Saturday, June 27th 2015
Its official name is Kingston-upon-Hull but (nearly) everybody calls it simply Hull. It takes its name from the River Hull that runs through it to disgorge into the Humber estuary. The city’s location on these two waterways means that it has been an important port since early times.
Hull is a fine city in the North-East of England and is therefore rather distant for a day trip from London. Estimates of its distance vary according to which end-points you choose but we could say it is about 155 miles (250 km) as the proverbial crow flies. As you can see from the above geotagger map, the train does not follow the flight of the proverbial crow and adds quite a few miles to the journey. How many? I have no idea, but the train ride from King’s Cross to Hull takes about two and a half hours.
How many famous people come from Hull? I don’t know, but one name springs to mind immediately and that is librarian and poet Philip Larkin (1922-1985), whose statue by Martin Jennings was unveiled on the 25th anniversary of the poet’s death. It is sited at Hull Station and shows Larkin hurrying to catch a train. At his feet is an appropriate quotation, the first line of The Whitsun Weddings, ‘I was late getting away’. Larkin was not actually from Hull, having been born in Coventry, but spent 30 years there as librarian of the University’s Brynmor Jones Library, and this, I think, justifies the city’s claim on him.
By the time we reached Hull, we were ready for lunch. We had a meal in a crêperie which happened to be near the cenotaph. In front of this is a memorial to the inhabitants of Hull who lost their lives in the Boer War. The rather dramatic sculpture shows two soldiers carved in white stone though with bronze rifles. I think it has been recently cleaned and stands out in the square. The memorial was unveiled in 1904 but I have not been able to discover the name of the sculptor.
Our purpose in coming to Hull was to visit a very special establishment there. It is called The Deep and is a very fine aquarium specializing, as the name suggests, in sea life. There are deep sea displays of various sizes from small ones allowing close-up views of small creatures to a huge tank visible from all sides and with a viewing tunnel underneath. These displays are dazzling and endlessly fascinating. Unlike some animals, fish seem to move incessantly and a large tank containing many species is therefore continually full of eye-catching movement. Large fish sail past in dignified slowness while smaller fry dart hither and thither for food or in games of chase-me. There were even humans, dressed in diving gear, engaged in a daily feeding of the fish.
Photography is allowed but flash, quite reasonably, is prohibited. In the low-light submarine world, flash can dazzle and even damage the eyes of the inhabitants. Quite a lot of people did use flash, many, I suspect, because they didn’t know how to turn it off.
Photographing fish in an aquarium poses certain difficulties. There is the reflection of lights on the glass, for one thing. For another, the camera’s automatic focus will tend to latch onto the glass rather than onto the animals you are trying to photograph. Manual focus is therefore essential but it is hard to focus on swiftly moving bodies.
The above are just a few samples of the wonders we saw. Seeing fish in ornamental ponds or domestic aquariums, or exuding the stink of death on a fishmonger’s slab gives no idea of the three-dimensional world in which seafish live, how they interact with one another and their environment. Visiting an aquarium like this, where the displays dwarf the human observers, gives a tantalising glimpse of this fabulous world of colour and movement.
After viewing the Deep, we paid a short visit to the town. We spied this gilded equestrian statue of a royal personage dressed like a Roman emperor in military gear. The original inscription, above a drinking fountain thoughtfully provided along with the memorial, tells us that
was Erected in the Year
To the Memory of
KING WILLIAM The Third
The sculptor was Peter Scheemakers (1691-1781), a Flemish sculptor who practised for most of his life in Britain and whose Classical style widely influenced the sculpture of the day. On the paving beside the statue is a painted inscription, undated but presumably made in 1949, which adds a couple of details of the statue’s history:
Erected by subscription in 1734.
Removed for safety to Houghton Hall, East Yorkshire,
during the Second World War.
Replaced by the Corporation in 1949
with the generous help of
Wm. Broady, Coppersmith of this City.
William III was, and perhaps still is, a controversial figure. A Dutchman and Prince of Orange, he was invited by an influential group of English Protestants to invade the country and replace his uncle, the Catholic monarch James II and VII. (He was James II of England and James VII of Scotland.) Wildly popular with Protestants (hence the phrase ‘Our Deliverer’ in the inscription), William was repudiated by Catholics who, upon his death, raised a toast to ‘the little gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat’, a reference to the fact that William died as a result of a fall from his horse which had allegedly stumbled over a mole’s burrow.
This is Holy Trinity Church, claimed to be the largest church in England (presumably not counting cathedrals) in terms of area of flooring. When possible I like to discover and report the date of building of a church but in this case it is difficult if not impossible. This is because, while building started to 1300 and, in the initial phase, continued until 1425, there were various episodes of addition and enlargement after that, including the construction of a 16th-century tower. Further work is to be done to prepare the church as an important venue on the occasion of Hull becoming UK City of Culture in 2017.
We stopped for a while in Queen Victoria Square which contains a number impressive buildings, some representative of important stages of Hull’s history. For example, there is the Hull Maritime Museum.
This handsome building has a triangular floor plan but for one side that curves, and is topped by three domed towers. It was obviously intended to impress when it was built in 1871 as the Dock Offices. The Maritime Museum was founded in 1912 and moved here in 1974. A visit to it is a pleasure awaiting us in the future.
A square called after Queen Victoria must obviously be expected to contain a statue of her and this one does. The large monument was erected in 1903, two years after the death of that singular monarch, and the sculpture was done by Henry Charles Fehr (1867-1940), well known for his public and ceremonial works, including war memorials. Strangely, when the monument was refurbished in 1925, underground public toilets were incorporated into the structure. It seems an odd place to site them and even a little insulting to the Queen’s memory that the monument supposedly honours.
To end with, here is a panorama of of Queen Victoria Square, Hull: