Monday, 23 October 2017

Tell the World: The Mole Behind the TV

The 23rd October is celebrated by chemists as Mole Day – 23/10 reflects the 6x1023 atoms in one mole, the mass of an element equal to its own atomic weight.

In this blog we’ll be looking at chemistry in Hull, including one piece of research that helped create the modern digital world – the development of Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs) at Hull University.

Liquid crystal research at Hull took off in the 1950s under the supervision of George William Gray and Brynmor Jones (future Vice-Chancellor and namesake for the university library). As head of the Liquid Crystal Research Group (LCRG), George W. Gray led the university’s pioneering research throughout the next 40 years. His 1962 book, Molecular Structure and Properties of Liquid Crystals was the first English-language book published on the subject.

Professor George Gray promoting liquid crystal technology, 9 Apr 19179 [U PHO/C4544]

Liquid crystals were of particular interest because of how they changed colour under an electric current, potentially leading to better electrical displays. The breakthrough came in 1973 when the team worked out how to synthesise crystals in the cyanobiphenyl group, liquid crystals that were stable at room temperature and could be used in electronic systems.

This breakthrough led to a whole new wave of electrical devices, from aircraft computers to pocket calculators, and eventually to modern LCD computer and television screens. There’s a good chance you’re reading this on an LCD screen right now!

Hull University continues George W. Gray’s research into visual technologies through the expanded Liquid Crystals and Photonics Group (LCPG).

Microscope footage of liquid crystals forming [U DLCR/11/10] 

Chemistry in Hull isn’t confined to the university labs. Many industrial chemical companies have set up factories in the city, taking advantages of Hull’s docks to import raw materials and export finished products.

Perhaps as many as ten paint manufacturers were active in the Hull during the 19th Century, of which the Sisson’s Brothers are probably the most well-known today. Thomas Sissons started as a whale oil merchant before opening a paint factory around 1803 – since good-quality paint was made from whale oil, this step was just cutting out the middle-man.

A more colourful side to Hull’s chemical past is found in along Morley Street in Stoneferry. One of the many business set up by local pharmaceutical giants J. Reckitt & Sons Ltd was a synthetic ultramarine factory, creating hundreds of tonnes of bright blue dye from 1884 onwards. After German dye imports were halted by the First World War, it became Britain’s biggest ultramarine manufacturer, a title which it held until its closure in 2007.

Industrial plants across Stoneferry, North Hull, C.1930s [C TDP/2/1/3]

More information about Hull’s chemical industries can be found in the Hull History Centre, starting with the Trade Directories from 1834 onwards.

The History Centre also holds the records of the Liquid Crystals Research Group (U DLCR), including some of the original lab equipment and test samples, as well as the Queens Award for Technology shield, awarded to the university in 1979.

Tom, TNA Digital Archives Trainee

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

My year as a Transforming Archives Trainee

It has been a while since I finished my Transforming Archives Trainee with The National Archives at Hull History Centre and I just wanted to reflect and write about my experience.

Francisco (left) with Tom the other Trainee we hosted this year
When I look back, I can’t be more grateful to both the Hull History Centre and The National Archives for this unique opportunity. I’d also like to give special thanks to my managers Simon Wilson and Emma Stagg for their patience and effort to make this an exceptional experience.

The final outcome of my training was a successful job application. I am now working as a Digital Imaging Officer at the London Metropolitan Archives

My traineeship also inspired me to launch a job board for digitisation jobs, which aims to help other trainees and professionals find a job in the sector.
Digital Preservation Guidelines
I had the opportunity to attend the course ‘An Introduction to Digitisation and Digital Preservation’. This was provided by The National Archives and The University of Dundee. The essays I wrote and conversations I had with my tutor Melinda Haunton gave me a clear understanding of the problems that institutions can experience with Digital Preservation.

