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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'.