Friday, 26 July 2019

Unlocking the Treasures Project

Whilst continuing to work on the 'Unlocking the Treasures' project, I came across this edition of  Daniel Defoe's 'Robinson Crusoe' [L.008 BRO].

The front cover of this issue is very eye-catching with the black art-deco style motifs on an emerald -green background with the title “Robinson Crusoe” printed in gold. The book itself contains several illustrations in black and white print.

Example of one of the illustrations contained in the book

The publisher of this work was Browns of Savile Street & George Street, Hull which is why the copy is in our Local Studies Collection. However, as readers of the said book will be aware, Daniel Defoe's famous fictional castaway, Robinson Crusoe, set sail on his epic voyage from Hull on 1 September 1651 only to get shipwrecked on a remote island near Trinidad.

In those days, there were no docks, and ships used to moor in the Old Harbour of the tidal River Hull, crowded up to the rear of the merchants’ premises lining the High Street. Queen’s Dock, which was infilled in the 1930s to create Queens Gardens, was not built until 1778. There is now a plaque commemorating Robinson Crusoe in Queens Gardens.

Plaque commemorating Robinson Crusoe in Queens Gardens, Hull

As Defoe writes, it was a journey to remember from the very start:

"The ship was no sooner out of the Humber than the wind began to blow and the sea to rise in a most frightful manner; and, as I had never been at sea before, I was most inexpressibly sick in body and terrified in mind."

Cast upon a desert island where he spent 28 years, two months and 19 days one of the most famous fictional characters ever created reflected:

“Had I the sense to return to Hull, I had been happy.”

For more finds from the collections please keep an eye on the blog!

Caoimhe West, Reader Assistant, Unlocking the Treasures Project

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

The Theatre Royal, Hull

Recently, we finished cataloguing work on over 3000 programmes relating to The Theatre Royal in the period 1770-1872. They will soon be available to search on our online catalogue so, to celebrate, this blog looks at the history of the Theatre Royal.

Engraving of the Theatre Royal, Humber Street, by J. Greenwood, 1810 [Lp.792 ROY(2)/1]

The Theatre Royal was opened on Finkle Street in 1769 by an independent stage company owned by Thomas Keregan. The then manager of the company, Tate Wilkinson, oversaw the building of the theatre. The seasons lasted from Oct-Jan and were the second longest of the circuit. The original building was rather inadequate. The street was too narrow and the stage too shallow for the elaborate melodramas so it was replaced in 1810 by another building (pictured), designed by Charles Mountain, the younger, on Humber Street. John Wilkinson, Tate's son was the manager during the period 1803-1814. The Humber Street building's auditorium consisted of a pit, two galleries and two tiers of dress boxes, which could hold some 1700 people, and the upper gallery ran around the whole house. In Oct 1859 the theatre suffered a huge fire leaving it derelict until it was rebuilt in 1865 (Pictured). Another fire ripped through and totally destroy it in 1869 after a performance of Robinson Crusoe.

The New Theatre Royal, Humber Street, 1865 [Lp.792 Roy(3)/1]

The site of Queen’s Theatre, Paragon Street became the Theatre Royal's home from 1871-1909 housing 1500 people. It was a small stuccoed structure of the same design as the Globe, London which contained a pit, a dress circle, and six boxes on the first floor, and upper boxes and a gallery on the second. The stage was 40ft deep and 60ft wide, and the ceiling was domed. The Theatre Royal ceased all activity in Feb 1909 when the Paragon Street building eventually closed. It reopened as the Tivoli Music Hall on 5 Aug 1912. The Tivoli survived bomb damage during the Second World War, but closed for live stage shows in 1954.

The Theatre Royal, Paragon Street, 1882 [Lp.792 ROY(4)/1]

The Theatre Royal programmes have been catalogued to include the date/dates and title of the performance as well as the names of the actors. Seasons lasted from October to January and were the second longest of the circuit. In the early days of the theatre a summer season was avoided for fear that potential audiences would have other priorities. Seafarers, for example, would be working abroad during the summer months and families of theatre goers would more than likely be spending their summers elsewhere.