For example because the concept of digital preservation is quite new, many institutions are still trying to understand what digital preservation strategy is best for them, how to carry out this process and how to raise or allocate funding and resources. There is not a widely accepted consensus, this can lead to poorly thought out execution and a lack of funding necessary to produce useful results.

Completed NDSA Levels self assessment grid 
I also understood the technical challenges of “software obsolescence” and how file formats that we use now may not be usable in 10 or 50 years. For example, most people are familiar with JPEG formats for images now, but in 50 years time, we may have moved onto other file formats.  It could be very hard for future generations to access these file formats. That is why any attempt to preserve documents/files in a digital format must consider this and ensure documents are stored in simple, secure, affordable, open source, popular and easy to access formats.
With assistance from University Archivist, Simon Wilson and fellow trainee, Tom Dealey, we completed a self-assessment exercise using the Levels of Digital Preservation developed by the National Digital Stewardship Alliance, which aims to build awareness of current capacity and inspire organisations to develop their digital preservation activities. (see the full blog on this from March this year).

Digitising the Hotham pedigree roll
I really enjoyed digitising medieval parchment rolls from the 16th century. Our last exhibition '’The Hothams, Governors of Hull & the Civil War'’ required us to capture oversized scrolls that were 3 metres long, this was particularly challenging as our equipment could only capture small sections of the scrolls at a time, we then had to stitch these images together with Photoshop.

I was also involved with many other events relating to Hull City of Culture 2017 including the ‘’Hull Charters’’ exhibition which showed how the people of Hull were granted privileges, rights and responsibilities which now form the bedrock of how we live as citizens today. I assisted in retouching the digital images of some of these charters.

I helped with preparations for ‘’Larkin: New Eyes Each Year’’, an exhibition that explored connections between Larkin’s life and work in Hull. I helped digitise a wide range of materials including photographs, letters and documents from his collection. I enjoyed learning about Larkin’s life and understanding how exhibitions are put together from beginning to the end.

Spanish Civil War items
I believe this traineeship has been about much more than developing my skills. It is about empowering and inspiring people to develop their passion for the Archives and the Heritage world, being in a privileged position to unlock and reinterpret the past whilst understanding how future digital generations will be able to use, access and interact with our heritage records.

I was given so many opportunities to move forward in my professional career. I had a life coach who helped me to focus on my strengths and motivated me to find new ways to develop my confidence. I had the chance to attend a wide range of workshops and conferences around the country and I had hands on experience which honed my skills.

As a result of all this, I gained not only skills and a job at the London Metropolitan Archives, but developed new ideas, I launched a job board for digitisation jobs I am working on a new project related to ai jobs, which aims to empower the new workforce as digitisation, the fourth industrial revolution and AI enter the mainstream.

(now former Transforming Archives trainee)

Monday, 2 October 2017

PASIG 17 conference - a few reflections

I am the recently appointed City of Culture Digital Archivist. This archive will seek to document Hull’s time as City of Culture in order for it to become a key part of the collective memory of the city and to inspire creativity and innovation for years to come. Largely digital in format, it will challenge us to develop new strategies, technologies and workflows for preserving and providing access to archival records. 

To assist with this, from 11th-13th September I attended the yearly meeting of the Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group (PASIG), hosted by the Bodleian Libraries & Digital Preservation at Oxford and Cambridge (DPOC) at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. PASIG is dedicated to advancing the practice of digital preservation and archiving.

Over the course of three days we were treated to more than 50 talks, panel sessions and vendor demos – so of course I won’t be summarising every single one! But there were certainly a few sessions that struck a particular chord with me that I’d like to talk about.

Oxford Museum of Natural History
Eduardo del Valle of the University of the Balearic Islands gave a talk about catastrophic data loss which served as a cautionary tale. Having lost 248GB of digitised files during a data migration, which amounted to three months scanning work on fragile, rare, unique books his university has now implemented Libsafe. This means that all NDSA levels of preservation are reached, providing the expectation that such a loss should not occur again.  He warned against taking assurances from IT services at face value and that it’s not worth taking risks with data as anything that can go wrong will go wrong! This talk underlined the usefulness of such standards as the NDSA levels of preservation and how they can provide a framework that protects valuable information.

Patricia Sleeman of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) gave what was, in my (and I think many others’) opinion, the standout talk of the conference. Opening her talk with a compelling video of the poet and activist Emi Mahmoud performing her poem “Head over Heels”, Patricia went on to speak with power and urgency about the crucial work of the UNHCR. When compared to the need to provide nutrition and shelter to displaced people it can seem hard to justify spending money on recordkeeping and archives, but as Patricia explained, the protection of culture and information is vital to the protection of a sense of humanity. Not only can the availability of authoritative and verifiable information assist in the battle against dangerous fake news, the preservation of cultural identities that oppressors have sought to destroy can help rebuild people, their lives and their memories. It was a sobering reminder that what we do is about more than bytes and boxes on shelves and that to loosely quote Patricia, “we have a right to be forgotten but we also have the right to be remembered”.

Whilst the conference covered a hugely diverse array of subjects, from storage trends to advocacy to certification and beyond, four overarching themes emerged to me:
  1. That in order to progress we must accept a degree of uncertainty. There is no way we can know the exact outcomes of new digital preservation activities before we try them – we mustn’t let that stop us though, as we can only learn by doing.
  2. Collaboration is key. Sharing insights and findings, successes and failures with the digital preservation community benefits us all immeasurably.
  3. It’s time to stop thinking about digital preservation and start doing digital preservation.
  4. We should be receptive to new ways of doing things. The archives profession has been comfortable with the ways of Hilary Jenkinson for nigh on 100 years – perhaps now is the time to be truly disruptive and start embracing new technologies such as machine reading and artificial intelligence.
It was great to learn so much about what is being achieved in the field of digital preservation internationally and to make contacts that I can hopefully collaborate with as we make progress with the City of Culture digital archives.

Laura Giles
City of Culture Digital Archivist

Thursday, 28 September 2017

National Poetry Day

The 28th September marks National Poetry Day in the UK. To celebrate National Poetry Day 2017, we have decided to shine a light on the, perhaps, lesser known poets, whose works are now part of the archival collections at the Hull History Centre. Many of you may know that we hold significant collections relating to Philip Larkin, Stevie Smith, Archive Markham, and Douglas Dunn. But did you also know, that in the University Archives, we have collections relating to poetry publishers, such as Peterloo Poets (ref. U DPP), who helped up-and-coming poets get published?

Peterloo Poets was established by Harry Chambers, a life-long poetry enthusiast and founder of the poetry journal Phoenix, in the mid-1970s. In 1976, Chambers took the huge step of leaving his salaried job and moving with his family to Cornwall where he ran the press initially from their home in Treovis near Liskeard with funding provided by the Arts Council and support from his wife Lynn, who became a full-time administrator for Peterloo Poets in 1980.

U DPP/1/1/35 Advertising leaflet for Peterloo Poets’ Poetry Competition: Poems About Paintings

Harry Chambers was a very active publishing director and was involved in all aspects and stages of the publishing process, including typography and design. Manuscripts were commissioned and solicited by Peterloo Poets but over 1000 unsolicited manuscripts were also received each year and Chambers had exclusive control over selecting volumes for publication. He also edited and contributed features to the annual Peterloo house journal, Poetry Matters (1983-92) and produced special editions celebrating the works of Charles Causley and Philip Larkin.

During its 37 years, Peterloo Poets published the work of 131 different poets and 240 different volumes of poetry. Peterloo Poets also organised an Annual International Poetry Competition, annual Poetry for Schools events and workshops and an International Poetry Festival. For the last 12 years, the organisation operated from the refurbished Old Chapel in Calstock.

