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Saturday 16 May 2015

Fact 70. Norman Collier was the 'Comedian's Comedian'.

Norman Collier was always a big thing. He was an eye watering 15lb 4oz at birth! Norman Collier was also born on Christmas Day in 1925 which is a pretty auspicious day to arrive.

Norman Collier in the 1960's.

Norman Collier was born to Tomas and Mary Collier in the centre of Hull. The family lived in a two up, two down terraced house with only a cold tap. By the end he was the eldest of eight children and once joked that five of the children shared a bed. Norman volunteered to join the Royal Naval at 17 towards the end of WWII. He became a gunner on an aircraft carrier.

After he was demobbed in 1948 he worked as a labourer. One evening he was at a club in Hull with a mate, Perth Street West Club, when one of the acts didn't turn up. It was normal in these circumstances that when this occured a call went out to the audience to see if anybody wanted to come up and do something. Norman put his hand up. It was this experience that made him realise he felt comfortable up on stage and really enjoyed a live audience which was some thing that stayed with him for his six decade career. This experience made him invest five bob (25p) in obtaining a Variety Artists' Association card so he could continue to perform. He started then appearing at a few local clubs and pubs. Later on, when working at BP Chemicals at Salt End just outside Hull we was caught making his work mates laugh whilst shifting scrap metal about. He thought he would be in trouble but his foreman realised that it was making the gang more productive in the tough job in bad weather so encouraged him. This led to him start appearing in a wider area of the northern club circuit and so his names started getting better known. By 1962 he was making enough money at his craft that he became a full time comic and continued to expand his fame through the 1960's.

Norman Collier's style was not the normal series of jokes in a set but took a normal situation and managed to make it into an absurd monologue. He did not resort to racism or swearing to get a reaction and he was able to make fun of the northern stereotypes by taking his audience with him rather than shocking them. His big break came in 1971 when he appeared on the Royal Variety Command Performance where he was the highlight of the night and the critics all acclaimed his act. He seemed to be very relaxed in the presence of the Queen when presented to her at the end of the evening. He had worked a very long 'apprenticeship' in the Northern Clubs and won the respect of his fellow comedians. It was Jimmy Tarbuck that dubbed him the 'comedian's comedian'. Following the Command performance he appeared on television frequently. However it may be that more wasn't seen of him as the trend was for short sharp pieces to camera. Norman's main sets were the long monologue that didn't really appear on TV until much later in his career. He continued to find loads of work all over through the 1970's and 80's.

Norman Collier was never wooed by the bright lights of London and always lived in the area of Hull. His wife, Lucy, would pack him up with a tin of sandwiches when he traveled the circuit. He has appeared all over the world but always returned to Welton to the west of Hull. Lucy and Norman had three children and that led to grand children and great grand children. Norman loved nothing better than being with his family. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease seven years before he died but kept it largely quiet as he didn't want to worry people. It was at a family barbecue where he fell and broke a hip that started his final decline. He died in March 2013 with his family around him aged 87. There were many obituaries from his fellow comics old and new. His great friends, Little and Large had given Norman one of the experiences that he enjoyed the most. He loved the pantomime when he was in front of family live audiences and his favourite time was appearing with Little and Large at the New Theatre.

His two most famous acts were the faulty microphone act and the chicken sketch. He was performing at the Wheatley Working Mens Club one day when the Chairman was calling out bingo numbers when the microphone socket wasn't fully pushed into the socket. He was doubled up with laughter and, when back at home, wondered if he could do something similar. It went down so well he kept it in the act ever since.

To watch the brilliant Norman Collier at work click on this Youtube link;

Norman Collier demonstrated  the best of the characteristics of the people of Hull and one day there will be a statue for him in the City.

Thursday 14 May 2015

Fact 69. Hull was a major whaling port.

The first whaling ship left Hull in 1598 just after Greenland had been discovered. This was mainly along the coast of Scandinavia and initially mainly it was walrus that was taken but whales were caught occasionally. The Dutch were the country must heavily involved and there was much competition for territory in the early days. Svalbard was a main fishing area and hence of competition. Here the various national interests occupied various bays. In those days the walrus and whales were caught and then taken to a beach where the blubber was cut of the carcass and melted down in big pots to reduce it to oil which was put in barrels and then floated out to the whalers anchored in the bays. In 1618 the Kind granted Jan Mayen Island, south of Svalbard as the fishing ground solely for the use of Hull Corporation.

Abandoned whaling station on Svalbard. 

Hull's part in the whaling fishery declined in the 17th century as the English Civil war was taking place and the 'Muscovy' Company of London exerted them selves. By the first half of the 18th Century things were once again starting to pick up with an expedition to the Arctic financed in 1754. The industry really took off when the South Sea Company tried to save their trade. The Government agreed and in 1732 they gave a bounty for whaling ships. This was 20/- per ton of the whaling ship so longs as it and the crew were well found etc. This meant that even if they trip came back with no whales at least some of the expenses would be paid so making the risk much more acceptable. The Government also placed a duty on imported whale oil and baleen so making British whaling more competitive. These measures didn't save the South Sea Company but the Arctic Whale fishery grew. By now the ships were looking at the coast of Greenland. The ships used were wooden commercial vessels of about 200 tons. Normally they would be crewed by about twelve crew but when whaling there would be over fifty aboard. If the ship was under 200 tons it would not be able to carry enough stores out and cargo back or house enough whale boats. Over 400 tons the vessel would be too expensive to fit out. When got ready for whaling the ship had to be strengthened to work in ice. This meant that the hull was doubled in thickness with the addition of extra timbers externally. Internally they would put large beams from side to side of the vessel to prevent crushing stresses. The method of fishing was to carry several small boats that once whales were sighted the small boats would be launched with a crew of about eight. They would be rowed or sailed to get close to the whales where the harpooned would strike into the whale. This was not to kill it outright. The idea was to stay in contact with the whale whilst it dived and tried to swim away. The line man would then pay out the line attached to the harpoon and and lines when required. Eventually the whale would tire and come to the surface. The dangerous part of the operation then occurred as the boat had to go close to the whale and try to kill it using lance between its ribs to try to find its heart. The boats then had to tow the whale tail first back to the mother ship which could be miles away.

The main whale that was hunted was the Bowhead whale. These whale were approx. 20 metres long and weighed around 120 tonnes. They were called Greenland Right whales as they were considered the right whale to catch. This was due to it being quite slow moving and not of an aggressive nature. It also had good quantities of blubber and baleen sheets.

The Bowhead looks a chubby whale so holds much blubber for the whalers. The balleen sheets can be seen it the whales wide mouth. These are used by the whale to filter out its food of krill from the water it swallows.

Whalers would try to stay in groups for mutual support in times of danger from ice and storms and this also helped to thin out the numbers very quickly in small locations.

