After the announcement that Hull was to be UK City of Culture 2017 (after Londonderry in 2013), the media was full of “crap town” comments. It was ever thus: when I moved to Hull for my first job many years ago I got lots of remarks like “Hull or Hell?” and “It’s the end of the line you know”. Mostly from people who had never been near the place, but were aware of its reputation. So, just to correct the record, here are a few reasons why Hull might just have deserved its role as UK City of Culture.
A Rich Maritime Heritage
Hull’s maritime history is the one thing everyone knows about. Not just fishing and whaling, but big shipping companies too, bringing prosperity to the city in the 18th century. The industry has largely declined now, leaving only the passenger ferries and a few container vessels. But many of the old warehouses and docks buildings have been renovated and converted into flats, bars and restaurants.
Today visitors can explore the Maritime Museum (housed in the ornate Victorian building that was once the headquarters of the Hull Dock Company) and follow the Fish Trail, a series of 41 pieces of pavement art that meander around the old town. And they can walk around the modern and bustling Marina, where the old Spurn Lightship has been turned into a museum.
Buildings Old And New
It is undoubtedly true that bomb damage during the war did Hull no favours, leading to a flurry of rebuilding in functional but unattractive 20th century styles. But there is still lots of interesting architecture to be seen. The Old Town has historic houses and passageways, pubs and churches. And there are grand civic buildings from the early 20th century, including the City Hall and the Ferens Art Gallery.
If you look closely, you will see remnants of old buildings wherever you go: old windows, stone carvings and ornate pillars sitting above modern offices and shop fronts. Look at the street names too: names such as Dagger Lane and Whitefriargate give clues to a bygone era. And don’t miss the Land of Green Ginger – once voted Best Street Name Ever by Classic FM’s Tim Lihoreau!
There are also welcome glimpses of modern regeneration. The Prince’s Quay Shopping Centre, opened in 1991, was built to an unusual design, standing on stilts in the old Prince’s Dock. And the ultra-modern St Stephen’s Centre, built on a brownfield site in the city centre, incorporates shops and restaurants as well as the brand new Hull Truck Theatre.
Famous People Of Hull
For many people, culture in Hull is synonymous with the poet Philip Larkin. Although not a native of Hull (he was born in Coventry), he lived and worked there for thirty years and is closely associated with the city. In 2010 a “Larkin with Toads” trail was created with 40 glass fibre toads in and around the city (these were a reference to the poems Toads and Toads Revisited). Many of the toads were later auctioned off, but some can still be seen.
But there are other famous people associated with Hull. The poet Andrew Marvell was an MP for the city in the 17th century. Then there is William Wilberforce, who was instrumental in the abolition of slavery, and the aviator Amy Johnson. And adherents of popular culture will also cite Maureen Lipman, Tom Courtenay, The Housemartins… and many, many more.
Museums, Theatre And Festivals
Hull is well provided with museums. Apart from the Maritime Museum, you can wander into the Hull and East Riding Museum, exlore the history of transport in the Street Life Museum and learn about slavery in Wilberforce House. The Ferens Art Gallery has a regular programme of exhibitions: a recent exhibition featuring David Hockney (himself from East Yorkshire) has led to a proposal for a new gallery devoted to Hockney’s works. And there is The Deep, a massive underwater aquarium (“the world’s only submarium”).
Apart from more conventional productions elswhere in the city, contemporary and experimental drama is on offer at the Hull Truck Theatre. And Hull has festivals too. Since 2007 the annual Freedom Festival has provided music, comedy and storytelling. Then there is the Jazz Festival and the Humber Mouth Literature Festival, and more planned for the future. All in all, Hull seems to have been a good choice for UK City of Culture 2017.
(Update – Coventry has been chosen as the UK City of Culture for 2021. Read more – Why Visit Coventry, UK City Of Culture 2021?)