A brief History of Kingston Upon Hull



Evidence has been found tracing the history of the area around Hull back to the early Bronze Age. There is also evidence of Iron Age activity which includes an Iron Age boat, recovered from the Humber in 1984.  It is also known that in the early 1st century AD, there was a Roman fortified town at nearby Brough - called Petvaria. It is, of course, widely known that the settlements that along the banks of the rivers Hull and Humber were under constant threat of invasion from Vikings and Danes and that in the Dark ages the area around the Humber was part of the Danelaw.

 In the late 12th century a quay was built at the junction of the river Hull and the river Humber. It was built by Cistercian monks, from the nearby Meaux Abbey, who had acquired the land in the area and wanted somewhere to export the wool they produced to northern Europe. In effect this marked the beginning of Hull as a town. Quickly following the building of the quay their came a market trading in all manner of goods which resulted in the  conglomeration of the villages that were to be found in the area along the two rivers banks. Originally called Wyke (the Scandinavian word ’vik’ means creek) it became the King’s town upon Hull - Kingston upon Hull - around 1293 when King Edward I actually granted it the right to hold a market and fair. In 1299 Hull received its Royal Charter thereby making it a free borough. The first harbour at Hull was also constructed around this time, which of course came in very handy for the king when moving troops and supplies to Scotland for his military campaigns there.

With the port of Hull exporting wool and importing timber and oil seeds from Europe it rapidly became one of the wealthiest cities in the country and by the mid 14th century had the most prominent, if not the richest, merchant in England amongst its residents - William de la Pole, he also became Lord Chancellor of England. By and large Hull continues to thrive and prosper through the rule of the Houses of Lancaster, York and the Tudors; without falling foul of the authorities -apart from a skirmish with Henry VIII over sympathising with some Papists.

The English Civil War was a less settled time for the town. At the start of the civil war the town supported the Parliamentarians, who had upheld the appointment of town’s Governor - Sir John Hotham, whereas the King had wanted him replaced ‘by his own man’ - the Earl of Newcastle. In 1642, with the King now holding his court at nearby York, it was only a question of time before conflict came Hull’s way. In fact Hull is thought to be the site of the first overt act of the civil war when the King was refused entry to the town, whilst his son - the Duke of York - was virtually held captive within the town’s walls. Inevitably later that year the Royalists laid siege to Hull, only to be repelled after several weeks. Presumably hedging his bets, in 1643 Hotham started negotiating with the Royalists. However, his plan back-fired badly, to the extent that he was arrested by Parliamentarians and executed a year later. Despite suffering considerable damage, Hull held out as the sole Parliamentarian stronghold in Yorkshire and maintained a staunchly pro-Parliamentarian stance right up until 1660. Then, with the war finally at an end, even Hull accepted the Royal Arms of Charles II. All the same it wasn’t until the reign of Queen Victoria that another British monarch set foot in the town.

Whilst some fine examples do survive many of the exquisite buildings constructed in the Georgian period, with the wealth generated  by the port, were destroyed by bombing raids in World War II or by some appalling ‘town planning’ decisions. However, surviving prints of many of the towns buildings show Hull to be maintaining and building on its prosperity. In the late Georgian era, 1812, Hull was one of the first towns to have a Botanic Garden, at Hessle Road. Also in the Georgian period, Hull started to become an important port for the landing of fish, caught by its vast fleet of trawlers. As the trade in exporting wool started to decline, the fishing trade - including whaling - rose in importance to the town. The trawler fleet would often go as far as the Arctic Circle off Norway, especially in the pursuit of Whales. By the early 19th century Hull would become the dominant port of the UK in the whaling trade. Probably Hulls most famous son, William Wilberforce, was born in Georgian times in  1759. He went on to become a Member of Parliament and a champion for the abolishment of slavery.

There is little to say about Hull in the 19th century other than, along with the many other ports, enhanced transport links by rail and road led to the port being able to further expand the area it could trade with. However, towards the end of the 19th century and early in the 20th century trade at the port started to decline; with the port relying heavily on timber, oil seed and fish imports. By the late 20th century even the trade in fish declined due to the ‘Cod Wars’ and then fishing quotas that were imposed to try and preserve fishing stocks in the North Sea. Within the UK Hull is unique in having its own independent telephone companies, Kingston Communications. Formed in 1902 it had a cable TV and wireless service in the 1950s and was the first telecommunications company in the UK to offer ASDL connections to its customers.

Today Hull remains an important UK port, importing & exporting goods and operating Ro-Ro ferry services to Europe. It is also a major centre for UK food processing companies.

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