The Hull Whaling Fleet of Sir Samuel Standidge ('Berry', 'Britannia' and 'British Queen')
Hull whaling ships owned by Samuel Standidge in 1769. The ships are 'Berry', 'Britannia' and 'British Queen'.

By the 1800's Hull ships had about 40% of the trade and employed 2000 men. They brought great trade to Hull as the the whale oil was in great demand for lamp oil and for oiling machinery. The baleen was used for anything that today we would use sprung steel or stiff plastic. Things like umbrella struts, corset stays etc. The River Hull was busy with the processing of this cargo. Once the whaling had moved to Greenland the rendering of the blubber had moved from on shore to on the boat. The whales were held alongside and the blubber cut off. Pieces where then placed in big pots that had a fire under them to reduce it to oil. The baleen was cut out and roughly cleaned off and stored aboard. The rest of the carcass was cast adrift.

Scrapping the sheets of baleen.

The high point of the Hull trade occurred in 1820 when 62 ships set out from Hull and returned with the products of 688 whales that brought in about £250,000. The smell of the these ships would have been terrible and the whale processing factories where kept well away from 'well to do' housing. In Hull the Greenland Yards were up the River and near to where the Whalebone pub is found today.

In 1821 nine vessels were crushed in the ice and investors withdrew so a third of the remaining fleet were withdrawn Again in 1822 a further six vessels were lost and eight returned with no catch at all. At this time the Government bounty was withdrawn so removing a further incentive to investment. The advancement in science and the discovery of the uses of mineral and vegetable oil meant that the market also reduced for the whale products. In 1868 two vessel left Hull for whaling operations these had been fitted with ancillary steam propulsion to make them more economic. They were the 'Truelove' and the 'Diana'. This was the last time vessels set out and in 1869 'Diana' was lost in a gale near the mouth of the Humber at Donna Nook.

The history of whaling from Hull is well represented at the Hull Docks Museum with exhibits regarding it's history. There are models of the ships and weapons and instruments as well as skeletons of whales and dolphins

Hull Docks Museum. whale skeleton and harpoon gun.

Polar bear at the museum.

The museum has a world renown collection of scrimshaw that was art performed by the crews of whale ships in their spare time on whale teeth, tusks and bones. The picture was scratched in and then coloured using inks or soot.

There is also a Inuit canoe that was found by the whaler 'Heartsease' in 1613. It also held an exhausted native who once rescued however soon died. The canoe is displayed at the museum but the inuit in it is not real so don't worry. In 1847 the Captain of the 'Truelove brought back to Hull a couple of 'Eskimo's' from Greenland, Uckaluk and Memiadluk. They were inoculated against smallpox but were displayed at various meetings dressed in their seal skins. The idea was to highlight the plight of there way of life. They survived their stay and in 1848 boarded a Scottish whaler to take them home again. Shortly after there was an outbreak of measles and having no resistance the girl, Uckaluk died. Memiadluk survived and returned home with many gifts from his stay in Hull.

Whaling is something that does not take place at all these days but at the time brought prosperity to Hull. It was another industry that Hull excelled at and led the country. A visit to the Hull Docks Museum is well worth it to learn more about this time.

Sunday 3 May 2015

Fact 68. Joseph Rank started out in Hull.

Joseph Rank was born in March 1854 at his father's mill on Holderness Road and was the eldest of four surviving brothers. His mother died in 1858 having never recovered properly from her last born. James, joseph's father was a hard task master and set his sons to work in the mill learning the trade, and as the eldest Joseph would have had the lions share to do. His father was a devout Methodist. He later re-married and they had another four sons and a daughter. James died in 1874 and despite an estate of £30000 Jospeh's share was £500 due to all the off spring. That same year Joseph set him self up in his own business leasing a mill also in Holderness Road and became the third generation of Rank's in the milling industry.

Joseph Rank, age 23.

In 1880 he married Emily Voase and this made him realise that his initial enterprise had cost him the loss of £200 of his inheritance and he vowed to redouble his efforts to care for his family. By 1883 he had seen the way forward as he had visited his first roller mill that used steel rollers rather than mill stones and realised that it was more efficient and would lend itself to automation. It was this same year that he had his religious conversion at a Methodist chapel in Hull and followed a more evangelistic mission path.

Joseph's first mill on Holderness Road, Hull (from Joseph Rank Trust website).

As he couldn't make a windmill earn money he decided to take a co-tenancy of the West's Mill also on Holderness Road and soon was making money and putting by for the future. There was great competition from America and Hungry and Joseph explored ways to compete with them. By 1885 he was ready to invest in a new mill and built the Alexandra Mill. The mill was engine driven and could mill 6 sacks of flour an hour using steel rollers rather than the more usual 1.5 an hour. He soon increased this to 10 sacks an hour.

By 1888 business was booming along with the city of Hull giving even greater demand for his products. He built a new mill by the River Hull. It was the most up to date in the country. It was powered by a triple expansion steam engine, the first such use of this in the UK. It also had a 20000 quarters silo for storage and the first discharging elevator in the UK. It had a capacity of 20 sacks an hour but this was soon increased to 60 sacks an hour. Demand was so high that instead of closing Alexandra Mill it was refurbished and ran at 20 sacks an hour.

Clarence Flour Mill with the discharging elevator working on a ship. The rounded roofed sheds are aligned along the River Hull entrance into Victoria Dock.

In 1899 Joseph Rank Limited was registered as a private company with Joseph as the governing director which remained until his death. Industrial expansion at the time meant there was much malnutrition at the time and this was illustrated by the Army having to drop standards of fitness to recruit for soldiers for the Boer War. The height requirement was dropped to 5 foot only! He was challenged to increase production so developed a plant with capacity of 30 sacks an hour and another of 40 an hour. He also established a number of agencies in order to more efficiently distribute the staple food around the company.

In 1902 he traveled to America to see the competition and on his return he set about to overhaul them. In 1904 Clarence Mill was expanded to 100 sacks an hour and mills and silos had been built in London and Barry in Wales. In 1912 a silo and mill was built in Birkenhead to supply Ireland and the North West of England. The company headquarters were moved from Hull to London in this year too. 

His wife Emily died in 1915 after they had had three sons and three daughters. He remarried in 1918 to Annie Maria Witty and the business went from strength to strength. When WWI came along Joseph was placed on the Wheat Control Board but fell out with their inability to look after large quantities of wheat as a large number of ships were lost. Rank used his own resources to buy and store wheat and increase production of his London Mill. During the War he had 3000 employed. most of the women.

After the war production of flour out stripped demand and Rank's were able to buy out many of the smaller millers buying out 15 companies in as many years. Each of the newly acquired mills was up dated and made more efficient. To assist in distribution he also created the British Isles Transport Company. Further mills were built in Belfast and Southampton and the company became public company in 1933 called Ranks Limited.

