Hull and the Humber


The wide River Humber forms the southern boundary of East Yorkshire and separates Yorkshire from Lincolnshire. It is undoubtedly the most obvious historic dividing line between the North of England and the Midlands.

Humber is a Celtic river name meaning 'good- well' and the root of the name can be traced back to the Sanskrit 'Ambhas' meaning water. The antiquity of the name demonstrates the river's importance. The Humber gave its name to the ancient kingdom of Northumbria - the land north of the Humber which once stretched as far north as Edinburgh - and the river forms one of the largest river estuaries in England, matched only by the River Severn and the River Thames.

Humber Bridge

The Humber is formed by the confluence of Yorkshire's River Ouse with that famous river of the midlands called the Trent. The two rivers merge at Faxfleet, about six miles east of the port of Goole.

Almost every single river in Yorkshire (the exceptions being the Esk, the Ribble and the Tees) feed the River Humber via the River Ouse.

A few miles further east, along the Humber from Faxfleet is the town of Brough where the Roman road from York linked up with a Roman ferry across the Humber towards Lincolnshire.

Brough was known to the Romans as Petuaria and was probably the tribal capital of the Parisi. The Parisi were the great Celtic or ancient British tribe of east Yorkshire. They were culturally more sophisticated than the Brigantes tribe who inhabited the rest of Yorkshire and they may have had links with a Celtic tribe in Europe called Parisi who gave their name to Paris in France.

A few miles further east of Brough is Hessle on the outskirts of Hull, where the magnificent Humber Bridge crosses the River Humber. The bridge, one of the world's longest single span suspension bridges (4,626 feet) was commenced in 1972 and opened in 1981. It links Hessle with Barton upon Humber in Lincolnshire.


Hull is located at the point where the little River Hull (which starts in the Yorkshire Wolds) joins the River Humber, twenty miles from the sea. Hull, has a population of around 300,000 and is the third biggest port in England after Liverpool and London. It is sometimes described as 'the biggest fishing port in the world'.

During World War Two Hull suffred some of Britain's heaviest wartime bombing and many new buildings were later constructed to replace those that had been bombed. Today Hull has important links with the European continent and there are important North Sea ferry links to Zeebrugge in Belgium and Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

Hull Marina

The marina by the River Humber at Hull. Photo : David Simpson.

Hull was originally a little settlement called Wyke which belonged to the Cistercian abbey of Meaux near Beverley. In 1293 King Edward I purchased Wyke from the abbot of Meaux and built a town here that he renamed Kingston-upon-Hull. Today the name Kingston-upon-Hull is now more of an historic name and the place is usually known as Hull.

King Edward had recognised Hull's potential importance as the site for a harbour and as a war base and In 1299 the King granted the town its first charter. The harbour at Hull was developed by a merchant family called the De La Poles who abandoned an earlier haven development at Hedon to the east of Hull. Sir William De La Pole became Hull's first mayor in 1331. His son, Michael also became Mayor of Hull and later founded a Carthusian priory in the town.

Hull's strategic importance was recognised centuries after the reign of King Edward when in the English Civil War Hull was the first place to be openly hostile to King Charles I. The King was on his way to Hull from Beverley in 1642 when the gates of the town wall were closed to him by Sir John Holtham who was the Governor of the town. The Parliamentarians had persuaded Holtham to side with them during a meeting at a house in Hull's Silver Street. The building where the mneeting was held was Sir John's House - later to become the White Hart Inn.


Medieval Hull was located west of the River Hull and on the north side of the Humber. It was bordered on its western flank by a moat served to protect this important war base from attack. This area of town is known as the Old Town. Here many of the streets and narrow alleys have medieval origins. The moat on the western side of the old town later became the site of Hull's Queens docks, which were built in 1778. Some of the docks were later filled in and became the Queens Gardens.

Old streets in the 'Old Town' include Silver Street, Manor Street, Posterngate, Black Friar Gate, High Street and the Market Place. The most notable feature of medieval times is the church of Holy Trinity which dates from the fourteenth century. The church is notable for incorporating some of the earliest uses of brick.

Holy Trinity

Holy Trinity church in Hull. Photo : David Simpson

A brickyard was recorded in Hull as early as 1303 and it seems that the popularity of brick as a building material may have spread across the country from Hull. Brick is certainly an important material in the elegant villages of lowland Yorkshire.

Inside the church we can see an effigy of William De La Pole, Hull's first mayor who died in 1366. The church of Holy Trinity underwent restoration in 1869.

The High Street in Hull was once the most important street in the town and is the home to Wilberforce House which was the birthplace of the anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce (1759-1833).

Wilberforce was elected as a Member of Parliament at the age of twenty-one and later became known as 'The Nightingale of the House of Commons' because of his campaigning work.

He was the leading figure in the campaign to abolish the slave trade and his work resulted in The Abolition Act of 1833 which abolished slavery throughout the British Empire. Wilberforce House is now a museum dedicated to the history of the slave trade.

The Guildhall

One of Hull’s most imposing buildings is its Guildhall which is Hull’s Town Hall. There had been a Guildhall at Hull as far back as the fourteenth century but this was located on the south side of the market place. A new building replaced this at the north end of the market place in the seventeenth century but this too was demolished at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

This in turn was replaced by another new Town Hall in 1866 designed by Cuthbert Brodrick who also designed the Town Hall at Leeds. Indeed, although Brodrick was born at Hull in 1821 he is principally famed for shaping the architecture of Leeds.


The Guildhall, Hull. Photo : David Simpson

Brodrick's Town Hall at Hull was rather short-lived as when Hull was granted city status in 1897 the civic fathers had ambitions for a larger building. A new town hall designed by Sir Edwin Cooper was erected to the west between 1907 and 1914 and was soon renamed the Guildhall. This is the grand structure that we see today. Brodrick’s Town Hall was demolished but many parts of it were salvaged and reused in the erection of a First World War Memorial at Brantingham village about 10 miles to the west of Hull.

The village of Cottingham lies on the northern outskirts of Hull retains a feeling of separateness from the neighbouring city. It was granted a weekly market in 1199 and an annual fair in 1200. The parish church dedicated to St Mary dates from the fourteenth century and has been described as the little sister of Hull's Holy Trinity church, though it is by no means a small church.

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