Kingston upon Hull: UK City of Culture 2017

21 November 2017

Hull is a city and port in north east England, situated at the junction of the Hull and Humber Rivers. Its official name is Kingston upon Hull. In 2013 when bidding from a shortlist of Dundee, Leicester and Swansea Bay, it was designated to host the UK City of Culture 2017. It was the unanimous choice based on its theme as ‘a city coming out of the shadows’. A new destination is chosen by the UK Government every four years that brings major arts events, media attention and economic regeneration. In this respect Hull has been no exception to the benefit of the city and its population.

Early on Hull was the hamlet of Wyke, or creek, a “parcel” of marshy land in Myton, between the River Hull and a tributary. In the Domesday Book it was the property of Ralph de Mortimer, a berewick* in the manor of Ferriby. By the late twelfth century most of Myton Wyke had been sold or left to the Abbey of Meaux. The documents show that it was prosperous and expanding, and often referred to as Hull. Edward I acquired Myton Wyke in 1298 for a port to ship supplies to Scotland to support the English army. A year later Kingston upon Hull was given its Royal Charter. Until the late 1700s it was a walled and ditched town, the ditches becoming Queen’s, Prince’s and Humber Docks. The making of Hull has been the granting of Charters with ceremony and civic displays of wealth and power. More recently part of the port/wharf area has been reclaimed with a marina and other modern facilities.

The Hull History Centre holds a wealth of documentary/archival records/references with state of the art research facilities for tracing individual and/or collective family and other connections. The Maritime Museum is a timeline of history exploring the seafaring heritage of the city and more.

From the late 1700s, until the mid-1800s Hull was the biggest whaling port in Britain with others that included London, Whitby and Dundee. Prized oil was rendered down from whole blubber and taken from the sperm whales’ heads. On their return from the Arctic, Hull whalers often brought back with them artefacts made by Inuit people. However the objects were often made with a European market in mind. The last whaler was the Diana, wrecked in 1896. Whaling from Britain continued well on after. It largely came to an end in 1982 with the establishment of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) as a global intergovernmental body charged with conservation of whales and management of whaling.

In the pantheon of champions of human rights, William Wilberforce (1759-1833), English politician and social reformer, is treasured as a favourite son of Hull for his role in leading the long parliamentary campaign to abolish the slave trade. He was a Member of Parliament (1780-1825). His efforts resulted in outlawing of slavery in the British West Indies (1807) and in the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act, achieved a month after his death. The house where he was born is now a museum and his statue stands high on a plinth in the city centre. Hull University’s Wilberforce Institute is dedicated to his work with annual series of lectures, including for the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. These human rights were codified in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). An annual Freedom Festival started in Hull in 2007 that celebrates the city’s pride in its famous son.

English poet, Philip (Arthur) Larkin (1922-85), was not born in Hull but lived in the city for thirty years and found fame while working as a librarian at Hull University. His work is characterised by an air of melancholy and bitterness, and by stoic wit. His notable poems are The Whitsun Weddings (1964) and High Windows (1974). He is the city’s most cultural figure and Hull’s bid as City of Culture 2017 was partly based on his work. He famously described Hull as ‘a city that is in the world yet sufficiently on the edge of it to have a different resonance.’ His statue stands in the Paragon train station.

The city offered a host of cultural and other events including exhibitions, museums, theatres and outdoor spaces with lectures, walks and talks to explore the history of Hull through to modern times … honouring its theme as UK City of Culture 2017 … ‘a city coming out of the shadows’ …

Ita Marguet, November 2017

Note: berewick* A detached portion of farmland that belonged to a medieval manor and was reserved for the lord’s own use. Acknowledgement is given to all sources used in preparation of this text. It follows a visit to the United Kingdom and UK City of Culture Hull (October 2017).