Joseph was a firm believer in self help but gave generously to the Methodist Church and others. He set up The Joseph Rank Trust that is still in existence today and partly for this he was made a Freeman of the City of Hull. This was the only honour he ever accepted despite numerous offers. He had said that John Wesley preached that one should make all they could, save all they could and give all they could and he would follow this and not leave a fortune when he died. On his death a minister said that he had written a cheque for £4700 for a new mission in London, but refused to buy a newspaper on the station as it had just gone up to 2d. A good Yorkshireman for sure. He was one of the first to advocate matched funding for charities etc as he believed in self help so would get them to raise money for themselves and then match it.

Joseph Rank, aged 80.

In 1938, with WWII looming Rank was secretly tasked with acquiring wheat to build up wheat stocks for the coming conflict. Much bomb damage was sustained by Rank's mills as they were situated at the strategic ports. On looking on at the severe damage caused by bombing to his first modern mill, Clarence Mill in Hull he must have felt a heavy heart at what the future held, especially as he was in his eighties by then. All he asked was if all the horses had been saved, as he had always loved horses since working with them at his father's mill. All had been saved and in fact my Mum tells me that some were brought to Annison's Undertaker's where she was born and raised to be housed in the stables on the premises.

Old Flour Mill Inside the abandoned Clarence Flour Mills, Hull
Steel rollers found in the Clarence Mill after closure in 2005.

Joseph died in 1943 and control passed to his eldest son James. The second son,  Rowland, had joined another millers in Battersea before he died in 1939. Reconstruction of the damaged mills was the first priority and then new mills were built in Gateshead and Leith. In 1952 James died and the youngest son Arthur took control. Arthur had already made his name with the J. Arthur Rank Company that were major British film makers and distributors. Under Arthur the company expanded into agriculture and bakeries. They earned a reputation for high standards of nutrition for human and animal products and their quality control was second to none with testing at every stage of the process. For the next decade the company bought other businesses to grow and in 1962 they bought Hovis McDougall to be come Rank Hovis McDougall. 

The Clarence Mill was rebuilt after WWII but incorporated some of the original mill. It became redundant in 2005 and is to be demolished to make way for a 23 floor hotel and casino.

Joseph Rank contributed to the growing reputation of Hull when it was developing and never lost his love of the city that gave him his start.

Wednesday 29 April 2015

Fact 67. Zachariah Pearson, gun runner.

Zachariah was the last but one child of six, three girls and three boys, and was born in August 1821. The family lived on High Street in Hull and as his father's job was given as a merchant this would be a good place to live. In 1825 his mother died giving birth to the last daughter and he was orphaned at 4 years old. He went to live with his uncle Robert Pearson who was a shipbuilder on the north side of the old dock. This may well have been the start of his love affair with the sea and in fact he ran away to sea age 12. He was sent back home straight a way and he continued his education at Hull Grammar School until age 16. After that we was allowed to go sea as an apprentice to Jenkins and Tonge in 1837. He took to the life and soon passed his Master Certificate of Competency  at age 21 in 1842. Two years later he married Mary Ann Coleman and things got more settled as he got command of his own ship in 1847 age 25. He was trading with America, Hamburg and the Baltic. By 1849 he was master of passenger ships sailing from Hull to New York and Quebec. By 1853 he was head of a company Pearson, Coleman and Co owing ships and working as a merchant. They had the contract to run the Royal mail to Australia and New Zealand and traded with Russia and the Baltic.

Zachariah Charles Pearson (1821–1891), Mayor (1859 & 1861)
Zachariah Pearson by and unknown artist painted in 1859 and hanging in the Guildhall.

Pearson loved his town and worked for the betterment of it's position. in 1856 he was elected to the Council and in 1857 became an Alderman. He raised money to restore Holy Trinity Church and traded to provided raw materials for the factories of Hull. In 1858 he became the Sheriff of Hull. Then he was twice made Chief Magistrate in 1859 and 1861. He also became Mayor in 1859. In these years he gave land to provide the first park for the citizens of Hull (see Fact 12), commissioned the first purpose built town hall for hull designed by Cuthbert Brodick and also commissioned a sculpture of Queens Victoria out of white marble.

This is where it all went of the rails for Pearson and his family. He was persuaded to purchase ships from the Overend and Gurney &Co. This was a very big London Bank known as the bankers bank. They had obtained some ships from a Greek shipping company owned by Xenos. He had been unable to obtain credit so the ships were forfeit. This would have been okay if Pearson had had cargoes for them to carry but he didn't. His next big mistake was turning to the high risk venture of  breaking the Union blockade of the Confederate south during the United States civil war. Some may call this greed and some may say that he was trying desperately to secure cotton for the mills in Hull. In Manchester financial assistance was given when the mills closed due to lack of cotton but in Hull there was no help and hundreds were on the streets, destitute. Among his ships were the 'Cherosonese', 'Indian Empire', 'Circassian' and 'Modern Greece'.

The ships were loaded with everything that may be needed by the Confederate Government. This had to be done in secret and using subterfuge to thrown of the agents of the Union side in England, and using agents in Bermuda etc. The idea was to trade the outbound cargo for big profits and purchase a load of cotton to sell in the UK again for big profits. The guns and ammunition would be hidden among the legitimate cargo.

Unfortunately things didn't go well as the ships first had to run the north's blockade. Pearson's ships were just normal trading ships so were deep and slow which meant that they couldn't evade the warships or navigate easily in the coastal shallows and rivers. In the end 'Modern Greece' was intercepted by the USS 'Cambridge' and 'Stars and Stripes'. In trying to avoid the warship 'Modern Greece' gounded on a sand bar and stuck fast. It was within range of a Confederate fort so the ship was not captured by the North. In fact some of the cargo was able to be unloaded. In fact they managed to get 500 of the 2000 Enfield rifles aboard and 4 brass canon that were superior to anything the Confederates had. It meant that they had command of the seas to 5 miles of from the fort with the canon. Plenty of spirits were also liberated from the wreck causing the soldiers to be drunk for a week!

'Modern Greece' aground with troops taking the cargo before it sank into the sands. The wreck was found again in 1962 after a storm and many artifacts were recovered.

This was not the last of his ill luck as another six of his ships were captured by the blockading ships and lost to Pearson. Further bad news was when another of his vessels was destroyed by fire in London. Unfortunately it was just after it left the dock so was uninsured. Further bad news occurred when two ships foundered in the Baltic too. This was just too much for Pearson to bear and despite selling his assets, including his house, he was declared bankrupt in 1862. That year he was once again Mayor of the city and had to resign.

Her soon learned who his friends were and as he was 'new money' the gentry distanced themselves from him and only a few stood by him. At the opening of what became Pearson Park there was no mention of Pearson's donation. The statue could not be paid for but Alderman Moss paid for it and it sits now in Pearson Park.

Carrara marble statue of Queen Victoria sited in Pearson Park commissioned by Z. Pearson and sculpted by Thomas Earle.

