Saturday, 19 August 2017

World Photography Day

To mark World Photography Day, our Transforming Archives Trainee Francisco Castanon, looks at photographs of Hull during the Blitz from the collections held by Hull City Archives at the Hull History Centre. 

It is 8th May 1941 and the night is coming. The city sleeps and is quiet, but you can hear in the distance a sound carried by the breeze of the Humber bay. It is the turbine wheels of Nazi Luftwaffe aircraft. The city was then illuminated by distant lights in the darkness. This happened seventy-seven years ago and the radio and newspaper reports did not reveal Hull by name but referred to it as "a North East Coast Town."


Destruction of the Prudential Building in King Edward Street (Ref: C TSP.3.387.27)
One of the most iconic photographs of Hull during the war is ‘the destruction of the Prudential Building in Queen Victoria Square’. The archives have thousands of similar photographs showing the damage inflicted on Hull during the blitz. The day after the raid, the Prudential Building had to be demolished for safety reasons.

Hull suffered its worst nights of bombing during the May blitz of 1941. In total the city was subjected to 86 raids - making it one of the most heavily bombed British cities. Many of Hull’s Victorian-era buildings including the Infirmary, elegant shops and thousands of houses were destroyed and the city centre never looked the same again. By the end of the war, it was estimated that 1,200 people had been killed. The complete truth was not broadcast, however, so as not to reveal any tactical or confidential information to the enemy.

Spotters on top of Guildhall watching out for enemy planes across the city skyline on the 21 Nov 1940
(ref C TSP.3.325.12)

In 1941 under the Fire Prevention Order, factories and businesses were required to appoint employees to watch out for incendiary bombs dropping in the city. ‘Spotters on top of Guildhall’ is another photograph that shows the effort of these patriotic volunteers. It was not a popular job since those involved sometimes had to spend seventy-two hours a week on duty. However, it was an essential aspect of Civil Defence and became part of a national campaign to encourage volunteers to sign up for the service.  



Soldiers inspecting the destruction of the air raids damage
(Ref: C TSP.3.354.12)
Photographs and original archives held at the Hull History Centre bear testament to the extent of the devastation and provide an insight into how the City coped under war time conditions. Most records created during 1939-1945 contain information relating to the war, but our source guide provides details of all the official records created in Hull as a result of the war.

Photographs give us an insight into the serious damage caused by the bombing, along with experiences of some of the people who helped to ensure that daily life continued as much as possible. They provide us with a unique understanding of the difficulties the people of Hull faced and what they endured to maintain their country’s freedom. 

Francisco Castanon
Transforming Archives Trainee

Monday, 14 August 2017

The sinking of the SS Neptun, Part 1

On the 3 November 1937 the Humber Conservancy Board (HCB) was brought before the Admiralty Court charged with negligence in undertaking its duties as a buoyage and beaconage authority. How had the HCB come to find itself in this situation?

The answer to this question can be found amongst the records of the Engineer’s Office, which maintained files on wrecks within the Board’s jurisdiction; the Board had been empowered to remove obstructions to navigation by the Humber Conservancy Act, 1899.

The previous year on 27 June, the SS Neptun, a Danish vessel owned by J. Lauritzen, was proceeding from Goole to Kiel with a cargo of coke breeze. The vessel was under the command of Captain Metsen, and Humber pilot John William Fielder was on board.

The Neptun was sailing without the benefit of the high tide, but using information obtained from the tide gauge at Whitgift, the pilot calculated that it would be safe to proceed if thirteen feet was to subsequently register at Blacktoff. As the only suitable stopping place between Goole and Hull was the moorings at Blacktoff, the Neptun would be committed to her voyage once she passed this point. The tide board at Blacktoff showed thirteen feet, and following the pilot’s advice the Master opted to proceed. It was a decision that would have serious consequences.

It was whilst navigating through the Whitton Channel that the Neptun met with disaster. At 2:20pm, shortly after passing the Middle Whitton Lightship, the ship quietly grounded. Efforts were made by the crew to free the vessel, but even attempting to utilise the wash of two passing steamships could not free her. By the time tugs had arrived at the scene the tide had fallen further, and they could not get close enough to assist.

The crew of the Neptun remained optimistic, and no danger was anticipated; it was fully expected that the vessel would float clear once the tide began to rise. This optimism would prove ill-founded, as the falling tide placed further strain on the ship. Around 6:15pm a series of loud bangs was heard as the Neptun began to split amidship. Water immediately flooded the hold, stokehold, and engine room. It was at this point the Captain gave orders to abandon ship.

The evacuation of the ship was an orderly affair, and the crew had plenty of time to collect personal belongings. The crew of fifteen, and the wives’ of the Captain and the Steward, were safely excavated to the Middle Whitton Lightship where they remained until they could be brought to Hull. By 9:30pm the Neptun was completely abandoned.


