Association of Open University Graduates

2006 AGM

A new perspective | Hull: Past & Present

Hull - Past and Present

My recollection of Hull is from about 45 years ago, having been taken there by my parents to see rusting fishing boats in the docks huddled together against a backdrop of old paint-peeling buildings - a town in advance stages of total decline. However, as part of our preliminary enquiries for a possible location for the 2006 AOUG National AGM, my wife and I visited the city and were delighted to see what a vibrant venue this now is.

Throughout history Hull has been the scene of various uprisings and its wealth has been created by many various sources. The town dwellers revolted when Henry VIII, using the Act of Supremacy, legalised his divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, after being married to her for many years.

Shortly after coming to power in 1625, Charles I soon alienated himself from his parliament by attempting to amass monies through the sale of titles and to gain power by maintaining that he ruled by Divine Providence. In 1642 he installed his court in York and upon hearing that vast stockpiles of ammunition were kept at Hull, he attempted to enter the town through the gates only to find that his way was barred by the town Governor, Sir John Hotham. The King must have been further angered when the town sluice gates were opened and the surrounding fields were flooded. This action was in part responsible for the start of the Civil War. Then in 1851 a Royal Commission of Enquiry found that parliamentary elections in Hull were corrupt with only 13 aldermen - elected for life - ruling and that only 3,000 of a population of 30,000 were eligible to vote.

The cotton industry was the main source of wealth in the early 19th century and this attracted many Irish and Lancastrian labourers who tended to live in ghettoes. Other industries consisted of shipbuilding and seed crushing for oil extraction. The docks provided much of the economic strength - with raw materials such as timber, iron-ore and seed arriving, and cotton and woolen goods being exported. In 1874 David Garbutt brought about 230 acres of land on the outskirts of Hull and transformed it from muddy lanes, to broad tree-lined avenues and houses in the Parisian style.

The city (granted this title in 1897 on the occasion of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee) was bombed in the war. During the 1930s depression one of the largest housing estates in Europe was built north of the city centre - its stark impersonality contrasting with pre-war estates. Since 1997 John Prescott has been one of the city's MPs and he is one of the many luminaries who have hailed from Hull - others include Maureen Lipman, Alan Plater, Brian Rix and Philip Larkin.

In more recent times the very long Humber Bridge operational since 1981, now links Yorkshire to Lincolnshire. Visitors to Hull will quickly see that the city is experiencing a time of enormous investment and development. Various large firms such as Reckitts are still based in the city. There is a large BP Chemicals installation nearby together with the main Smith and Nephew complex. The port is no longer the 3rd largest in the country but still remains busy with many crossings to Zeebrugge and Rotterdam. A brand new shopping centre, Princes Quay, has been constructed on stilts above a former dock where there is a wide range of well known fashion shops. Today the city boasts a museum quarter to its east and the Ferens Art Gallery claims to be amongst the finest of provincial art galleries exhibiting works of art by such artists as Frans Hals, Canaletto and David Hockney. A 1960's side winder trawler is permanently berthed nearby and is well worth a visit as a reminder of the fishing fleet prior to the cod war. In an amazing glass and steel panelled building described variously as a shark's fin or an iceberg is "The Deep" - a 2.5 million gallon tank - the world's first "submarium" a family attraction at the cutting edge of marine biology and one of the many projects currently in progress is the captive breeding of sharks. It is on record that in 2005 The Deep received its two millionth visitor - far exceeding original expectations. Hopefully many of you will feel that this venue, a proud northern port where the welcome is always warm, well worth a visit.

Ramsey Hertzog - Region 07