At the opening of the Park he was snubbed and he resigned all his positions and lived a quiet life in a terrace to the NE of Pearson Park. He went to work for his son Charles as a ship's surveyor and never got back to his old standing before he died in 1891 and was buried in Spring Bank Cemetery. In more recent times supporters of the old Confederate states found his grave and planted flags in honour of his attempt to assist their cause.

Zachariah C. Pearson in later years.

It wasn't until 1897 that Pearson's contribution of the park was recognised and a bust on an ancient rock were placed in the park.

Zachariah Pearson clearly loved the city where he grew up, and his story could have been very different if things had gone for him in the gun running scheme. At his bankruptcy hearing he owed £650000 and the court said that if he had succeeded he would have been the richest ship owner in Britain. If he had made that sort of money it is interesting to think what he may have done for the city!

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Fact 66. First docks to the west was Albert and Wiliam Wright Docks.

Trade continued to increase in Hull, even after the completion of Victoria Dock in 1850 (see Fact 59). In fact docks to the west of Hull had been promoted as far back as 1830. In 1860 a consortium of Hull interests tried to set the ball rolling. They were the influential bodies of the Hull Corporation, North Eastern Railway and Hull Trinity House. Not wanting to lose the monopoly they held over cargo handling in the area The Hull Dock Company submitted their own plans and had an Act of Parliament passed in 1861. The plan was to build on the foreshore to the west of the River Hull. Construction began in October 1862. The Engineer engaged was John Hawkshaw who had cut his teeth in mining and then worked on the building of many of Liverpool's dock. We was very involved in the building of railways in Lancashire and Yorkshire and after moving his practice to London with the rail system there, over and under ground. He was also the engineer on the North Sea Canal that links Amsterdam to the sea and at the opening ceremony of the Suez Canal Ferdinand de Lessep said he owed the building of the canal to John Hawkshaw as when the Egyptians worried about de Lessep's ability to complete the canal they engaged Hawkshaw to right a report on the works. They had decided that they would accept what ever advice he gave. After a thorough survey of the scheme he gave a glowing report on its viability and the Suez Canal was completed. J.C. Hawkshaw, his son, was also in his practice and he was engaged as the site engineer.

The easiest part of the construction was the north wall of the dock as this was built on the land side. The southern dock wall was built in land reclaimed form the river. The foundation stone for the north wall was laid in 1864. Cofferdams had to be built to build the south wall on reclaimed land. Concrete 3 mt thick were laid and then stone from near Leeds was used with lime mortar to build up the quay side. These works were plagued by water leaking through the cal layer below everything and boiling up inside the cofferdams. This breached the wall in September 1866 and took a month to repair. It also stopped work on the lock entrance and a dam had to be built across the area so work could continue. Later again there was more trouble which took a lot of remedial work to fix the problem. It also caused the lock to be shortened from 120 mt to 98 mt.


Even whilst construction was continuing further Acts of Parliament were obtained to extend the dock further west. In 1866 the Act allowed for a lengthening of the dock to the west from 760 mt to 1020 mt this would make a total area of 9.2ha at a depth of between 8.8 and 7.5 mt. In 1867 another Act was passed allowing for a further extension to the west. This time the extension would be accessed via a 18 mt cut from the west end of the first dock and add a further 2.3 ha of area. The larger dock was finally opened in 1869 at a cost of £118000 for the excavation, similar for the dock walls and £89000 just for the lock it's self. The total of £560000 included the lock gates and mechanism. The Dock had just been known as the Western Dock but as The Prince and Princess of Wales (Albert Edward and Alexandra) performed the opening ceremony the Dock was given the name Albert Dock.

All the dock machinery including the lock gates and the railway bridge across the lock pit were hydraulically powered. This was supplied by three boilers supplying a 30 Kw steam engine that powered the hydraulic system using an accumulator. They also pumped mains water around the docks. Railway lines had to be moved and double tracks were laid to both quays.

The German Ship 'Herzogin Sophie Charlotte' which was built as the full rigged four masted ship 'Albert Rickmers' in 1894. The ship was at the time a cadet ship. This was probably 1905 when it had arrived from Australia. She and the vessel ahead are loading coal from the hoists that take coal from railway wagons for tipping into the ships holds via the chute that can be seen.

The final 2.3 ha extension was commenced in 1873 and foundation stone laid in 1876 by William Wright who was the Chairman of the Dock Company at the time and gave his name to the dock. It finally opened in 1880. In 1972 it was decided to move the fish handling quay to Albert Dock so it was closed to other traffic and shore side alterations took place. The fishing fleet moved in in 1975. The fishing fleet has all but disappeared now but both Albert and William Wright Docks are open for all commercial vessels to this day.

An aerial photograph looking west along the length of Albert Dock. To the bottom right can be seen the outer lock gate and the hydraulic railway bridge over the lock pit. Albert Dock can be seen to narrow to the channel leading to the much smaller William Wright Dock in the top left corner.

Sunday 12 April 2015

Fact 65. Hull is twinned with Reykjavik.

Hull is surprisingly twinned with Reykjavik which is the capital of Iceland and the most norther capital of a sovereign state.

Solfarid - the Sun Voyager sculpture in Reykjavik, Iceland
Solfarid, the sun voyager sculpture in Reykjavik.

I say surprisingly as Hull and other deep sea fishing ports were heavily involved in three 'Cod Wars' with Iceland. The Humber ports and especially Hull have been trading with Iceland for over 500 years and fishing in their waters for nearly 200 years. Iceland was first settled by Norsemen in 870 and a few houses were established around the current area of Reykjavik. It is thought that the population was increased over the years by women kidnapped from the Yorkshire coast so may be some from Hull even then. The names means 'cove of smoke' due to the steam rising from the hot springs etc. Iceland remained a back water run by Denmark until 1752 when the Danish King Frederik gave the area of Reykjavik the the company that he had set to organise the island to produce wool for trade. This became the main trade of the town but there was also fishing, sulphur mining, agriculture and ship building too. Ib 1756 the King gave trading rights to six communities of which Reykjavik was one and the only one to retain the rights continuously. They were only allowed to trade with Danish merchants though until 1880.

In 1845 an advisory body to the King was set up, the Alpingi. This was based in Reykjavik so the town became the de facto capital. Iceland took a further step to independence when they got a constitution in 1874 and home rule in 1904. In 1918 they became a sovereign country under the Danish Crown. At this time the fishing fleet was expanding and mainly sailing from Reykjavik with  salt cod been the main industry. Then the depression struck and great hardships were endured.

Houses in Reykjavik.

On 10th April 1940, the day after Germany  had occupied Norway and Denmark, four British warships anchored off Reykjavik and with a few hours Iceland was occupied by the Allies. Frequent requests had been sent to the island to accept occupation but they had wanted to maintain neutrality but they did not oppose the occupation in the end.The occupation was perhaps the salvation of the island and Reykjavik as at the height of the war there were as many Allied troops on Iceland as there were natives. The doubling in population brought construction work and wages to the Icelanders as the British built an aerodrome in Reykjavik that is still today the domestic airport, and the Americans built an airdrome at Keflavik which is still today the international airport. In 1944 Iceland became a fully independent country with a President taking over from the King of Denmark and Rykjavik confirmed as the capital.