Actors were found locally where possible because of the costs involved in getting stars from London to perform. Sarah Siddons (arguably the most renowned tragic actress of 18th century Britain) appeared for a week in 1786 but the cost of promoting her season was crippling for the theatre and ate in to any possible profits.

Pictured here is a programme for a production of Othello on Mon 12 Nov 1770. Mr Davis from the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden played the part of Othello and tickets cost theatregoers up to 2s 6d depending on where they chose to sit.

Programme for a performance of Othello, 12 Nov 1770 [L DTTR/1/1/2]
If you are interested in viewing these records please do come in and request the originals in our search room.

Elspeth, Archivist/Librarian, and Jane, Reader Assistant

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Fox the Explorer

July marks the 384th anniversary since the death of Captain Luke Fox. Despite being one of Hull’s most famous explorers, there is no plaque in Hull to commemorate or record his achievements. He was one of a number of early explorers that set out to seek the Northwest Passage, and like all before and almost as many since, he failed. His expedition, however, was the first to circumnavigate Hudson’s Bay. And although he did not find the Northwest Passage his voyage helped pave the way for its eventual navigation in 1908.
Born on 20th October 1586, Fox was christened that same month at St. Mary’s Lowgate. The son of Richard Fox, a Hull mariner who later became an assistant at the Trinity House in Hull, Fox learned his seafaring skills on voyages to the Mediterranean, Spain, France, Holland, Norway, Denmark and the Baltic Sea. He had also been employed in the coasting trade working between Hull, Whitby, Newcastle and London.
The bug for exploring caught Fox at a young age when in 1606, aged 20, he applied to join explorer, John Knight, in an expedition to discover the Northwest Passage, in which Knight himself never returned. Fox, however, was deemed to be too young for such an expedition.

Title page of Fox's 'Northwest' [L.001 FOX]

Undeterred Fox successfully petitioned King Charles I in 1629 for assistance to seek out the Northwest Passage. He set sail from Deptford on HMS Charles on 7th May 1631. Twenty men and two boys signed on as crew and stores were carried for an 18 month voyage. The expedition sailed up the North Sea and called at Orkney before crossing the Atlantic. On the 22nd June Fox and his crew entered the Hudson’s Strait. For the next three months Fox searched for the illusive Northwest Passage but concluded there was no route through to the Pacific Ocean.
Whether Fox intended to remain for winter, or simply planned for the possibility of becoming trapped in ice, the voyage was cut short due to the health of his crew, and on the 22nd September he set sail for home, arriving back on 31st October after nearly six months away.
The legacy of Luke Fox’s six month voyage cannot be underestimated. His expedition was the first to circumnavigate Hudson Bay, proving this stretch of water did not link in to the Pacific Ocean. Exploration, particularly Arctic and Polar carry massive risks. Franklin’s famous expedition almost 200 years later to explore the remaining unexplored Arctic coast ended in failure with the loss of the entire expedition. What makes Fox’s expedition all the more remarkable is that while Franklin’s ships were fitted with the latest technologies of the time, including steam engines, reinforced iron plates for protection against ice, and even internal steam heating for crew comfort, Fox’s ship afforded none this. And unlike Franklin whose crew were all lost, Fox returned without the loss of a single man.

Map showing Fox's Northwest voyage around Hudson's Bay in 1630

Fox recorded his voyage in some detail and went on to publish one of the earliest books on polar exploration and perhaps the first book published by someone from Hull. His book, Northwest Fox (1635), commissioned by Charles I, was one of the most important works in its field, providing an account of his, and other voyages, including tides, depth of seas, longitude and latitudes, proving invaluable for future expeditions. 
Despite his achievements, Fox died poverty stricken at Whitby in 1635 and was buried on 20th July 1635 at St. Mary’s Church, Whitby. His name and legacy live on with the Foxe Channel and Foxe Basin bearing his name to this today.
You can read the account of Captain Luke Fox voyage in his book Northwest Fox (Ref: L.001 FOX), which is available at the History Centre.
Neil Chadwick, Project Officer, Unlocking the Treasures