Monthly Archives: September 2020

Descriptions of Hull 16th to 18th centuries 3 (29/9/’20).

John Leland’s description of Hull in the 1540s is thorough for the time and, indeed, later travelogue writers may have used his information as much as discovering new stuff for themselves. As well as noting the points made in blog 2 he described the town walls in considerable detail, including the section along the Humber foreshore, as well as the merchant’s staithes along the Old Harbour (west bank of the lower River Hull). He also made a passing mention of Suffolk Palace (see Article in section 3 of this website), although he didn’t use that term, as well as Michael De la Pole’s ‘other three houses’ in the town every one having a ‘tour of brike’.

Of the town’s two churches Leland spends most text on Holy Trinity but notes that ‘nother of them (have) by the name of an hedde paroch chirche’ (both chapels of ease). He focused on the chantry chapels along the south side of the chancel of Holy Trinity as well as the ostentatious in-church table tombs. His description of the buildings around Holy Trinity church and church-yard is particularly interesting as all have long-gone except for the Tudor Grammar School building. He makes passing mention to the monastic sites in the town that functioned until the late 1530s as well as the town hall (then in Market Place) with its ‘tour of brik for a prison’. Leland was presumably getting his directions confused when he mentioned the town’s main brick-making area ‘the Tylery’ as being ‘without the south side of the toun’ (in the Humber!).

Having outlined the history of the town’s government (up to 1540s) and the De la Pole’s Carthusian monastic site Leland concludes with mention of the ferries to Goxhill and Barton, this before setting off along the south Holderness Estuary-side. The photo. above shows Goxhill Haven today, clearly much more silted-up than in the 16th century.

Whitley Bay 3 (26/09/’20).

Just off the coast and at the north end of Whitley Bay is St. Mary’s Island and lighthouse (technically not an island as it is linked to the mainland by a causeway crossable at low tide, see above). The lighthouse and lighthouse keeper’s cottage have been a tourist attraction since the early 1990s, the lighthouse having been decommissioned in 1984. Spanish City (s.p.b.s) and St Mary’s Island in the middle distance figure on most pre-War promotional paintings for Whitley Bay. The lighthouse and keeper’s cottage were built of stone and brick and the complex now includes a small museum.

To the south one light at the end of a harbour wall at Tynemouth still functions, another lighthouse nearby is now decommissioned and is itself a tourist attraction.

Unlike at John Smeaton’s Eddystone lighthouse on the south coast the keeper and family at Whitley Bay back in the day could easily cross to the mainland on foot at low tide. This would have been less so for the keeper at Smeaton’s Spurn lighthouse (178? – 1895) as, although on land, it was more distant from the nearest shop at Easington. Withernsea’s lighthouse keepers lived in the town while Flamborough’s lighthouse staff lived not so far from Flamborough village.

As with Spurn, the lighthouse at Whitley Bay was built on a site occupied and manned by religious persons centuries before where charity compelled them to maintain a brazier as best they could to warn shipping. In the 15th century one Richard Reedbarrow ‘bought’ the right to maintain the brazier on Spurn and ‘charged ship’s captains’, although the logistics of these transactions is not clear to me.

The mainland immediately opposite St. Mary’s ‘Island’ is a grass, shrubs and patches of wetland man-made nature reserve. Just inland of the natural shingle upper beach at Easington (Holderness coast) are two semi-brackish natural ponds, also a valuable wetland environment.

(next time back to past descriptions of Hull).

Whitley Bay 2 (23/09/’20).

On the opposite side of the road to Blyth to the Caravan Park is Whitley Bay’s municipal cemetery (North Tyneside Metropolitan region). This is a very well kept cemetery but nevertheless with clear biodiversity objectives, these achieved by having the main access paths tree-lined (not sure what species of tree but at a common height the main trunks give way to a rather tangled network of branches, see above – deciduous) and linear shrubberies around the perimeter, including a pond. The information board as well as giving a map of the grid-plan of the site highlights the bird-life and wild flowers that may be seen around the site. Therefore Whitley Bay cemetery is a good example of a cemetery as a ‘place of resort’, in turn complimented by a number of benches.