After the war the general prosperity of the Icelanders brought a general drift from the land to the city and the city limits expanded and the village atmosphere was lost. About 200,000 live in Greater Reykjavik today which has gown from 8000 in 1901! With the new found confidence of independence and wealth created during the war the Iceland Government wanted to establish them selves economically and settled on fishing to do this quickly. To protect their assets in 1958 they increased their national offshore fishing limit to 12 miles from 4 miles previously. This was seen as wrong by the British and they vowed to send the Royal Navy to protect their fishing fleets right to fish in three guarded areas. They sent 37 warships to protect the trawlers from 6 gunboats. There was much to'ing and fro'ing for two and a half months with ships colliding to warn off ships etc before and agreement was signed that all future disputes would be handled by the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik.

Things once again came off the rails when Iceland extended her limits  from 12 miles to 50 miles in 1972 and the second Cod War started. Things dragged on for over two years this time with 42 UK government vessels and five tugs, must of which were supplied by United Towing of Hull, protecting the trawlers from 6 small Icelandic vessels. This time the gunboats used the net cutter where they towed a hook across the towing wraps between the trawler and her nets severing the lines and so losing thousands of pounds worth of gear. In the end Britain accepted the new limit in November 1973 in return for an annual catch for the British fleet of 150,000 tonnes of his a year until 1975.

In November 1975 Iceland once again extended their territorial waters but to 200 miles. This gave the British fishing fleet no where to go and the 3rd Cod War was the most hotly contested. Once again the Royal Navy were sent in to project the fishing fleets 29 warships and 6 large fast tugs were employed to try to thwart the Icelandic gun boats from severing the nets and boarding and arresting trawlers. This dragged on until June 1976 but ultimately Britain had to accept the new limit with an agreement for a very small quota for the British fishing boats. This signaled the death of the deep sea fishing fleet from Hull and the mainstay of Hull's economy disappeared almost over night. I suppose that it was in the spirit of rapprochement that the two cities became twinned. Although the fishing industry was lost Icelandic companies have set up in the city and now provide work processing fish, as well as the fish.

A Cod War clash.

Despite being so far north Reykjavik's climate is not as bad as it may seem. They have about the same hours of sunshine in a  year as Glasgow and it only has precipitation for about 150 days a year. Normal temperatures are between -15 and +15C. Maximums reach about -24 and +26C. This may explain why in January 2009 a big collection of wollens was made in Iceland to send to the UK as there had been a report in the Icelandic media that thousands of old people die each year due to the cold. They collected 3000 woolen jumpers etc and as Reykjavik was twinned with Hull they came here to be distributed.

Reykjavik hit the headlines in 1974 when the  World Chess Championship was staged there between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky and again in 1986 when there was a Cold War Summit held in the city between Ronald Reagan the USA President and Mikhail Gorbachev the USSR President. Headlines were also made, but not for a good reason, when Iceland's deregulated banks collapsed and had to be taken over by the state. The economic crisis around the world had made it impossible for them to cover short term loans and they went under. Just before this the nation had been declared the wealthiest per capita in the world. The nation seems to have recovered now and tourism seems to be increasing all the time.

The city is perhaps the greenest in the world too as 90% of all homes and offices are heated by gorthermal power stations. Hot springs, volcanoes and the rugged ice age landscapes are a big attraction. In 2006 as a symbol of the ties between the two cities Icelandic Sculptress Steinnin Thorarisdottir was commissioned and produced two sculptures. The one in Hull called 'Voyage' was installed on the pier staring in the direction of the the route trawlers took to the fishing grounds. At the same time in 2006 at Vik in Iceland another called 'For' was placed looking out to see towards the fishing grounds.

Voyage sculpture in Hull
Voyage on the pier at Hull. Brass cast on a basalt plinth.

For sculpture in Vik, Iceland
For at Vik in Iceland. Aluminium cast on a basalt plinth.

In 2011 two thieves stole the original brass casting and it was replaced by a duplicate from the original sculptor in 2012. This time further security measures were added.

Wednesday 1 April 2015

Fact 64. Hull Truck Theatre Company has a magnificent venue.

Hull Truck Theatre Company was founded in 1971 by Mike Bradwell. He was later to say that 'Hull was the least likely place in the world to start an experimental theatre company', so he did! He placed an advert in Time Out magazine 'half formed theatre company seeks other half''.

Mike Bradwell in the late 1970's.

The company traveled extensively and the name came from being from Hull and they used a truck. Bradwell later said they started out stealing a van and finding props in skips. The first play performed was 'The Children of the Lost Planet'. Audience numbers were never high and they resorted to performing children's theatre.

Their breakthrough came in 1974 when they performed the play 'Knowledge'. Despite half the audience walking out it was critically acclaimed by Guardian theatre critic Robin Thornber. After seeing this it was taken to the Bush Theatre and success followed. Every new play from Hull Truck afterwards then moved the the Bush Theatre. As well as touring they had a venue on Coltman Street where they said they had to burn the furniture to stay warm! In April 1983 they moved to Spring Street Theatre.

Spring Street Theatre, Hull.

Spring Street Theatre had opened in 1970 as the Humberside Theatre and was the reconstruction of the church rooms of St Stephen's church that had been bombed in WWII. Alan Plater was involved in the initial stages. The name was changed to Spring Street Theatre in 1981 but was closed the following year and remained closed until Hull Truck moved in in 1983. It was refurbished in 1994 and then had a capacity of 200.

In 1984 a new artistic Director joined the Company. John Godber had trained as a drama teacher and was working as a teacher when the opportunity came up. He was persuaded to take the job as he would be sure to have the plays he wrote performed. By 1993 it was said that John Godber was the third most performed playwright after Shakespeare and Alan Ayckbourn. He had writen for TV's Brookside and Grange Hill, but is perhaps best known for his very frequently performed plays, 'Up and Under' and 'Bouncers' along with many other 'northern' plays.

john godber in new hull truck theatre (9149329)
John Godber at Hull Truck.

John Godber left Hull Truck to take up the position of Creative Director at the Theatre Royal Wakefield.

The area around Spring Street was to be developed into a shopping area but a new theater was programmed into the development. The last play at the old theatre was John Godber's 'Bouncers'. the first in the new venue was John Godber's new play 'Funny Turns'. This was on St. Georges Day 2009, 23rd April. The new main theater has 440 seats and there is also a studio theatre.

The new Hull Truck Theatre on Ferens Way Hull.

The Spring Street Theater was very intimate with the stage almost 'in the round' and the new stage whilst double the size still managed to keep some of this atmosphere. The new development cost £14.5 million.

the new stage at Hull Truck.