Illustration of the Lower Whitton Lightship. The Middle and Lower Whitton lightships
(Lv. 9 and Lv.10) were sister ships of identical design.
The Hull Daily Mail reported two days later that the crew had been in good spirits during the evacuation, ‘[the crew] had with them their mandolin and ukulele, and were singing and playing. The pilot said that he had never seen so lighthearted a ship wrecked crew’. The Cook however lamented all the overtime recently spent by the crew re-painting the vessel…only for her to become ‘food for the fishes’.

The Neptun’s masts and funnel remained visible during all states of the tide, but her hull was submerged during high water; it had become a hazard to navigation. The HCB acted quickly, moving the Middle and Lower Whitton lightships in order to mark a navigable channel clear of the wreck. Two green lights were placed on the vessel to mark her at night, and mariners were warned that only two feet of water could be expected during low ordinary spring tides in the Whitton Channel. The Lincoln and Hull Water Transport Company were subsequently employed for the sum of £1600 to disperse the wreck.


The HCB’s system of wreck marking.

Thankfully no lives were lost. However, the story does not end here. On 8 October 1936 the HCB was informed that the ship owners considered the Board responsible for their loss, and that they would pursue a claim for compensation.


Was the HCB held responsible for the sinking of the SS Neptun? This cannot be answered here, and so will need to wait for another post.

To be continued!

Robert Astin, Project Archivist

Monday, 31 July 2017

Freedom: Yorkshire Day

This History Centre City of Culture blog explores the anniversary of 'Yorkshire Day'... 

Created by the Yorkshire Ridings Society, it was first celebrated in Beverley in 1975. Yorkshire Day was initially conceived as a protest against the Local Government reorganisation of 1974, during which the county of Humberside was created. Humberside was never universally popular and many believed that the name change did not recognise the cultural, social and economic differences between the opposite banks of the Humber. In short, both sides felt that the creation of Humberside removed the areas's ancient and historic associations with Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. The East Yorkshire Action Group (EYAG) was formed in 1974 and campaigned for the return of the East Riding of Yorkshire and the abolition of Humberside. 

Morden's map showing the East Riding of Yorkshire, 1695

The date of 1st August was chosen to celebrate Yorkshire Day because it is the anniversary of the Battle of Minden (1759) and the end of slavery within the British Empire (1834). With these things in mind its easy to see how Yorkshire Day can also be conceived of as a celebration of freedom: freedom of expression; freedom of identity; and freedom of person. 

Battle of Minden

The Battle of Minden was a military engagement in the Seven Years War, fought between the French and an allied force comprised of Prussians, Hanoverians and British regiments. One of the five British infantry regiments involved in the battle was the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. As the story goes, whilst marching to battle the British soldiers passed through rose gardens and stopped to place white roses on their headdresses and coats. The allied army was victorious and so, in commemoration of the victory and to remember the fallen, the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, now part of the Yorkshire Regiment, wear a white rose in their caps on 1st August.

Emancipation of Slaves

The emancipation of slaves in the British Empire in 1834 was the culmination of a decades long struggle for which Yorkshire MP, William Wilberforce, had campaigned tirelessly. The British slave trade had been abolished in 1807, but Wilberforce and his fellow campaigners had to fight another 27 years to see the end of slavery within the British Empire. Wilberforce died only three days after hearing that the Slavery Abolition Act had been passed by Parliament. William Wilberforce was born in Hull and many items relating to him and the abolition movement are now displayed at his family home, Wilberforce House, on High Street in Hull. The Hull History Centre also maintains a Special Collection of books relating to Wilberforce, slavery and the abolition movement. Many of the books in the collection can be borrowed using a Hull Libraries card.

Recent Yorkshire Day Celebrations

The county of Humberside was eventually abolished in 1995, returning Hull and the surrounding area to Yorkshire proper. However, this didn't mean the end to Yorkshire Day. In recent years, the Yorkshire Society has organised an annual gathering on 1st August of Lord Mayors, Mayors and other civic notables from across Yorkshire for parades and other festivities. The host town or city changes each year and Hull has played host twice, in 1999 and 2007. The unveiling of the Yorkshire flag as an official emblem, recognised by the Flag Institute, was also conducted in Hull on 29 July 2008. 

Hull History Centre's Yorkshire Collections

Pamphlet produced by the East Yorkshire Action Group [U DEY]

The History Centre holds various books and archival collections relating to Yorkshire and its history. We provide free access to many Yorkshire newspapers via our microfilm collections and through access to the British Newspaper Archive Online website. Our local studies book collection contains many titles on the history of Yorkshire. Amongst our Yorkshire-related archival material, the East Yorkshire Action Group Records [U DEY] are a key collection documenting protest against the creation of Humberside and the loss of identity this was seen to cause. All this material and much more, can be accessed for free here at the History Centre.  


