Friday, 22 September 2017

Queen’s Dock: Hull’s First Dock

On 22 September 1778 the Manchester and Favourite sailed into Hull to mark the opening of the Port’s new Dock. This ceremony heralded the completion of the City’s first wet dock, and marked the beginning of a new era for Hull.

The establishment of the Dock was driven by two factors: increasing congestion of shipping in the Haven (the Old Harbour), and pressure from Customs and Exercise who were demanding the establishment of a legal quay to facilitate the levying of customs dues. Hull had a historic exemption from legislation stipulating that all goods, except fish, were to be landed on open wharfs with resident customs officers. As a result of this exemption, Hull had become notorious for smuggling by the eighteenth century.  There was much resistance in the City to any change to the status quo. However, the threat of the establishment of a legal quay elsewhere on the Humber motivated interested parties to act.

Coat of Arms of the Hull Dock Company
Power to construct the Dock was obtained in the Dock Act (1774), which created the Hull Dock Company. The Act empowered the Company to raise £80,000 in shares, and granted it the power to borrow an additional £20,000 should the need arise. £15,000 out of the Custom’s Revenue was allocated to the Company to facilitate the construction of the Dock, along with all the defences (walls, ditches etc.) west of the River Hull. The right to levy dues on shipping entering or leaving the Port of Hull from the end of 1774 provided the Company with additional funds.

The foundation stone was laid on 19 October 1775 by the Lord Mayor Joseph Outram. The 1774 Dock Act had stipulated that the Dock was to be constructed in seven years, a target that was easily met; the Dock was constructed in four years at the cost of £64,588.

At almost ten acres in size Hull’s new Dock was, for a time, the largest in Britain. Its large size meant its wharfs would become home to whalers and large foreign-going shipping, while most inland and coastal traffic continued to use the Haven. This situation would last until additional dock accommodation at Hull was provided.
Inscription from the Foundation Stone of Queen’s Dock
The construction of the Docks in four years was a notable achievement. However, it was not without its problems and a number of rebuilding works were required. Notably in 1814-15, when the lock-pit was rebuilt on a larger scale and the entrance basin was strengthened. Another hindrance in the operation of the Dock was that until 1829 the only means of entering the Dock was via the congested River Hull. This would prove a significant impediment to shipping until the opening of Junction Dock provided direct access from the Humber.

When opened the Dock was not given a formal name, and until 1809 it was simply known as ‘the Dock’. Following the opening of Humber Dock it became known as ‘the Old Dock’. It was not until 1855 that it was formerly renamed Queen’s Dock in honour of a visit to Hull by HM Queen Victoria the previous year. Queen’s Dock would eventually form a system of docks referred to as ‘the Town Docks’.

Queen’s Dock would remain in operation for over 150 years until its closure in 1930. The owners of the Dock – at this point the London and North Eastern Railway Company – had determined that the cost of maintaining and operating the Dock rendered it no longer viable. It was sold to Hull Corporation, and over the course of the next four years the Dock was filled in. Further details on this transformation can be found in our 2015 blog post. It was re-opened on 19 September 1935 to the public as Queen’s Garden, which remains open to this day.

Robert Astin, Project Archivist

Friday, 15 September 2017

New Theatre Programmes

To coincide with the re-opening of Hull New Theatre this weekend, the staff at Hull History Centre have been busy listing all of the New Theatre programmes from October 1939-February 2008 so that performances, dates and performers can now be searched on our online catalogue.


There are over 2800 individual programmes available. Our catalogue (PDF version, 2.7Mb) includes the names of the productions, the name of the companies that brought the productions to Hull, the date and the names of the principal performers.

The Hull New Theatre opened on Saturday, October 16, 1939 with Noel Gay’s ‘Me and My Girl’ featuring Joan Lake and Reg Andrews.

Performances carried on throughout the Second World War with the theatre’s first manager, Peppino Santangelo, insisting that they carry on regardless. The theatre even suffered a direct hit during May 1941 when the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company made a visit to Hull in order to perform away from the bombing in London!

The Seashell (Ref L DTNT/1/35/19)
Famous names of stage and screen that appear in the programmes include Sean Connery in a production of ‘Seashell’ (Nov 1959), Peter Wyngarde who performed at the Hull New Theatre four times between 1947 and 1976 as did John Le Mesurier between 1939 and 1940.

The programmes are not the only resource that we hold relating to theatres. We also have numerous play bills, original building plans, photographs, newspaper advertisements and articles. 