In 2013 Mike Bradwell returned to Hull to direct the Company for the premier of the 'Queen of the Nile', by Tim Fountain.

Mike Bradwell back in Hull in 2013.

However by 2014 the company need a helping hand with a £400,000 grant from the Arts Council and Hull City Council. With Hull winning the City of Culture 2017 Hull Truck Theatre will take centre stage in many of the events to be staged throughout the year. Hull should be justly proud of it's Theatre and company and should make sure they 'use it or lose it'.

Friday 27 March 2015

Fact 63. Land of Green Ginger is in Hull.

The Land of Green Ginger is an actual place although I never believed it when I was small. I put it in the same category as the Land of Nod! Then I saw both places and came to realise what a special place Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire is. The Land of Nod is an actual hamlet near Holme on Spalding Moor in the East Riding of Yorkshire. It is little more than a sign post though.

Image result for land of nod yorkshire
Signpost to Land of Nod from the A614.

However the Land of Green Ginger is a much more  concrete place and lies in the middle of the City of Hull. It is in the middle of the Old Town and so was enclosed within the walls of the old centre of the town. The name conjures up all sorts of Oriental pictures, spice markets, souks and bazaars with camels and monkeys etc but unfortunately it isn't anything like that .

Street sign.

It is thought that the street was originally was called Old Beverley Street. It still leads to the north in the direction and although the remains of Beverley Gate are to the north west corner of the the old walls there may have been a postern gate for access to the north. It is said that the name changed around the end of the 1600's by a Mr. Richardson.

Green Ginger is root ginger that has been cured using lemon juice so must have been a very exotic thing in those days so it may have been named after the area where spices imported up the River Hull were stored but there are several competing explanations of the name.

Land of Green Ginger seen from the corner of Bowlalley Lane.

There has been along history of Dutch folk residing in Hull. perhaps it is as it is a home from home with regard to the huge skies that can been seen from such a vertically challenged city. One such family lived in the area of the Land of Green Ginger called 'Lindegreen'. This translates as green lime trees! The family were in the area at the start of the 19th Century. It has been suggested that the modern name could be a corruption of 'Lindegroen Jonger' or Lindegreen Junior!  

Land of Green Ginger looking north.

Another theory is that in around 1880 a family called Landgrave had a house in the area. There is an old English word granger meaning walk so Landgrave Granger could have become Land of Green Ginger. I still like the idea of the smells and sites of spices pervading the atmosphere of the old town.

The George Hotel, Land of Green Ginger.

On of the highlights of the street is the smallest window in the country that can be seen above the red sign by the arch way of the George Hotel. More about this can be read on Fact 5.

The name has been a source of inspiration to writers through the years. In 1927 Winifred Holtby who was born a few miles away on the Yorkshire Wolds wrote 'The Land of Green Ginger'. In 1937 Noel Langley wrote a children's book called the 'Tale of the Land of Green Ginger' and Alan Plater also wrote a 'Play for Today' with the name in 1973. It has also been used for a collection of poetry and for music tracks.

The Blue Plaque associating the street with the novel by Winifred Holtby.

Although you may not think that in reality the street does not live up to that conjured up in the imagination it is at the heart of the Old Town and is an area full of reminders of times past. Where ever you are in the area I would recommend looking up as there are many more clues above street level to the past history and glories of times past that are not seen when looking down at today's modern times.

Fact 62. Reckitts started making starch in Hull.

The founders of Reckitts came from strong stock. Issac Reckitt was the founder of the business but his grandfather reveals the determination of the family. His Grandfather was called William and was born near Gainsborough in Lincolnshire. He became a Quaker Minister and after preaching all over England and Ireland was called to do missionary work in America when he was 50. He set sail in 1756 and when just clear of land his vessel was captured by French Privateers. England was at war with France and William was imprisoned for six months before being exchanged. This experience did not deter him and a month later he set off again. After safely making it to America he traveled over 6000 miles in the space of  three years including areas where Indian wars were underway. In 1759 he decided to continue his preaching in Barbados and was again captured by French privateers. This time he was only held a few weeks before been landed. He then made his way back to Wainfleet where the family had moved in 1760. He went back to America  between 1764 and 1766 and one of his sons settled there. William died at Wainfleet in 1796.

One of Wiiliam's sons, Thomas, took over the farming near Wainfleet and he had a son called Thomas and  'our' Issac. Issac was born in 1792 and was later apprenticed to a corn factor in Bury St. Edmunds. We had come out of his time in 1814 and returned to Wainfleet to help hos Father and set up in business for himself. The first entry in his account book shows that he bought 7lb of wool from his elder brother, at 1/6d per lb, for 10/6d! Despite working hard and even having a partner for a time they never made much money trading in wool, corn, muslin and linen and even investing in lead mines in Derbyshire. His elder brother Thomas had moved to Boston and the two brothers, with financial help from family and friends built the Maud Foster Mill in 1819 that is still there today.

The Maud Foster Mill in Boston built by the Reckitt brothers Thomas and Issac in 1819.

Here Issac married Ann Coleby and this was a crucial factor the in the future company. Ann was steadfast in her help and assistance to her husband but also her sisters had married well which meant that there was financial support available when required. Most of their seven children were born in Boston. The mill did well for a few years but the harvests failed for several years and prices were adversely affected. Issac left the partnership in 1833 and by 1835 Thomas became insolvent and sold the mill. By this time Issac had tried his hand at being a corn factor again, this time in Nottingham and despite hard craft and lean times they never made any capital from 1833 to 1840. He was searching about for business opportunities around the country. One of his other brothers, John had moved to Hull and told him the place was booming and there were many openings such as opening up as a broker or commissioning agent, in the whalebone or colour business. There was a chance for working with his brother Thomas again but he moved to Manchester and opened a school. By July 1840 Issac had settled on buying a starch manufacturer and the family moved form Nottingham to Hull. He had no capital and at the age of 48 had a young family. To his credit he had an abundance of hard work and good family connections. 

Reckitts Starch works at Stoneferry, courtesy of Ron Turner.

The new project was a starch works that was been sold by a Charles Middleton who was allegedly leaving Hull to get away from his father-in-law! The starch works were built in 1835 to the east of Sutton Drain in an area that had housed windmills with seven in the area. Issac rented the works but purchased the stock from money lent to him by family members. His first sales were made on 15th December 1840. Things didn't go well and the works were flooded in 1841.  Issac's son managed to persuade his father to allow him home from school in Newcastle to assist. The sales were carried out through agents and their commission meant that he made little profit. To eke out a leaving he fed pigs on the wheat by products of the starch making and sold 45 in 1842. The eldest son, Charles, died of consumption at the end of 1842 adding to the stress on the family.

Isaac Reckitt
Issac Reckitt.

The family fortunes started to swing into profit when George came out of his apprenticeship at 18 and started with the business as travelling salesman. He had no salary and he saved the agents commission. He worked tirelessly around the company. Another good fortune was receiving the formula for making starch from sago in place of a bad debt. They also realised that concentrating on selling soluble starch was where the profit was. Starch had been made from wheat but as the price became very high been able to use sago flour meant that they could maintain their profits without raising their prices. The business was nearly curtailed when it was discovered that the starch works and the land were to be sold in 1847. Issac had no money to purchase them outright at the time. However negotiations dragged on and as Issac had managed to start paying off previous debts and that business had picked up he was able to secure the works and land for the sum of £1125 in August 1848.

In 1848 George was made a partner and son Francis came out of his apprenticeship and started as a traveller. George looking after the Midland and the south and Francis the north. Frederic, another son was experimenting with starch and was using arrow root to make drinks and different flours and formulas to make starch. At this time there were perhaps 25 girls working in the factory mainly packing etc. By 1849 business was doing so well that George was suggesting that they install gas and machinery to pack and label the packets. The youngest son James joined the business in 1850 and shared the north of England as a commercial traveler The sons had realised that advertising their products helped enormously to open doors for them so Reckitt and Son were early user of the media. In 1851 they managed to obtain recommendations from Louis Napoleon III and The Emperor of Russia to use.

All the time the company had dealt in other articles such as matches, candles, bath brick, glue and even cranberries. The big breakthrough came in early when they traded in some Ultramarine for laundry blue. Also in that year they started selling black lead for polishing fire grates and hearths that they bought from a company in London. It was to be 1855 before Reckitt  and Sons started making it for themselves. (As Francis had also become a partner in the business it had now become Reckitt and Sons!) However it wasn't to be until 1857 before these products matched that of starch. Business was doing well. George had been elected to the Hull City Council and the brothers were at head office having recruited and trained new salesmen. Numbers at the starch works had also increased. In March 1862 Issac died and a new era for the company began.

A biscuit factory had been built and provided a large turnover for the company but very little profit so it wasn't replaced when it burned down in 1866. The good name was sold to Peek Frean and Co and the biscuit invented by Francis appears to have been the Osbourne biscuit that is still made today. At around this time starch and blue were equal in sales for the company and black lead the same as them both together and contributed profits in the same proportion. The total profit was £4298. In 1868 a young man of 21 joined the company as private clerk to James Reckitt. He was to make a big impression on the company and in the City of Hull as a whole. In 1879 the partnership of of Issac Reckitt and Sons was dissolved and a private joint stock company started called Reckitt and Sons Ltd. The stock was all held by the family with Directors being Francis, James and George. The first Chairman was Francis and this was to alternate yearly with James as George had left the company earlier to move to London and no ran the London office. Sales were starting to be made overseas with the first to Montreal in 1864. They ventured into the making of ultramarine for the laundry blue in Hull and buying a pit in Germany to supply special earths for their polish, a graphite mine in Ceylon and a factory making methylated spirits in Ipswich. Everything was going so well that they needed more capital to expand so the decided to form a public company in 1888. The new company was valued at £450,000. T.R. Ferens was added to the board as were the works manager and some third generation of the family. By 1895 the company was valued at £1,326.670 which was a growth of approx nine times in 15 years. In 1894 James Reckitt accepted a baronetcy mainly for his services to the Liberal Party. Also as he had fought hard to provide free libraries for the public. Having lost he gave a libray from his own pocket for east Hull that still bears his name. James and Francis bought the railway hotel in Withernsea that had failed and gave that as the Hull and East Riding Convalescent Home. T.R. Ferens also bought and gave a plot of land near to the factory on Dansom Lane as a children's playground.

Sir James Reckitt.

At this time the 'power brands' we coming to the fore. Robin Starch, Reckitt's Blue, Zebra Black Lead. Brasso was added in 1905, Cherry Blossom shoe polish was added to the portfolio around 1912. Expansion abroad was also rapid. Being a Quaker family they had the welfare of their staff at the front of their minds and had started an early non contributory pension scheme in around 1920 and welfare for the workers was prominent with above average wages, rest breaks and rest rooms along with many sports and social groups and day and evening classes for them after work. In 1907 James Reckitt showed his concern for his workers by setting up a private company to buy a small estate to the east of the city to build houses for the workers along with facilities for them. This became known as the Garden Village. It had 600 houses and to this was dded almshouses, recreation grounds and hostels for girls etc. The Garden village still exists. Cadbury's Bournville is well known about but the Reckitts Quaker Garden Village are little known outside of the area. I aim to blog more about this in the future.

WWI passed with slight damage to the factory in Dansom Lane following a Zeppelin raid in 1915. Profits remained good and although a Quaker family they turned a blind eye to some of the ware work the company undertook such as making petrol cans for the War Office. They did provide two hospitals one in Hull and one in France. By the end of the war they had 1100 employees in the Forces and 153 had lost their lives. Sir James Reckitt may have been the instigator of the National two minutes silence on Armistice Day as he inaugurated a five minute break at work in their factories for silent prayer.

The interwar years were a search for new products and by 1933 Bath Cubes and the still famous brands of Windowlene (window cleaner), Karpol (children's medicine), Harpic (toilet cleaner) and Dettol (disinfectant) had been released on the market. Reckitts were enthusiastic users of advertising so as well as introducing new brands maintained there older brands. The pension was enhanced for the workers and a bonus linked to the dividend on the shares, so linking the bonus to the performance of the company. The bonus was shared out on the basis of length of service and remuneration. A swimming pool was built along with a laundry, a men's club a garage and another 56 houses. Money and land were donated for the building of Sutton Annex Hospital and also a large sum for Hull University College. At this time the relationship with Colman's was cemented as in South America the sales teams worked together to promote both companies products. Factories were set up all over. This was forced upon the company as many countries imposed punitive import taxes so exporting from the UK would have been impossible. Arthur Reckitt and T.R. Ferens were joint Chairmen but Arthur stopped standing as an MP in 1919 and died in 1927. Ferens passed away in 1930 and another generation started at the helm. The Prince of Wales visited Kingston Works in 1926 and King George VI and the Queen visited in 1937. For many years there had been pooling of effort with J & J Colman, and amalgamation had been talked of for many years. It had been agreed in 1931 but failed as the proportions for each company could not be decided. Finally agreement was reached in 1938 and Reckitt and Sons Ltd became Reckitt and Colman Ltd.