From all of us here at the Hull History Centre, we hope you have a very happy Yorkshire Day!

Verity Minniti, Archives Assistant (HUA)

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Freedom: Hypocrite - The Real Story?

This contribution to the History Centre's City of Culture blog marks the first in our 'Freedom' series.....

Earlier this year you may have seen Richard Bean’s play The Hypocrite at Hull Truck Theatre (or our more far-flung readers may have seen its transfer to the RSC at Stratford upon Avon). The play is a farce telling the highly fictionalised story of Sir John Hotham, Governor of Hull at the start of the English Civil War. The Sir John of The Hypocrite is a rather hapless figure, bullied by a harridan of a wife and acting out of craven self-interest, before meeting his end on the executioner’s block.

Hollar's plan of Hull showing how the town looked during the 1640s

Our current exhibition at the History Centre, Plots, Intrigue and Treason: Hull in the Civil War, tries to show something of the real story of Hull and Sir John Hotham using some of the documents held here. We’ve also borrowed Sir John and Lady Hotham’s costumes from The Hypocrite, and we have an incredible model of Beverley Gate which you can also see on display.

The story of Hull in the English Civil War (now more properly known as the Wars of the Three Kingdoms) sits rather nicely within the Freedom strand of the City of Culture year. Ideas of freedom run throughout the wars. The Scottish church fought for its freedom when the King and the Archbishop of Canterbury attempted to reform it in 1637-1640. The Irish Confederate Wars began in 1640 as the Irish people tried to free themselves from the English policy of plantation, whereby Irish Catholics’ land was confiscated and given to English or Scottish Protestants to settle. In England, Parliamentarians fought for freedom from a tyrannical monarch, while Royalists fought for freedom from a Parliament overreaching its bounds.

Illustration of Sir John Hotham on horseback [LP.920 HOT]

In Hull, Sir John Hotham famously refused to allow King Charles I to enter the town of Hull on St George’s Day 1642, closing Beverley Gate against him. Was this an expression of freedom against a despotic king, or an act of political self-interest?

Illustration of Charles I [L CWT/1]


Charles proclaimed Sir John a traitor, but Parliament backed his actions. Just 14 months later, though, Sir John was arrested on charges of treason against Parliament. After a court martial, he was executed in 1645. How did this happen? Why not visit the exhibition to find out!

Sarah Pymer, Assistant Archivist (HUA)

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Alexandra Dock

On 16 July 1885, the Alexandra Dock was opened for traffic. It was constructed by the Hull, Barnsley, and West Riding Junction Railway (H&BR) using powers obtained by Act of Parliament in 1880. It was named after Princess Alexandra, wife of the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII). Sadly both were unable to attend the opening ceremony. James Abernethy had been appointed to design the Dock. It was constructed by the Hull firm of Oldham and Bohn, and A. C. Hurtiz was appointed Resident Engineer. Despite financial problems the Dock was built in the space of four and a half years. 

Fresh water from the Holderness Drain was used to fill the Dock. The hope being that this would reduce the need for expensive dredging operations. While this measure may have slowed the process of silting, this hope was dashed and the H&BR would acquire three dredgers for clearing the Dock. 

The formation of the H&BR was prompted by a shortage of dock and railway accommodation for handling imports and exports. Prior to the construction of Alexandra Dock, all the docks were in the hands of the Hull Dock Company, and all the railways connected with Hull were controlled by the North Eastern Railway (NER). These companies were viewed by many – whether fairly or not – as not being responsive enough to the needs of the City. The opening of this Dock, and its associated railway, broke both of these monopolies; it was thus a source of rejoicing to many.
Illustration of proposed Alexandra Dock, 1880.
When built it was the largest dock on the East Coast. This was no vain attempt to impress, but a response to a pressing need for larger dock accommodation at Hull; the late nineteenth century saw the widespread adoption of steam motive power at sea, and this had resulted in the advent of much larger ships.

Alexandra Dock was instrumental in the development of Hull as a coal port. The H&BR Railway was well connected to the developing coal fields of South Yorkshire, and the expansion of this industry called for additional distribution facilities. The coaling facilities established at Alexandra Dock facilitated this growth.

Illustration of Alexandra Dock.
The dock was very successful with its modern facilities. By the twentieth century shipping links had been established with Australia; Egypt; India; Cuba; the West Indies; Russia; and North, South, and Central America.

