Tuesday, 22 September 2015

From Town Dock to Green Space: 80 Years of Queen's Gardens

You might have seen or heard in the local media this week that on Saturday 19th September 2015 it was 80 years since the opening of Hull’s very own Queen’s Gardens.  Their history is as fascinating and as colourful as the gardens look today.
To many of you the gardens will evoke memories of lazy summer days or perhaps as a meeting place for friends. Some of you will have attended music festivals, play days and other events held there.
What some of you will not remember or know is that in its place for over 150 years was once was a working dock-yes in the centre of town! 

Pictorial Record of the Transformation of Queen's Dock into Queen's
Gardens, 
1935 [Ref No. DMX/39]

Opened on 22nd September 1778, the dock became known as Queen’s Dock after Queen Victoria visited the City in 1854.
By 1930, the emergence of larger docks like St Andrews, Alexandra, King George and Albert docks really meant that Queen’s dock was not worth maintaining.
It was Sir Alfred Gelder who had the vision to fill the dock in and create a green space. Hull Corporation purchased the dock from the London and North Eastern Railway Company for just over £100,000 in 1930. 

Pictorial Record of the Transformation of Queen's Dock into Queen's Gardens, 
1935 [Ref No. DMX/39]

It took 4 years to fill it in. 50 tons of material was tipped in each day. Materials included dredgings from other docks and the River Humber as well bricks and rubble from demolished buildings, particularly from the Ferensway area which was being redeveloped at the same time. The process provided work for hundreds of men and cost £200,000, far in excess of the £30,000 anticipated! Where ships once used to berth, spacious lawns, flowerbeds, rock gardens and fountains were eventually created.

Pictorial Record of the Transformation of Queen's Dock into Queen's Gardens, 
1935 [Ref No. DMX/39]


The gardens were opened by the then leader of the London County Council, the Right Honourable Herbert  Morrison. In his speech he thanked Sir Alfred Gelder for conceiving the idea and for supervising the scheme to transform the dock into a green space. He also paid Hull a great tribute comparing it favourably with London and adding that he wished those who had been responsible for the government of London over the years had had the vision that the City fathers of Hull have had for a good many years.
Of course there were critics of the scheme who, in particular, objected to the amount of money spent with little reward. There was even an argument played out in the Hull Times about whether or not the illuminated fountain should be lit up on a Sunday, traditionally a day of rest!

Pictorial Record of the Transformation of Queen's Dock into Queen's Gardens,
1935 [Ref No. DMX/39]

Pictorial Record of the Transformation of Queen's Dock into
Queen's Gardens, 
1935 [Ref No. DMX/39]
The creation of Queen’s Gardens went hand in hand with the movement of the Wilberforce statue from Monument Bridge. More about the cost, rededication and those responsible for moving this massive 600ton, 102ft high monument can be found by visiting the History Centre.
There are more plans afoot to improve the gardens ahead of the 2017 City of Culture year and to illuminate the Wilberforce statue. Indeed, if the statue of our great emancipator could speak, I am sure he would have some fascinating stories to tell us. Not only has he seen many changes in the landscape around him but he has seen society change as well. Come and find out for yourselves at the Hull History Centre how the City’s history has shaped his view at the top of that plinth today!

Elspeth Bower
Archivist

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