The majority of our theatre programmes have come from the Local Studies collection but the History Centre has continued to receive donations of programmes from individuals and organisations. The programmes for other theatres in Hull including The Palace Theatre, Anlaby Road and the Alexandra Theatre on the corner of George Street and Charlotte Street are now also being catalogued and will be made available on our online catalogue shortly. Watch this space…!


Elspeth Bower, Archivist

Monday, 11 September 2017

Freedom: The Art of Political Expression

At Hull History Centre we hold many collections which document a wide range of political issues and campaigns. With City of Culture’s ‘Freedom’ themed events in full swing, we thought we would use this blog to highlight some hidden gems.

Below you will find a selection of items showing how individuals and campaign groups have used art as a means of political expression. Look out for the curve ball which hints at issues of censorship and freedom of speech.

Election poster produced by the Municipal Association Group, mid-20th cent. [U DAS/29/61]

Visual posters like this one, produced by the Municipal Association Group as part of an election campaign, can tell us lots about the issues particular local elections were contested on. Whilst election statements and party manifestos can also tell us such information, visual representations can help us understand the different ways in which messages were put across to the electorate.

Cartoon sent by Victor Weisz to Audrey Jupp-Thomas, 18 Jan 1956 [U DJT/10]

Victor Weisz, born in Berlin to Jewish parents, was a gifted caricaturist and political cartoonist. Before moving to Britain in 1935 as a result of his strongly anti-Nazi political position, his work had appeared in German newspapers. In Britain his work appeared in the News Chronicle, the Daily Mirror, Evening Standard and the New Statesman. By the 1940s he had adopted the pseudonym 'Vicky', became a British citizen in 1947, and tragically took his own life in 1966.

Poster issued by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, 1980s [U DBV/28/2]

Founded in 1898 by Miss Frances Power Cobbe, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection plays an important part in the history of the animal rights movement in Britain. For a century the BUAV has been leading campaigns against vivisection, testing of cosmetics on animals, and use of animal testing in the development of treatments intended for human use.  

Circular issued by The National Council for Civil Liberties, c.1934 [U DCL/74/4]

The censorship of visual expressions of opinions was a common feature of many political regimes during the 20th century. This fact shows that opponents of a particular position have long believed visual messages to have a strong impact on the spread of information and the persuasion of individuals.

If any of these items have piqued your interest, you can investigate further by paying us a visit and delving in to the collections.

Claire Weatherall (Assistant Archivist)

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Freedom: Hull and the Abolition of the Slave Trade

This installment of the City of Culture blog looks at the issue of 'freedom' through the lens of the end to slavery. The 23rd August hosted the International Day of Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed on 25 March 1807 that outlawed the British Atlantic slave trade and in 1833 Britain passed the Abolition of Slavery Act, ordering the gradual abolition of slavery in all British colonies. However, it was not until 1888 when slavery was finally abolished, Brazil being the last country in the Western world to do so.

Part of the Slavery Collection at Hull History Centre

Hull as a city will be forever associated with the abolition of the slave trade primarily due to William Wilberforce’s leadership in the parliamentary campaign. Wilberforce was of course not Hull’s only Member of Parliament to address the slavery issue. David Hartley (MP for Hull 1774-1780 and 1782-1784) formally brought the slave trade to the attention of the House of Commons and in 1776 introduced a debate “that the slave trade is contrary to the laws of God and the rights of men”.

Until emancipation, slaves were considered the property of their owners, which meant that they were subject to the whims of their owner and local slave laws. Families could be split up, and people could be sold, gifted and inherited as property. The sale and trading of human beings as property seems an incomprehensible act. And yet at the History Centre we have found deeds and mortgages within our collections that show property and people grouped together as if they are one and the same thing.

Mortgage of an estate in Westmoreland, Jamaica, listing c.300 slaves [C DDX/35]

A collection that is currently being listed and will soon appear on our online catalogue at reference C DDI consists of deeds relating to properties in Antigua, Jamaica, Barbados and elsewhere. Held within the collection is a mortgage for £3,000 for the repair of damage caused by a hurricane to a plantation in the island of Barbados. This gem of a document also provides details of the slaves working on the plantation, giving their name, sex, employment, country, age, and in some cases even their date of birth. Similarly a mortgage is held at reference C DDX/35 that includes a list of approximately 300 slaves at a Lincoln estate in Westmoreland, Jamaica, which provides their names, colour, age, whether African or Creole, and in some cases it even gives the name of their mother.

Documents such as these are of international importance; they not only enhance our understanding of the slave trade but record the very existence of individual slaves. At the Hull History Centre we also house a special collection of over 1100 books relating to the history of slavery and its abolition from 1492 until 1888. It is important to remember the past in order to have the wisdom to prevent the same mistakes in the future.

Laura Wilson, Librarian/Archivist