Not all was rosy for the H&BR however, for the company would find itself engaged in a ruinous price war with both the NER and the Hull Docks Company. This price war would lead to the amalgamation of the NER and the Hull Docks Company in 1893. It would not be until the end of the 1890s that an understanding was reached with the NER, and the two companies would collaborate towards the construction of King George Dock.

On 25 July 1899 a small extension of seven acres was opened. Despite its small size, it managed to increase the amount of quay space by thirty percent and added four additional coal hoists to the Dock. In 1911 dock accommodation was further increased by the addition of a pier, which was built to handle perishable goods, general goods, and passengers. The Pier included electric cranes, two additional coal hoists, and two transit warehouses were provided for storage.

Alexandra Dock became the property of the NER when the H&BR was merged with its rival in 1922, which brought all the Hull docks and railways under the control of a single company once again. The following year it became part of the London and North Eastern Railway, which remained in control of the Port of Hull until nationalisation in 1948.  On the 30 September 1982, the Port closed to commercial traffic. However, following demands for additional dock accommodation it was re-opened in 1991 with the rail connection having been removed. 

Alexandra Dock remains in use to this day and is operated by Associated British Ports. The last few years have seen the establishment of offshore wind turbine manufacturing facility as part of Green Port Hull.


Robert Astin, Project Archivist

Thursday, 6 July 2017

City status

6th July 2017 is the one hundred and twentieth anniversary of Hull being awarded the title and status of a City. On 6th July 1897, in commemoration of her Diamond Jubilee, Queen Victoria granted by Letters Patent that “Our said Town and County of Kingston upon Hull shall henceforth for the future and for ever hereafter be a City and shall be called and styled “The City and County of Kingston upon Hull.”


Letter Patent conferring City Status, 1897 (ref C BRC/32) 
The new title was in response to a petition from the Lord Mayor and Hull’s three MPs. In it, they pointed out to the Queen-Empress that Hull had a population estimated at 225,000; that it had a rich and honourable history; and that it was “the only great town in the East Riding of Yorkshire, and it ranks as a port next to London and Liverpool.”

Portrait of Queen Victoria to commemorate her visit to Hull
in 1854 by George Pycock Everett Green, in the Guildhall.

The Queen and her Prime Minister Lord Salisbury were persuaded, and a document, Letters Patent, was issued granting the new title. The whole process cost £1, five shillings and sixpence.

The 1897 Letters Patent may have stipulated that Hull should be a City for ever, but this continuity was interrupted at the reorganisation of local government in 1974. Between the implementation of the 1972 Local Government Act on 1 April 1974, and a re-grant of the status of City by the current Queen on 18 March 1975, Hull was a Borough once again; a second tier local authority in the County of Humberside.

In 2012, the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, Hull City Council petitioned for the re-creation of the ancient offices of High Steward and Sheriff of Hull, which had also been abolished in 1974. As a result of the petition, and to commemorate her Diamond Jubilee, Her Majesty revived both offices, which are now held by Lord (Peter) Mandelson as High Steward, and Lady (Virginia) Bottomley as Sheriff.

Martin Taylor
City Archivist

Monday, 3 July 2017

Roots and Routes:Crossing the Humber

In this last instalment of our 'Roots and Routes' quarter of the History Centre's City of Culture blog, we take a look at how people have attempted to cross the Humber. As we explore this topic, we 'bridge' our way into the 'Freedom' quarter of 2017...

The Humber has long being a natural barrier and has defined the north. It once separated the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria from those of the south, whilst today it separates East Yorkshire from Northern Lincolnshire. This, however, has not prevented people from crossing the river, which has been traversed by boat and foot. 

The Romans were thought to have crossed the Humber on foot between Wintringham and Brough, this being possible because the river used to be wider and its flow, therefore, slower than present. However, the crossing was more likely made by boat, from a possible Roman jetty near Wintringham, which would have been revealed by low tide. Some of the earliest documented evidence of boat crossings can be found in an Edward II charter (1315), which states that a ‘ferry be established and forever maintained from Kyngeston upon Hull across the water of Humbre unto the County of Lincoln… for conveying and carrying… men horses, carts, corn and other things’. 

Barton Ferry, Waterside, 1801 [L.386/6(92)/2]

In the 18th century, the journey was 5-6 miles and, if the wind and tides were favourable, took around 1.5 hours. Conditions were not always favourable however, and in 1787 Charles Dibdin recalled his journey from Barton to Hull which took four hours and saw a customs officer fall overboard: ‘I am sure I shall endure nothing in my voyage to India that will exceed what I then experienced’. The last official ferry service across the Humber ceased at 16.30 on 24 June 1981, when the paddle steamer ‘Faringford’ made a final return journey from New Holland to Hull.

