Visit Hull today and you will find that the city hasn’t lost any of the character it possessed some 800 years ago.
Wander down to the docks, and you will be met with a view not dissimilar to that enjoyed by the monks of Meaux who, in order to export their wool, established the port settlement of Wyke upon Hull in the late 12th century. The bustling maritime trade that is still very much present today can be traced back to Edward I and the 1299 Charter, which witnessed the birth of Kingston upon Hull, and led to the city serving for many centuries as a key point of trade with western and northern Europe. Stroll towards the centre of the city, and before long you will encounter a number of stunning examples of medieval and Victorian architecture.
These facets of Hull’s history are well preserved on its streets but also in its archives, and in recent years a number of organisations have been looking back at the city’s past through photography, film, and site-specific installation.
Humber Street Fruit Market
Much of Hull’s commercial and social activity is centred around Humber Street and its former fruit market. Since the 19th century, the area has been home to a flourishing fruit trade. Today it remains a hub for independent retailers and is at the centre of City of Culture activity. In the photo above, provided by the Hull History Centre archive, you can see how the Humber Street Fruit Market area looked in the early 20th century, and below is a local advertisement from 1935.
Along the river from the Fruit Market district is the Humber Bridge, the longest single-suspension bridge in the world that is crossable by foot. Designed by architect Bernard Wex, it spans an impressive 2,220 metres, reaching over the River Humber and connecting East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire. The photo below shows the bridge under construction in 1980.
Hull on Film
Humber Street and the Humber Bridge are just two aspects of Hull that have come under renewed focus in Hull on Film, a project led by the Yorkshire Film Archive, a registered charity whose mission is to find, preserve and share moving image made in or about the Yorkshire region.
Hull on Film kicked off in April 2017 with sell-out screenings in the city, celebrating Hull’s film heritage. The events were met with such acclaim that two further presenter-led events took place in October, but this time – following unprecedented demand from audiences – an extended production was available to buy on DVD.
The Hull on Film DVD, narrated by documentary filmmaker Sean McAllister, traces the development of Hull from the 1900s to the opening of the Humber Bridge in 1981. The featured footage covers everything from royal visits to the city in wartime, while rare shots of Hull-born aviatrix Amy Johnson sit side-by-side with segments on the city’s fishing trade and the urban regeneration of the 1950s.
As an unemployed kid growing up in Hull, Sean McAllister followed in the tradition of some of these early film pioneers and was inspired to document that changing face of Hull and the character of its people, just as film-makers – both professional and amateur – have done over the decades. Watch his introduction to the Hull on Film DVD above.
A Hall for Hull
Other organisations have been responding to Hull’s history with contemporary interventions in the city as part of the City of Culture programme. A Hall for Hull is an installation designed by Chilean architect duo Pezo von Ellrichshausen and artist Felice Varini, and commissioned by architecture organisation RIBA in collaboration with Hull UK City of Culture 2017 and supported by the British Council. The installation comprises 16 steel columns placed in a grid outside Hull Minster, pictured below as it appeared in 1860.
Designed in response to this stunning example of 12th-century medieval architecture, A Hall for Hull forms what its creators call a “hypostyle”, a recreation of an ancient hall supported by pillars. Arranged in rows of four, each pillar has a doorway in its side, which visitors can enter. Varini has painted a series of white lines onto the exterior of the columns, which when viewed from a certain angle join together to form new shapes. These sculptures frame the Minster and the surrounding area, provoking questions about the city’s relationship with its own history and our day-to-day use of public space. You can see the imposing and powerful impact of the installation in the photograph above.
By shedding fresh light on Hull’s rich history, these projects encourage us to look at the city in new ways, and remind us just how much of that history remains alive on its streets today.