So sure of itself, this city has shortened its own name! Come and join the culture vultures for a celebratory 2017! Come one, come all!
Hull (Kingston Upon Hull) UK is the chosen one – the 2017 City of Culture. It beat Leicester, Dundee and Swansea Bay to snatch the title to be held for a year. The UK government chooses a new destination every four years, with the aim of helping tourism and the economy.
Hull, like all its predecessors. has begun the tidy-up and work on urban regeneration – planning with confidence to showcase the arts of the area to tourists and investors.
Not a lot of people outside of England have heard of Hull and not many inside England are really impressed. But then, many people haven’t visited the river city. And being part of Yorkshire, it begs to be explored.
I drove into Hull on a dull and drizzly day, passing through an unspoilt and rather fine town called Beverley (namesakes attract me) and then following along the main road I saw a shabby side to the outskirts of Hull, neglected shops and empty establishments, that looked like they weren’t happy to invite anyone in.
Hull has a reputation of being fiercely proud of itself and of its seafaring traditions. The city takes no prisoners and the old town offers up some great pubs with plenty of atmosphere and plenty of beer!
Arriving at my hotel, things were shaping up to be more welcoming. Large Victorian establishments are rubbing shoulders with 70s quick-fix almost brutal architecture, and with 21st century ‘let’s show ‘em how much glass we can use’ modern masterpieces.
After settling in I met my tour guide for Hull. Tour guides – I have met many but to spend a day with Paul Schofield is to sign up for the Hull fan club. I have never met a more enthusiastic, happy-to-behere, knowledgeable and companionable fella who’s showed me a good time before.
Off we walked to take in what Hull had in store for me and for its Culture year.
The city centre had much of the footpath cordoned off as there was new paving being worked on. I looked at two fine buildings standing guard at the main thoroughfare and noticed how many new and newish buildings had been crammed into the road here. So much of Hull has been rebuilt and I learned it was the second most bombed city in the UK after London during WWII – almost 95 per cent of its houses were damaged. It took many decades for post war regeneration to start up for the city and, with the demise of the fishing industry in the 70s, Hull wasn’t in great shape.
But, now Paul is showing me the positive and proud side of ‘Ull.
Being a river city with a grand seafaring history there are plenty of stories in the ‘stones’. Little, neat laneways still thrive with residential and commercial lives and the museums and galleries are packed with the good stuff.
Hull’s Museum Quarter with back-toback museums is a splendid affair and one of the museums – the Streetlife Museum of Transport, is my favourite. Wonderful old, well-preserved trams, trolley buses, buses and vehicles that served the region in past years look as if they wouldn’t mind a spin around town now! The East Riding Museum traces local history back to the Romans and has beautiful Roman mosaics on display, plus there’s a fine recreation of a Roman bath house amid many archaeological artefacts.
Wilberforce House has a statue of the reformer standing tall. William Wilberforce was one of the city’s most noble and famous campaigners for the abolition of slavery. It was his life’s work to end the terrible trade. At the rear of the lovely house is an elegant, contemplative garden.
We wander along the old docks onto the riverside promenade. The Humber River is a mighty experience and on my visit there I couldn’t see the other side – it’s almost a small sea. Paul’s enthusiasm and curiosity has not flagged.
There are a few original pubs standing and the Lion and Key is one of Yorkshire’s finest. There’s a beer walk and you can follow the Hull Ale Trail to check out the city’s best watering holes. The Lion and Key’s interior décor is full-on cluttered character from floor to ceiling.
And on the Humber, jutting confidently out from the bank into the steel grey waters is The Deep. This colossal aquarium is the city’s statement piece of architecture and looks as if it might dive into the deep at any time. The inside is a dramatic cavern of gigantic tanks of water with an amazing array of marine life to view.
Hull’s most cultural figure is the writer/ poet Philip Larkin. Larkin was born in Coventry but lived in Hull for 30 years and found fame during his time working as a librarian at the University. Hull’s bid for Cultural City status was partly based on his work.
Hull City Council said: “Inspired by Larkin’s poem ‘Days’, the ambition is for each day of Hull 2017 to make a difference to a life in the city, the UK and the world.”
The celebrations for 2017 include an opening ceremony involving theatrical elephants, dancing white phone boxes and four ‘rivers’ of light, with people and sound flowing into the city.
Hull’s annual Freedom Festival will incorporate a special aerial show taking its theme from the last line of Larkin’s poem ‘An Arundel Tomb’: “What will survive of us is love.”