The Industrial Revolution enabled the Victorians to develop their own ideas of how to connect the north and south banks. In 1872 a railway tunnel under the Humber costing £960,000 was proposed but got nowhere. 

OS Map showing proposed rail link between Hull and North Lincolnshire, 1914 [C DMX/153]

Another railway tunnel was later suggested to connect Welton and South Ferriby. Like the earlier proposal, this came to nothing. With the drive of the industrial revolution, railways became the most convenient method of transporting goods, so in 1914 a railway link was again proposed, this time from Paull to Northern Lincolnshire. 

Whilst some Victorian engineers believed tunnelling to be the way to go, others proposed constructing a bridge. In 1883, the first ideas for a bridge were proposed. It was to be 5900ft long and 900ft high. It would be almost century later before the Humber was finally bridged. Opening on 24 June 1981 the Humber Bridge was, at the time, the longest suspension bridge in the world. It held this title for almost 17 years before being eclipsed by the Akashi Kaiky┼Ź Bridge in Japan in 1998. Today it is the world’s eighth longest suspension bridge.

Humber Bridge proposed design, 1931 [L.624.1/84]

For some, the Humber has provided an opportunity to test human ability and endurance. Among this group was Irwin Hales. He swam the estuary three times whilst taking part in the ‘championship crossing’ held from 1906-1913. The course ran from New Holland to Hull pier, and his 1913 swim was done in a then record-breaking one hour and one minute. Pete Winchester, known as ‘King of the Humber’ for his record breaking 68 swims, is said to be the only man to have completed a swim from Hessle Foreshore to Grimsby Dock Basin. 

The Humber may have been one of the last of the UK’s great estuaries to be bridged, but efforts to cross have been made for almost 1000 years. And so, even without a bridge, enthusiasm alone has been connecting the north and south banks for centuries.

Neil Chadwick, Archives Assistant

Monday, 26 June 2017

King George Dock, Hull Port

On 26th June 1914, King George Dock was officially opened to much fanfare by King George V and Queen Mary.

Invitation to Mr & Mrs G. H. Smith for the opening ceremony
The Dock was funded by two former rivals – the North Eastern and Hull and Barnsley Railway Companies – using powers obtained under the Hull Joint Dock Act (1899). It was built by S. Pearson and Sons over the course of eight years, and was the first dock in the UK which utilised electric motive power throughout. This included modern coaling appliances (capable of loading up to six vessels simultaneously), electric belts and hoists for handling grain, fifty-three electric cranes of between one and a half and ten tons capacity, and a floating crane capable of lifting eighty tons. 

In terms of storage the new Dock included six ferro-concrete warehouses, and 200 acres was set aside outdoors for the storage of durable goods such as timber. A grain silo of 40,000 tons capacity was under construction at the time of opening (completed in 1919), and a site had been set aside for the provision of cold storage.

Plan of the opening ceremony
The new Dock was large having a capacity of fifty-three acres and an entrance lock eighty-five feet wide and 750 feet long. The lock was positioned so as to reduce the risk to vessels entering from the Humber during a strong tide. It included two gravelling docks (or dry docks) for maintenance and repairs. When opened the King George Dock was the largest dock on the East Coast north of London, and could handle some of the largest vessels of the day.


Detail from illustration of the King George Dock showing the gravelling docks

Originally the Dock was dominated by coal exports. However, as these declined the northern quays were increasingly used for wool, meat, fruit, and vegetables. The southern quays were generally used for metals, ores, machinery, and timber.

The King George Dock operated successfully, largely in its original form for forty-five years. However, in 1959 expenditure of £4,750,000 was authorised by the British Transport Commission for an improvement programme. This would herald dramatic changes for the Dock: all the coaling facilities were removed, its quays were adapted for general and bulk shipping, six transit sheds were constructed, and the capacity of the grain silo was increased by fifty percent. Investment was also made in new cranes and grain handling equipment.


Illustration showing coaling appliances
The 1960s onwards would see the opening of a number of new ferry terminals. These terminals were established to accommodate increasing roll-on roll-off ferry traffic between the UK, Scandinavia, and the European mainland. This was facilitated by the opening of the Queen Elizabeth Dock Extension in 1969, which enabled the establishment of facilities for container traffic. An all-weather terminal was established over one of the gravelling docks in 1997, and a new biomass storage facility was opened in 2014.

The King George Dock, and its extension the Queen Elizabeth Dock, remains in use today and is operated by Associated British Ports.

Robert Astin, Project Archivist

Friday, 23 June 2017

Our Criminal Ancestors

New Project to Shed Light on Hull’s Historic Criminal Culture

Skeleton in your closet? Black sheep in the family? Sinister secret hiding in your family tree?

An exciting new project in Hull will help local people find the answers and explore the criminal past of their own families, through a series of free workshops at the Hull History Centre. 

The project, led by Dr Helen Johnston (University of Hull) and Dr Heather Shore (Leeds Beckett University), will for the first time bring world-renowned experts to Hull to help the public gain greater understanding not only of their own family history, but also the history of the communities, the city and the East Yorkshire region in which they live and work.

“Our criminal ancestors were often just ordinary people, and it’s their stories from the past that can change who we think we are in the present”, said Dr Johnston. “Not only that, they can change the way we think about the history of our streets, our city and our region.

“Children often fell into crime as a dire consequence of being born into poverty, such as twelve-year-old John Hines, of Cleveland Street, who in 1891 stole a 4lb bag of almonds to feed himself and his widowed mother, receiving a five year reformatory sentence.

“For those who believe their ancestors may have encountered the criminal justice system, whether they’re the accused, victims, witnesses, prisoners, police and prison officers, these workshops will help them to  use historical crime, policing and punishment records in searching for their relatives.”


Dr Heather Shore is eager to see what the people of Hull can uncover.
“We’re really looking forward to helping people dig into the past to find their black sheep ancestors,” she said. “Hull and East Yorkshire has a rich history when it comes to criminal justice, and people’s untold family stories can help us throw light into the shadowy corners of Hull’s criminal past.”

The three public workshops will run at the Hull History Centre during 2017 on:
Saturday 15th July - Introduction to Crime and Criminal Records
Saturday 23rd September - Prosecution and Policing
Saturday 21st October - Punishment

The project has been funded by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which means that all workshops are free to the public, who can attend any or all workshops.  The aim is to develop a website and a set of resources that will help others, both nationally and internationally, discover their criminal ancestry.

For more information or to sign up to one or all of the events please book online, contact the Hull History Centre on 01482 317500 or email Victoria Dawson victoria.dawson@hull.ac.uk

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Roots and Routes: Whaling - From Hull to the Arctic

Whaling has a long and important place in the history of Hull. Beginning around the 16th century, the trade involved hazardous journeys up to the Arctic regions where the whales were to be found. These journeys had to be undertaken in the summer when there was less ice around. In the early years ships only went as far as Greenland, but slowly as the Arctic regions were explored whaling crews ventured further and further north where they encountered more and more hazards. The majority of ships were not built for the whaling trade but were converted from other uses. The ships had to be specially adapted for the icy conditions and this was done by ‘planking’. Extra layers of wood had to be attached to the inside of the hold to strengthen them.

Map showing areas traversed by whaling crews sailing out of Hull [L WHA.639]

From the 18th century, the whaling trade had become a significant part of the country’s economy. In 1733 the British Government was offering a bounty of £1 per ton per ship to English merchants involved in whaling. By 1754 this had risen to £2 and, in that same year, four Hull whaling ships sailed to the Arctic. With the increase in profits to be made, so came an increase in the numbers of ships involved in the trade and by 1799 there were 34 whaling ships sailing out of Hull. Arguably though, the heyday of the trade came in the early decades of the 19th century, and by 1820 more than 60 of our city’s ships were involved in whaling. Hull became the largest whaling port in the country and the trade was an important part of the town’s economy. From catching the whales, to creating and using the by-products of the trade, Hull’s merchants and tradesmen became rich from the proceeds. Whalebone had a huge variety of uses and there were manufacturers at Hull who made ribs for umbrellas, hoops for crinolines, corsets and buttons amongst other things; the oil was also a valuable commodity.

Extract from the Neptune's log book, 1821 [L DMWH]

The Local Studies collection holds a number of journals kept by the crews of Hull based whaling ships, and these are available to read on microfilm. Reading the entries in the journals, you are made aware of problems faced by the men involved in the trade: From ships not being able to leave port because there was no wind; to them being blown off course because of too much wind. The biggest difficulties were encountered as the ships explored the territories further beyond the Arctic Circle, with the immense cold, snow and ice.  Melville Bay appears to have been notorious for bad weather and gales. The only means of navigation was by the sun and the stars and many of the journals include the comment ‘sun obscured’ instead of a latitude reading. If the ship drifted into the pack ice (known as being beset), it could only be a matter of time before the ship was squeezed so much it would break. 

Extract from the Neptune's log book, 1821 [L DMWH]

As conditions became more dangerous there were huge losses, including 9 ships lost in 1821. With these and similar disasters, added to the fact that whale oil was becoming less of a necessity, the trade began to decline. However the trade did carry on, and even witnessed a revival in the 1850s and 1860s. However, the revival was short lived and the last whaling ship, the Diana, sailed out of Hull in 1866. She was to spend the winter in the Arctic, unable to get home and when she finally arrived in Hull on 26 April 1867, she had lost her captain and 13 members of the crew.