Harry Chambers retired as Publishing Director of Peterloo in 2009, but continued to take an active interest in the world of poetry, while health allowed, when he moved to York. His achievements were recognised in 2010 with an MBE for Services to Poetry. Harry Chambers died in York on 14 September 2012.

U DPP/1/1/35 Photo of Harry Chambers receiving a sponsorship cheque for the Peterloo Poets Open Poetry Competition 1993

The Peterloo Poets collection (U DPP) predominantly contains copies of poetry books published by Peterloo Poets and poetry files, each relating to a specific poet and/or one of their works. Published matter in the collection also includes items from the Phoenix Pamphlet Poets Press, copies of the Phoenix Quarterly Series and Poetry Matters, the Peterloo Poets magazine. Poets represented in the published works of Peterloo Poets include U.A. Fanthorpe, who was awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 2003, William Scammell, Elizabeth Bartlett, Ann Drysdale, Dana Gioia and many others.

There is also a large amount of correspondence with various poets within the collection as well as an extensive amount of reviews, articles and press cuttings relating to Peterloo Poets and poets connected with Peterloo Poets. Further items of interest, include minutes of Peterloo Poets AGMs, examples of artwork for books being published, original photographs of various poets and plans of the Old Chapel at Calstock, from which Peterloo Poets operated.

Poetry still remains a beloved art form, allowing people the freedom to express their voice in verse, and the acquisition of collections relating to modern English literature is a key part of the Hull University Archives’ collecting policy. Indeed, poetry is an important part of our society’s culture and deserves to be preserved for the enjoyment of generations to come. 

Verity Minniti, Archives Assistant (HUA)

Monday, 25 September 2017

Freedom: Doodles & Drawings - Art in the Archives at Hull History Centre

Archives...what does that word mean to you? Does it conjure up visions of boring dusty documents and illegible text? Think again!

With the Turner Prize launch just around the corner, we've gone arty with the theme of this fortnight's City of Culture blog at Hull History Centre...

Following on from the 'Cabinet of Curiosities' exhibition at Hull's Maritime Museum, here at Hull History Centre we have created a new exhibition, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. 
It will challenge your view of archives by showcasing some of the wonderful doodles and drawings to be found within our collections. Through beautiful sketches, watercolour paintings, drawings and doodles you will discover that archives are not all about text. Illustration has long been used as a wonderful way to exercise freedom of expression, and you will see how images can add as much to our understanding of the past as the written word.

Cairns Foster shop [C TDR]

The items within the exhibition span the 14th through to the 21st centuries and include artwork created by volunteers and staff who have taken inspiration from collections at the History Centre. Come along and see art in all its many guises, from medieval doodles through to modern day sketches. There will be interactive elements to help demystify the work carried out at the History Centre where staff work to manage and preserve the City's documentary heritage.

Illuminated letter from Bench Book 1 [C BRG/1]

Hidden amongst the exhibits is our oldest illustrated inhabitant, Ranulph the rabbit. At almost 600 years old he can’t move very fast so you have a good chance of spotting him! 

'Doodles and Drawings' opens at Hull History Centre on the 10th October 2017 and runs through to 6th January 2018. There will be events and activities running alongside the exhibition so don't forget to check the History Centre's website for further details.

Carol Tanner, 
Access and Collections Manager (Hull City Archives)

Friday, 22 September 2017

Queen’s Dock: Hull’s First Dock

On 22 September 1778 the Manchester and Favourite sailed into Hull to mark the opening of the Port’s new Dock. This ceremony heralded the completion of the City’s first wet dock, and marked the beginning of a new era for Hull.

The establishment of the Dock was driven by two factors: increasing congestion of shipping in the Haven (the Old Harbour), and pressure from Customs and Exercise who were demanding the establishment of a legal quay to facilitate the levying of customs dues. Hull had a historic exemption from legislation stipulating that all goods, except fish, were to be landed on open wharfs with resident customs officers. As a result of this exemption, Hull had become notorious for smuggling by the eighteenth century.  There was much resistance in the City to any change to the status quo. However, the threat of the establishment of a legal quay elsewhere on the Humber motivated interested parties to act.

