1983; yes it must have been 1983 when I first became aware of Hull and all thanks to The Tube, Channel 4’s teatime music programme that ran for 121 episodes, plus 10 special, from 1982 to 1987.
That year on 2 December the programme visited Fish City to showcase bands such as the Red Guitars, Indians in Moscow and the Luddites.
And then in May 1986 the Housemartins’ single Happy Hour reached number three in the charts, and Hull was again in the spotlight, just as it had been the previous year when the poet Philip Larkin died at the age of 63 having worked at the university’s library since 1955.
Fast forward several years to 2008 and Hull City AFC were elected to the Premier League; the first time the club had made it to the top flight in 104 years. (They lasted two seasons before being relegated, but are now back in the Premiership and currently sitting mid-table.)
Being in the top-tier of football is a sure-fire way of elevating a city or town’s status, which can only be a good thing for Hull as it’s had an image problem for far too many years; but so has pretty much every former industrial hub (especially northern ones) thanks, in part, to the national media; and Hull certainly wasn’t helped when it was named the worst place to live in the UK in the 2003 edition of Crap Town.
However, Hull’s ascendancy continued last month when it was awarded City of Culture status, which looks to help tourism and the economy, for 2017.
One of Hull’s main tourist attractions is The Deep, an aquarium (also known as a subquarium) at the confluence of the rivers Humber and Hull, which opened in 2002 and has since welcomed more than three million visitors and that along with City of Culture standing meant it was time to see Hull for myself.
The Deep has around 3,500 fish, including Europe’s only pair of green sawfish. From the entrance visitors ascend to the top of the Sir Terry Farrell designed building and then via a series of hands-on interactive displays, audiovisual presentations and living exhibits telling the story of the world’s ocean you end up back at the start.
Exhibits include a lagoon with many brightly coloured tropical fish, a 10-metre deep pool containing 2,500,000 litres of water, a nine-metre deep tunnel and an underwater lift.
It takes about 90-minutes to two hours to get around; although you could spend hours sitting and watching the fish swim up and down in the tanks including jellyfish, yellow tangs and sharks.
As I was paying on the way in, the woman at the desk asked me if I was likely to visit again in the next six months; I told her “no” because I’d come a long way (about 80-miles) and it wasn’t exactly on my doorstep. By the time I got to the exit I knew I wanted to come back; where else could I see a mudskipper or a garden eel or a blue poison frog?
Next up was an unplanned walk around ‘Ull. I didn’t want to go to the shopping area, but I knew I wanted to see the Old Town, and where better to start than following the riverside path outside The Deep?
This takes you on the Millennium pedestrian swing bridge across the River Hull, which is where I got distracted and where I decided to head left, instead of right, towards the river front via a walkway past an abandoned and silted-up dry dock to Nelson Street and the remains of the Corporation Pier, which was once the terminus of the Hull to New Holland ferry.
This area, along with the neighbouring marina, has been greatly improved over the past 30- years with the work still ongoing around Wellington Street West where the office blocks numbers One and Two Humber Quays have sprung up, currently home to Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays and PwC.
Here I spotted the Syam, a 1,600 tonne cargo boat from Russia. Having spent all my life living inland, and the currently nearest shoreline being 55-miles away on the west coast, going to the seaside is exciting so I spent the next 20-minutes or so watching the Syam perform a 180 degrees turn into Albert Dock.
After that Railway Street took me to the boats at Humber Marina, which has 270 berths and is one of the venues for the city’s folk festival, then across Castle Street, aka the A63, a thundering four-lane dual carriageway separating the docks area from the city centre.
The first thing you see on the other side of Castle Street is Princess Quay Shopping Centre opened in 1991 and built on top of a disused dock meaning that, because it wasn’t filled in, most of it can still be used for water sports. It also meant a historic chunk of the city centre was retained. However, architecturally it is not a thing of beauty being an angular aluminium-clad block.
Along the right-hand side of it is Princess Dock Street which forms the western edge of Hull’s Old Town, a series of narrow cobbled streets with warehouses, shops, inns and merchants houses that, somehow, survived the Second World War.
Hull was the most severely damaged British city or town apart from London, with 86,715 buildings damaged and 95 per cent of houses damaged or destroyed; yet despite the carnage and heavy casualties the port continued to function throughout the war.
At the top of Princess Dock Street is Victoria Square housing Hull Maritime Museum, where you could start the Seven Seas Fish Trail, but what I was interested in was across it and at a 45 degrees angle; Queen’s Gardens, an almost 10-acre sunken space with a series of gardens. Why sunken, because until 1930 it was filled with the waters of Queen’s Dock?
Halfway along on the northern-side is a monument to one of Hull’s most famous sons, Mick Ronson, whose name adorns a very tired-looking 1960’s cafe with a concrete and brick stage outside. Pitiful.
At you leave the gardens at the far end you arrive at Wilberforce Drive where, on the other side, is the 102-feet high William Wilberforce Monument (with Hull College behind it) built in 1834 in honour of the former Hull MP and anti-slavery campaigner.
A right turn from here brought me to Lowgate and then left into Alfred Gelder Street, named after a former lord mayor, and then to High Street and back into the Old Town.
The first thing you see here is a blue plaque high up the wall stating that on the site in 1754 Pease’s Bank, the first such business in Yorkshire, was founded while a few yards down is the Wilberforce Museum in what was once his home plus many other Georgian houses some designed with a Dutch influence; evidence of the strong trading partnership that existed with that country at that time.
High Street is the oldest thoroughfare in the city and runs parallel with the River Hull. It was the main area where merchants unloaded their cargo from the ships and moved it to nearby warehouses.
The development of the Town Docks attracted larger vessels and lead to the decline of High Street area with the River Hull being mainly used by barges, lighters and small craft servicing the mills and warehouses along its banks.
The more prosperous merchants vacated High Street and moved into the Georgian terraces of nearby George Street and Charlotte Street with many of the remaining larger houses being subdivided and occupied by small-scale dealers and tradesmen.
The bottom end of High Street disappears under the A63, Garrison Road, before a right turn to become Humber Street and an area that is showing all the signs of awaiting redevelopment.
The joining of these roads brought me back to the Millennium Bridge and the end of my tour. That was Hull in about three hours, and I didn’t even mention the Humber Bridge. That’s for the return visit.