If you want to find out more about Hull’s whaling heritage, why not come and look at the whaling log books? Just ask us in the library to point you in the right direction!


Elaine Moll, Librarian and Archivist

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Spurn Lifeboat Station 1908-1911: Three turbulent years

Today I would like to share a number of architectural plans – found amongst the un-catalogued Conservancy records in C DPD – illustrating the Victorian cottages, school, and lifeboat house built for the Humber Lifeboat Station at Spurn Point. Why are these plans among the records of the Humber Conservancy Board (HCB)?

The HCB was formed by an Act of Parliament in 1907. The Act replaced the Humber Conservancy Commissioners, and also transferred all responsibilities connected with navigation on the River Humber from Hull Trinity House to the new Board. This inheritance included the Lifeboat Station at Spurn Point, which had been established in 1810. This transfer would lead to three years of uncertainty and difficulty for the Lifeboat Station and its crew.
Detail from plan no.2 of proposed cottages at Spurn Point
The chief difficulty was the fact that the Humber Station was manned by a paid full time crew, a situation which was unique at the time and remains so to this day; the isolated nature of Spurn Point makes a full-time crew a necessity. The Conservancy Board members saw themselves as primarily running a commercial operation, and were unhappy about expending a large sum of money on what they considered to be a philanthropic concern. They therefore decided that they would either close the Station, or pass responsibility for it on to another body. The 1907 Conservancy Act had made the HCB responsible for the Humber Lifeboat Station, but had not included any legal compulsion for the Board to maintain it. Thus its future was placed in jeopardy!

The Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) was approached by the HCB as the appropriate body to operate the Station. However, the RNLI was reluctant to assume responsibility for a full-time paid lifeboat crew. Many bitter arguments would follow with the Conservancy often threatening to abandon the station!


Detail from plan no.3 of proposed cottages for Spurn Point
In May 1910 the situation reached a critical point when Constable Settled Estates issued Trinity House with one year’s notice to quit Spurn Point. Trinity House leased the land for the Lifeboat Station at a nominal rent for lifesaving purposes on a yearly rolling basis, but had permitted the Admiralty and Lloyd’s to utilise some of this land for other purposes. Constable Settle Estates had not been informed of this arrangement, and once made aware of the fact issued notice to quit. Following the 1907 Act the HCB was effectively sub-letting from Trinity House. If the HCB desired to continue to operate the Station a new lease would need to be negotiated.  This development provided the pretext for the HCB to announce its intention to close the station; the Board could now claim legitimately to have no choice in the matter.

Plan of proposed Lifeboat House, 23 October 1854

The potential loss of the Lifeboat Station, and the impact this could have on shipping in the Humber was a serious concern to shipping interests. The Board of Trade, which had for some time been attempting to mediate between the HCB and the RNLI, stepped up its efforts to find a solution.

Finally, after three difficult years it was agreed that the RNLI would take over the station on 1 May 1911. The future of the Humber Lifeboat Station was assured, and the HCB’s brief involvement with lifeboat operations came to a close. Over one-hundred years later, the RNLI continues to operate this Station for the purpose of saving lives at sea.


Detail from plan for proposed school at Spurn, October 1890
Further reading:
Roy Benfell Spurn Lifeboat Station–The First Hundred Years (Hull, 1994)
Barry Herbert Lifeboats of the Humber (Hutton Press, 1991)
Nicholas Leach Lifeboats of the Humber: Two centuries of gallantry (Amberley Publishing, 2010)

All of these titles can be consulted here at the History Centre, and are available to be borrowed by library members - see details on how to apply for library membership.

Robert Astin, Project Archivist

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Roots and Routes: Settlement, Removal and the Parish

Settlement and removal were court settled processes that formed part of the Old Poor Law system which operated in the UK from the early modern period until 1834. Under the Poor Law system, each person had a parish of settlement which was usually determined by the following considerations: where you were born; where your husband or father was born or had served an apprenticeship; or where you husband or father rented property worth £10 a year. 

A person who had moved away from their parish of settlement could be sent back (removed), if they ever fell on hard times and had to apply for parish relief. Removal was ordered for those who had become, or were likely to become, a liability on the parish such as unmarried pregnant women. Vagrancy was also a problem that fell to the parish to deal with, so vagrants were also widely subject to removal orders. Such orders were issued through the Quarter Sessions courts, whose Justices of the Peace (or magistrates) would first determine the proper parish of settlement for an individual by issuing a settlement order, before then issuing an order for their removal to that parish. Removal could be ordered to anywhere in the country, or it could be to the next parish.  