Coat of Arms of the Hull Dock Company
Power to construct the Dock was obtained in the Dock Act (1774), which created the Hull Dock Company. The Act empowered the Company to raise £80,000 in shares, and granted it the power to borrow an additional £20,000 should the need arise. £15,000 out of the Custom’s Revenue was allocated to the Company to facilitate the construction of the Dock, along with all the defences (walls, ditches etc.) west of the River Hull. The right to levy dues on shipping entering or leaving the Port of Hull from the end of 1774 provided the Company with additional funds.

The foundation stone was laid on 19 October 1775 by the Lord Mayor Joseph Outram. The 1774 Dock Act had stipulated that the Dock was to be constructed in seven years, a target that was easily met; the Dock was constructed in four years at the cost of £64,588.

At almost ten acres in size Hull’s new Dock was, for a time, the largest in Britain. Its large size meant its wharfs would become home to whalers and large foreign-going shipping, while most inland and coastal traffic continued to use the Haven. This situation would last until additional dock accommodation at Hull was provided.
Inscription from the Foundation Stone of Queen’s Dock
The construction of the Docks in four years was a notable achievement. However, it was not without its problems and a number of rebuilding works were required. Notably in 1814-15, when the lock-pit was rebuilt on a larger scale and the entrance basin was strengthened. Another hindrance in the operation of the Dock was that until 1829 the only means of entering the Dock was via the congested River Hull. This would prove a significant impediment to shipping until the opening of Junction Dock provided direct access from the Humber.

When opened the Dock was not given a formal name, and until 1809 it was simply known as ‘the Dock’. Following the opening of Humber Dock it became known as ‘the Old Dock’. It was not until 1855 that it was formerly renamed Queen’s Dock in honour of a visit to Hull by HM Queen Victoria the previous year. Queen’s Dock would eventually form a system of docks referred to as ‘the Town Docks’.

Queen’s Dock would remain in operation for over 150 years until its closure in 1930. The owners of the Dock – at this point the London and North Eastern Railway Company – had determined that the cost of maintaining and operating the Dock rendered it no longer viable. It was sold to Hull Corporation, and over the course of the next four years the Dock was filled in. Further details on this transformation can be found in our 2015 blog post. It was re-opened on 19 September 1935 to the public as Queen’s Garden, which remains open to this day.

Robert Astin, Project Archivist

Friday, 15 September 2017

New Theatre Programmes

To coincide with the re-opening of Hull New Theatre this weekend, the staff at Hull History Centre have been busy listing all of the New Theatre programmes from October 1939-February 2008 so that performances, dates and performers can now be searched on our online catalogue.

There are over 2800 individual programmes available. Our catalogue (PDF version, 2.7Mb) includes the names of the productions, the name of the companies that brought the productions to Hull, the date and the names of the principal performers.

The Hull New Theatre opened on Saturday, October 16, 1939 with Noel Gay’s ‘Me and My Girl’ featuring Joan Lake and Reg Andrews.

Performances carried on throughout the Second World War with the theatre’s first manager, Peppino Santangelo, insisting that they carry on regardless. The theatre even suffered a direct hit during May 1941 when the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company made a visit to Hull in order to perform away from the bombing in London!

The Seashell (Ref L DTNT/1/35/19)
Famous names of stage and screen that appear in the programmes include Sean Connery in a production of ‘Seashell’ (Nov 1959), Peter Wyngarde who performed at the Hull New Theatre four times between 1947 and 1976 as did John Le Mesurier between 1939 and 1940.

The programmes are not the only resource that we hold relating to theatres. We also have numerous play bills, original building plans, photographs, newspaper advertisements and articles. 

