of the current economic climate.

The amount of 'clear water' visible between the occupied moorings has been quite noticeable over the past couple of years...

...though there are a couple of indications that there's still a bit of money around.

It's a pleasant walk down the side of the marina, on the dockside path that runs along the edge of Humber Dock Street. 

There are a couple of bars with open air refreshment areas overlooking the boats in the marina, and eventually the walk ends where the marina joins the River Humber, with Victoria Pier to the east and 'The Bullnose' to the west.

In the past, ferries would cross the River Humber to Lincolnshire from Victoria Pier, but since the Humber Bridge at Hessle was opened, the ferry no longer runs. 

Victoria pier has become just a recreation area nowadays, with a pub and cafe providing refreshments.

There are wooden jetties leading off Victoria Pier, and from there the view either up or down the River Humber can be seen. Looking downriver, The Deep (aquarium) can be seen on the other side of the River Hull and to the east King George Dock is  visible, where P and O  North Sea Ferries departs daily for Holland and Belgium.

To the west of the marina is an area of land called 'The Bullnose'.

To get there you need to cross the walkway over the marina gates.

The Bullnose is land reclaimed from the River Humber. It's now adjacent to an area where the Hull and Humber World Trade Centre is located. 

I imagine this would be a pleasant and tranquil work environment, though the office buildings there appear to be mostly vacant at the moment.

From the seating area on The Bullnose, you can look out over the River Humber, with the city at your back. I've never been there when it hasn't been quiet: there have rarely been more than two or three people around. On a sunny day, it's my favourite place in Hull to just sit and think.

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