Hull -officially Kingston upon Hull- has a rather pleasant Old Town, full of old cobbled streets and sights. It is a nice place to wander around, and a visit can easily take a couple of hours if not more. There also are several museums in the city (see Museums in Hull).
The city centre is divided between three distinct areas. Visitors arriving through the train station will first discover the Victorian pedestrian area, where department stores are to be found. This quite ordinary part of town will then led them towards the main square, around which most of the museums and theatres can be found. The square, called Queen Victoria Square, also forms an entrance to the Old Town, which is built on a former island. Much of the docks surrounding this (artificial) island have disappeared, but the shape of it can still be seen on maps. The third part of the centre occupies the banks of the Humber. Bordered by a marina, it contains the newly-redeveloped Fruit Market.
This part of the city was first developed in the 18th century, when people realised that it was no longer possible to contain the whole population inside the Old Town’s walls. Most of the buildings are more recent and the area has a very Victorian and Edwardian look. The train station, dating from 1840, is one of the oldest in the country. Not far from it is the Paragon Arcade, a quintessential Victorian shopping arcade. On Queen Victoria Square visitors can see a statue of the Queen and the City Hall, a concert hall built in 1903.
The square is bordered by a former dock, Prince’s Dock, which has unfortunately partly disappeared with the building of a shopping centre right above it. On the other side, there used to be another dock, Queen’s Dock, which was infilled and converted into a public garden in the 1930s. It is known as Queen’s Gardens. The dock was not filled up to the top, and the gardens are still below street level. At the end of the gardens is a tall column topped with a statue of abolitionist William Wilberforce. Built in 1834, the column used to be located on Queen Victoria Square before its move to its present location in the 1930s.
Some Georgian architecture can be spotted around Albion Street, a bit outside of the shopping area. The neighbourhood must have been quite elegant in its day, but the Blitz heavily damaged it. The most interesting landmarks there are the 1939 New Theatre, and St Charles Borromeo, a Catholic church built in 1829. The inside is a pure baroque oddity, without any equivalent in England. A bit further north is the Charterhouse, an 18th century hospital built on the site of a former Cartusian establishment.
Hull Old Town was built on the place where the river Hull, coming from the North, flows into the Humber. The town was founded in the 13th century by Edward I, who named it ‘King’s Town upon Hull’. Until the industrial revolution, it was protected by walls and a forteress, which have completely disappeared (apart from the remains of Beverley Gate which can be seen on Queen Victoria Square). The Old Town was badly hit by the Blitz in 1940, but it remains a lovely place. Most of the old buildings date from the Georgian period and they still recall the intense trading and long voyages of the time.
The Old Town is still bordered by river Hull on the East. In the 19th century, several docks where built around it, in place of the old city walls. They formed a artificial island, which was again attached to firm land in the 20th century when the Queen’s Gardens were created. The Old Town is a rather peaceful part of the city, and it is hard to imagine that until the Victorian era it was completely overcrowded and even squalid in many streets. There is still however a small shopping area along Whitefriargate, and the Guildhall, seat of the local council, is to be found along the Queen’s Gardens. This enormous building dates from 1907.
The Old Town used to revolve around High Street, which used to be a place lined with inns, warehouses and shipowners’ mansions. It is quite well preserved, and several of the old townhouses can be visited (see Museums in Hull). High Street provides access to many perpendicular alleyways, called ‘staithes’. They once provided access to the busy embankment along river Hull but they are now havens of peace.
Holy Trinity Church is the main church in Hull. It was built around 1300. Behind there is a golden statue of William III -Hull was the first place in England to swear allegiance to him during the Glorious Revolution. The 1734 statue looks rather odd in its contemporary environment; it is located on the Market Place which was completely destroyed in WWII. Between Holy Trinity Church and the Prince’s Dock, stands one of the most interesting buildings in Hull –Trinity House. It is an amalgation of Georgian buildings which still serve as the headquarters of the city’s largest guild. Officially called ‘The Guild of Masters, Pilots, Seamen of the Trinity House of Kingston upon Hull’, it dates back from the 12th century. Guided tours are available on selected Mondays (see the website).
Also near the church is the Hepworth Arcade, a beautiful Victorian arcade built in 1890. It opens on the covered market. There are several interesting streets around it, including on Silver Street the small alleyway that leads to Ye Old White Hart. The pub itself is just gorgeous as the building dates from Tudor times. The panelled room inside is well worth a look. Further away, The George Hotel is another stunning old pub. It dates from the 17th century, and it boasts the smallest window in the UK.
South of Castle Street, the quaint atmosphere of the Old Town gives way to a more industrial feel. This part of town is equally old, but as it is located next to the Humber, it was still until recently a part of the port. The Humber Dock, which borders the area to the West, has since been turned into a charming Marina. The embankment is lined with several bars and restaurants. Among the boats there is the Spurn, a 1920s lightship which used to serve in the Humber estuary.
The Fruit Market, is Hull’s own small Shoreditch. Located around Humber Street, it is a group of old warehouses which were recently converted into bars and galleries. Fruit traders occupied the area until 2009. The redevelopment was completed right in time for Hull City of Culture 2017.
The embankment on the Humber is worth a look. Until the completion of the Humber Bridge, this is where ferries from Lincolnshire used to stop. On the other side of the river Hull there is The Deep, Hull’s aquarium which was built on the site of the former fortress. In case of flood, the river can be closed by the Tidal Barrier, an impressive dam built in 1980.
OUTSIDE OF THE CENTRE
There is not much to see outside of the city centre. The liveliest part in the suburbs is around the University, around Cottingham Road and Newland Avenue. Between this area and the city centre, on Beverley Road, there are the remains of the National Picture Theatre, a cinema which was bombed in the Second World War. The ruins are the last untouched remains of the Blitz in Britain. Cottingham, a former village located on the outskirts, is a sought-after area which has retained much of its ‘market town’ atmosphere.
There are two nice parks in Hull, East Park with its lake bridge and its deer and peacocks, and Pearson Park, a very Victorian place north of the centre.
See also: Museums in Hull