The majority of our theatre programmes have come from the Local Studies collection but the History Centre has continued to receive donations of programmes from individuals and organisations. The programmes for other theatres in Hull including The Palace Theatre, Anlaby Road and the Alexandra Theatre on the corner of George Street and Charlotte Street are now also being catalogued and will be made available on our online catalogue shortly. Watch this space…!

Elspeth Bower, Archivist

Monday, 11 September 2017

Freedom: The Art of Political Expression

At Hull History Centre we hold many collections which document a wide range of political issues and campaigns. With City of Culture’s ‘Freedom’ themed events in full swing, we thought we would use this blog to highlight some hidden gems.

Below you will find a selection of items showing how individuals and campaign groups have used art as a means of political expression. Look out for the curve ball which hints at issues of censorship and freedom of speech.

Election poster produced by the Municipal Association Group, mid-20th cent. [U DAS/29/61]

Visual posters like this one, produced by the Municipal Association Group as part of an election campaign, can tell us lots about the issues particular local elections were contested on. Whilst election statements and party manifestos can also tell us such information, visual representations can help us understand the different ways in which messages were put across to the electorate.

Cartoon sent by Victor Weisz to Audrey Jupp-Thomas, 18 Jan 1956 [U DJT/10]

Victor Weisz, born in Berlin to Jewish parents, was a gifted caricaturist and political cartoonist. Before moving to Britain in 1935 as a result of his strongly anti-Nazi political position, his work had appeared in German newspapers. In Britain his work appeared in the News Chronicle, the Daily Mirror, Evening Standard and the New Statesman. By the 1940s he had adopted the pseudonym 'Vicky', became a British citizen in 1947, and tragically took his own life in 1966.

Poster issued by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, 1980s [U DBV/28/2]

Founded in 1898 by Miss Frances Power Cobbe, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection plays an important part in the history of the animal rights movement in Britain. For a century the BUAV has been leading campaigns against vivisection, testing of cosmetics on animals, and use of animal testing in the development of treatments intended for human use.  

Circular issued by The National Council for Civil Liberties, c.1934 [U DCL/74/4]

The censorship of visual expressions of opinions was a common feature of many political regimes during the 20th century. This fact shows that opponents of a particular position have long believed visual messages to have a strong impact on the spread of information and the persuasion of individuals.

If any of these items have piqued your interest, you can investigate further by paying us a visit and delving in to the collections.

Claire Weatherall (Assistant Archivist)

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Freedom: Hull and the Abolition of the Slave Trade

This installment of the City of Culture blog looks at the issue of 'freedom' through the lens of the end to slavery. The 23rd August hosted the International Day of Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed on 25 March 1807 that outlawed the British Atlantic slave trade and in 1833 Britain passed the Abolition of Slavery Act, ordering the gradual abolition of slavery in all British colonies. However, it was not until 1888 when slavery was finally abolished, Brazil being the last country in the Western world to do so.

Part of the Slavery Collection at Hull History Centre

Hull as a city will be forever associated with the abolition of the slave trade primarily due to William Wilberforce’s leadership in the parliamentary campaign. Wilberforce was of course not Hull’s only Member of Parliament to address the slavery issue. David Hartley (MP for Hull 1774-1780 and 1782-1784) formally brought the slave trade to the attention of the House of Commons and in 1776 introduced a debate “that the slave trade is contrary to the laws of God and the rights of men”.

Until emancipation, slaves were considered the property of their owners, which meant that they were subject to the whims of their owner and local slave laws. Families could be split up, and people could be sold, gifted and inherited as property. The sale and trading of human beings as property seems an incomprehensible act. And yet at the History Centre we have found deeds and mortgages within our collections that show property and people grouped together as if they are one and the same thing.