Settlement and removal was a significant tool of the Hull Bastardy Courts to rid the town of the 'financial drain' of single mothers and their illegitimate offspring. Removals in the early nineteenth century were mainly of pregnant single women. Illegitimacy was increasing in the early nineteenth century and was regarded as a social and moral problem. There was a belief that the Old Poor Law encouraged single women to bear illegitimate children in order to gain increasing amounts of parish relief. They were considered by the officers of the parish to be ‘immoral’ and 'costly' women. 

The records of the Hull Quarter Sessions can tell us much about this process, not least the names of individuals who were unfortunate enough to be part of it. Pregnant and single, Ann Whiteley was removed to Otley, West Yorkshire, in July 1813 [CQB]. Single mother Sarah Hilton, along with her illegitimate 7 week old child James, was removed to Bowby, Lincolnshire, in October 1816 [C CQB]. The story of Hannah Taylor is interesting, and shows that prevalent beliefs about such women were not necessarily true. Finding herself a single mother, Hannah had managed to support herself and her illegitimate child Mary for a few years. She then became a mother to a second illegitimate child, William. At this point she couldn't cope and had to apply for parish relief. She was ordered to be removed from Hull to Leeds, along with her children Mary (now 5 years old) and William (now 6 months). 

Settlement and Removal Order [C CQB]

Not all removals were of a longer distance, indeed some were for the removal of individuals over very short distances, often from one Hull parish to another. This can be seen in the case of Ruth Griswood who, unmarried and pregnant, was removed from Holy Trinity to Sculcoates in 1808. Such instances illustrate the infighting between parishes over who was to foot the bill for the welfare of the poor. In 1834 the Poor Law was revised, becoming known as the New Poor Law, and the same practices were occasionally carried on. For example, in 1851 the Hull Magistrates Court removed single woman Ann Gardener (a pauper) and her child.

When looking at settlement and removal under the Old Poor Law, there are high incidences of removal of women in general. Such cases involved not only women with illegitimate children or pregnant single women, but also other ‘problem’ women. These women might be widows or deserted wives who had become chargeable to the parish after the loss of husbands who had previously supported them and their children. Women classed as 'lunatics' were also removed as they required care under the system. Thus, in one respect, the process of settlement and removal can be considered as a way of getting rid of social undesirables, or those causing financial strain on the parish. In this analysis, vulnerable women in poverty were treated as social outcasts to be moved on.

To find out more, why not visit us to have a look through the Quarter Sessions records [C CQB] here at the History Centre.

Joanne Chilman, Archive Assistant

Friday, 19 May 2017

Experimenting with Digital Collections with the British Library

Last Friday we travelled to Sheffield Hallam University’s Art & Design Research Centre, who are working in partnership with the British Library Labs. This workshop focused on how the British Library’s digital collections team is making their data accessible to researchers, and the opportunities and challenges involved.

So far in this traineeship our focus has been on how to preserve the data, but recently we have been thinking about what to do with the data once it’s been stored. Archive records aren’t much use if nobody can read them, so how do you allow researchers to access these digital records, and what tools will they need to use it? For the British Library, the solution was to make datasets on the collections freely available through BL Labs, and allow researchers, developers and artists to reinterpret the collections in new ways.

A mixture of archivists, librarians, designers and artists at the start of the workshop.
A lot of the research has been in finding ways to automate the process of identifying what is in each collection. One starting concept was to take an ordinary face-recognition algorithm and pass it over scanned pages from 19th Century books to find drawings of people. This simple concept has been developed and expanded into the Mechanical Curator, a program which automatically identifies illustrations within the text, identifies the content and posts a random selection of pictures online. Similar algorithms can perform similar functions, such as teaching an Optical Character Recognition program to spot long-forgotten Victorian poetry in digitised journals.

The biggest point that came from this was less the technical aspect, but the human aspect. It is important to ask questions about exactly what researchers want to find, and how to help them find it. Digital collections can easily contain thousands or millions of files, and good search tools are key to letting users filter through stacks of data to get to what they want.

After the coffee break, professors from Sheffield Hallam’s ADRC shared some projects they have worked on, using new technology in new ways to display data and curate exhibitions. We saw some work by the meSch project into new concepts for presenting information. It can be all too easy for the presentation to overtake the content - the meSch project aims to develop museums technology which doesn’t interfere with the visitor experience.

A prototype guide for Sheffield General Cemetery, resembling a memorial book.
Visitors use the bookmarks to play audio recordings on different themes.
Throughout the workshop, we saw how not just how new technology can be used to engage with the museums and archive sector, but the importance of working directly with users to provide the tools they want or need to use. We’ll be keeping these lessons in mind as we continue to develop the Hull History Centre’s digital collections.

Tom & Francisco, Transforming Archive Trainees