The factory in Dansom Lane was heavily bombed in WWII but work continued at sites that had been found around the country. After the war the company continued acquiring business and products until in the 80's it was realised that the company was so huge and diverse that it was not able to be managed effectively and several no core products and companies were hived off. This led to the selling of the Colman's food brands and the concentration on the household products side of the business. This meant that 80% of revenues were now from this sector rather than only 50% ten years before. The majority of sales, 36%, came from North America and 31% from Europe at this time. By the end of the 90's costs were rising and markets were difficult in Latin America and Asia where another 30% of sales derived. Pre-tax profits fell 25% and management were in the firing line. They turned to a merger with a Germany company Benckiser that had started in 1823 making industrial and household chemical products. The company was now called Reckitt Beckinser and continued to buy new brands and products but sold off those that did not fit in their five core areas of surface care, fabric care, dish washing, home care and health and personal products. In 2014 the name was changed to 'RB', making one wonder where it can go in the future. The company is huge  with around 36000 employees world wide and a revenue of £8.8 billion. 20 million of its products are sold world wide, every day!!
Just a few of the products that the company now make and market.

Although the company headquarters is now in Slough it has recently been announced that Hull 's 1200 jobs on the Dansom Lane site will be secured with the building of a Centre of Scientific Excellence for research and innovation. It should be open in 2018. I'm sure that it will not be lost that such a benefit to Hull is only the latest in a long line of  advantages that the Reckitt family and their business has bestowed on the City. It is a great example of a person persevering in their aims and believing in themselves and their family.

Sunday 8 March 2015

Fact 61. Pickering; Dark horse of philanthropy in Hull.

In 1842 Christopher Pickering was born. His father was also Christopher and his mother was Jane (nee Gibson). His father followed the trade of a tailor but this was not for young Christopher as by 1861 he was living in the Old Town at Hales Entry and working as a fish curer. At the next census he was  married to Rachel (nee Blakestone) and living off Hessle Road at Marlborough Terrace. This was the heart of the growing fishing industry and he was now a fish merchant.

Christopher Pickering
Christopher Pickering.

The fishing industry in Hull really developed in the 1840's after the Silver Pits were discovered. these were rich fishing grounds out in the North Sea, not too far from the Humber Estuary. Fishermen from Devon and Kent would come to the area for the summer and often bring wife and family to stop in the area during the season. By 1850 they were staying in Hull permanently and the ports of registry were also being changed to Hull. These wooden fishing smacks started to be built in the area also. By 1885 iron smacks were common but at this time the introduction of the steam engine was changing things rapidly. In 1866 at the age of twenty four Christopher Pickering bought his first fishing smack.

By 1881 he was living at 114 Coltman Street that was a very good address. He had set up a business with one Samuel Leeman Haldane who had been born in Wakefield in 1837 and had started out as a fruit and fish merchant.

Newly restored 114 Coltman Street.

By this time they had about thirty fishing smacks, so called apparently due to the noise made by the sails. They realised quickly that the introduction of the marine steam engine and the use of trawling instead of drifting to catch fish was the way forward. In 1886 they started to sell their wooden smacks and by steam trawlers. In 1889 he was a rags to riches self made man and moved out to Hornsea to enjoy his money in the country. There he would have been just a name of one of the many ship owners and fishing industry magnates. By now he was the Chairman of Pickering and Haldane Fishing fleet and the Pickering and Haldane Ice Company as well as the chair of many of the industries companies.

In 1908 he built six almshouses for the poor of the town to be administered by the Vicar and Churchwardens of the local St. Nicholas Church. We will never know what made him turn into a benefactor but he must have been pleased with the results as in 1910 he donated £6300 to build twelve almshouses for the benefit of ex fishermen in west Hull, not far from the heart of the industry at the docks. This block of houses was to form part of a 'new model village' that was to include a church and vicarage, a children's home for girls and a museum of fishing.

13 - 24 Pickering Crescent, Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, England. Almshouses built in
1909, west of the gates to Pickering Park on the north side of Hessle Road, Hull. An inscription
above the central pair of doors to each block reads: "These almshouses were erected, endowed
and presented to the Hull Corporation for the benefit of persons previously engaged in the
fishing industry or such other deserving inmates as the Corporation may from time to time
appoint by Christopher Pickering Esq. J.P. of this city." 
The first twelve almshouses were built on a crescent. Over each block is an inscription saying 'These alms houses were erected, endowed and presented to the Hull Corporation for the benefit of person's previously engaged in the fishing industry or such other deserving inmates as the Corporation may from time to time appoint by Christopher Pickering Esq. JP of this City'. They were probably designed by the City Architect Joseph Hirst.

Next to the almshouses was built at small museum called the Museum of Fisheries and Shipping. I remember visiting it when I was very small and seeing the skeleton of a whale suspended from the ceiling. It moved to the present Maritime museum at the Town Docks Office building in 1974 and amalgamated with other collections. However the skeleton is still on show. The old building is still there and used as a boxing club. It would have been a handy site for the the inmates of the almshouses to act as guides or help.

Steve Pollard of Kingston Boxing Club outside their gym that was the old Museum of Fisheries and Shipping.

 A little down the road was built St Nicholas Church and vicarage. It is strange that the church was dedicated to the same as that in Hornsea. I wonder if it was due to a 'road to Damascus' event that started his good works there, or just that St Nicholas is the patron saint of seamen.

Pickering Home for Girls. The home was run by the Church of England Waifs and Strays Society!

The foundation stone was laid by Rachel Pickering on 30th May 1914. It was run by the Waifs and strays Society and had room for 40 orphaned and destitute girls. There is an inscription above the door that may have been laid by the Society's founder Edward Rudolph. The home finally closed in 1983 ans is now converted to flats.

Maybe the centre piece of the 'model village' is the park. It is said that this was an idea put to her husband by Rachel Pickering. The site had been originally common land with  rights of grazing for the locals. The build up started in 1909 when plans were drawn up and then they had to go through planning etc. The park finally opened on 13th July 1911. Pickering was to donate 30 acres of land and sold twenty more to provide the cash to build the almshouses and other buildings. In the end he gave 50 acres and sold some other land to raise money. He gave another £1000 to have ornamental gates made for the entrance. They were lucky to survive WWII as the Corporation said they were too important to use in the war effort. The park had a lake with duck houses, rock gardens and terraces and room for a band stand. Sports grounds with pavilions were separated from the park by a sunken fence.

The ornamental gates to Pickering Park.

Pickering Park
Pickering Park Lake.

Shield 2
The Pickering crest and motto on the gates; 'Vincit omnia veritas', or 'Truth will conquer all'.

Christopher Pickering rose up from poor beginnings and grasped opportunities that came his way. He was one of the few who made lots of money from the fishing industry and put some of it back into the community. His names lives on in the park, almshouses and in Pickering Road that borders one edge of the park. My wife went to Pickering School that is no more, but there is a Christopher Pickering Primary School. As a lasting memorial to the man it seems much better than a statue somewhere.

The beautiful park gates survived WWII but are now looking somewhat fore lorn. To show gratitude for his donation to the people of Hull and to have a truly imposing centre piece to the park and almshouses it would be good if they could be fully restored. The Friends of Pickering Park are trying to raise funds to achieve this. It would be great if this could receive impetus from the Year of Culture 2017, so if you can please log on to and donate what you can.