Mortgage of an estate in Westmoreland, Jamaica, listing c.300 slaves [C DDX/35]

A collection that is currently being listed and will soon appear on our online catalogue at reference C DDI consists of deeds relating to properties in Antigua, Jamaica, Barbados and elsewhere. Held within the collection is a mortgage for £3,000 for the repair of damage caused by a hurricane to a plantation in the island of Barbados. This gem of a document also provides details of the slaves working on the plantation, giving their name, sex, employment, country, age, and in some cases even their date of birth. Similarly a mortgage is held at reference C DDX/35 that includes a list of approximately 300 slaves at a Lincoln estate in Westmoreland, Jamaica, which provides their names, colour, age, whether African or Creole, and in some cases it even gives the name of their mother.

Documents such as these are of international importance; they not only enhance our understanding of the slave trade but record the very existence of individual slaves. At the Hull History Centre we also house a special collection of over 1100 books relating to the history of slavery and its abolition from 1492 until 1888. It is important to remember the past in order to have the wisdom to prevent the same mistakes in the future.

Laura Wilson, Librarian/Archivist

Monday, 21 August 2017

The Gold Nose of Green Ginger

On Saturday 19th August we welcomed a very special treasure, given to the city for safekeeping and on display in our arcade until 11 November..

In 1967, foundations to lay the first houses on the Bransholme estate were being laid.  During the excavations, workmen were puzzled when they came across a small casket buried deep within the crowd; pulling it out and brushing the dirt away, they opened it to reveal a strange gold object inside.

Described as ‘looking like a ginger root…roughly in the shape of a warty nose’, it had two nostrils and braided silk ties, indicating it was perhaps worn ceremonially at some point.

The Gold Nose of Green Ginger, as we now know it is called, has been mentioned throughout the annals of history, but has always been considered an urban myth. Shortly after its discovery on Bransholme, it swiftly disappeared again – no one knows quite why, but some reports claim that those who came into contact with it were blessed with unexplainable and plentiful good luck, so it was hidden from public interest until it could be fully understood. 

Others say it was stolen by someone who wanted to be exclusively imbued with fortune, while others believe it was quite simply lost.

There is no evidence to suggest when and/or where The Gold Nose was first documented. 

Some theories suggest a boar, long considered a magical creature and deeply connected to the earth’s energies, had been foraging for food in the water meadow that became Bransholme and unearthed it (the name Bransholme coming from the old Scandinavian phrase meaning ‘wild boar water meadow’). Other variations on this story tell of the boar having special powers and turning the root gold itself. 

But what exactly is it? One popular theory relates to the discovery of excavations in the 1970’s in Wroxeter, Shropshire, where a set of Roman-period gold eyes - believed to bring healing to those suffering from ophthalmological conditions - were discovered. It is thought they were an offering to the gods; could The Gold Nose be something similar? What we do know is Roman discoveries have been made across the region, including Roman coins found at Castle Hill and across Bransholme, so it’s possible.

We also know that an amulet known as a ‘Bulla’ was given to male children in Ancient Rome nine days after birth. Meant to protect against evil spirits and forces, these would often be made of different materials depending on social status; usually lead or leather, but gold in wealthy families. There have been suggestions that The Gold Nose could be a variation on this, but this is so far unproven. Laboratory analysis does however confirm it is made of real gold.

It may also be significant that Meaux Abbey – which in the Middle Ages owned the land on which Bransholme was built – is known to have had a magnificent collection of golden objects; perhaps the Nose is a rare survival.

But how did The Gold Nose come to Hull History Centre? 

Back in April, a local group of experts was called in to investigate the discovery of a large cache of crates found in a previously unknown vault beneath the city. During their extensive investigations, The Green Ginger Fellowship was drawn to a crate that smelled unmistakably of ginger; upon opening it, they discovered The Gold Nose lying within. 

After much public interest in this unexpected rediscovery, The Gold Nose began a momentous two-month residency from Saturday 17 June 2017 at North Point Shopping Centre in Bransholme, Hull, displayed for the public to view at close quarters and make wishes on. It has now been handed back to the City of Hull for safekeeping, residing with us until it continues on its adventure. 

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)