The oldest headstones I could find date from the early 20th century and the chapel and crematorium appear to be of a single building programme which, given that Hull’s municipal crematorium on Hedon Road was the first such and built in the first decade of the 20th century, makes this site an early example. There appears to be just one chapel of rest which would again be pioneering, being a move away from separate chapels for Church of England and Nonconformist worshippers.

However the Jewish section of the Cemetery (see above photo., centre-right section) has its own small free-standing chapel. Jewish headstones tended, in the 20th century, to be quite large, not for ornamental purposes but so that linked family members could all be named. Much of the lettering is in Hebrew and the date of death is often given both as the standard date and the date in the Hebrew calendar, usually a figure in the 5000s. This historically ‘from the beginning of the World’ but now not taken literally. Usually Jewish burials take place as soon after death as possible so the body can be buried without deterioration.

(trio to be concluded by a blog on St. Mary’s Island).

Whitley Bay (19/09/’20).

As promised, the first of three blogs on the above interrupting the run on Descriptions of Hull.

The picture above, taken this morning, shows the sandy upper beach and rocky lower beach at low tide, taken from the promenade at the north end of Whitley Bay leading to St. Mary’s island and lighthouse (see later). The sandy beach is backed by boulder clay cliffs, reminiscent of the Holderness coast, containing boulders of the close-strata sandstone-like bedrock visible in places beneath the boulder clay, this suggesting that the ice sheet of the last Ice Age (Devensian) plucked rocks from the same location as where they are now being deposited by coastal erosion.

In the centre-left distance is Spanish City, a prominent building on the centre of the town’s ‘links’ front. Originally built in 1910 in the style of a larger building on Blackpool prom. and in a Moorish style of architecture (southern Spain) but also so named because its predecessor structure had paintings of Spanish scenes. Until the 1980s there was an open-air funfair alongside the building on the links to the north (inside the present building are old photos of the site). However by the late 1990s the whole complex was in poor repair and the funfair demolished. By the turn of the century the dancehall and other parts of Spanish City were in an advanced state of disrepair and for some years it was closed. Eventually North Tyneside Council achieved a funding package to restore the complex, the restored building opened in 2018. In the central part of the building the area below the dome is open to its underside (very impressive) with a first-floor diameter walkway. The facade faces the sea with the town’s war memorial and gardens separating it from the beach giving open access to the cafe/restaurent facilities.

The whole restoration has been done to a very high standard.

Unfortunately North-East Lincs. Council didn’t follow suite and had the Winter Gardens building demolished.

Descriptions of Hull 16th to 18th centuries 2 (17/09/’20).

Like his monarch a few months later (Leland didn’t make clear the dates of his descriptions so am making an assumption) Leland travelled to Hull form Beverley although, unlike Henry VIII, he detoured through Cottingham.

His initial comments on Hull show but a vague knowledge of Hull’s history ‘The towne of Kingeston was in the tyme of Edward the 3 but a meane fischar toune’ thus with no reference to Edward I, trade with the Baltic or the trade in wool. He then claims that the town of Hull grew in importance as a result of the Icelandic fish trade whereby cod was caught and dried back in Hull ‘The first great encreasing of the towne was by the passing for fisch into Iseland, from whens they had the hole trade of stoke fisch (cod) into England’. ‘In Richard the secundes dayes the town waxid very rich’, this he goes on to say because of the then status of Michael De la Pole ‘Counte of Southfolk, wherapon he got of King Richard the 2 many grauntes and privileges to the toune’ (Hull). During Richard II’s reign, he claims, Hull ‘was wonderfully augmentid yn building’ ‘and the waul begon’ ‘made al of brike, as most part of the houses of the toun at that tyme was’. Thus Leland records that Hull prospered and expanded mostly during the reign of Richard II (1377 – 1399) rather than this happening across the 14th century.

Leland was writing in the written English of the day and not in latin. The English language had become the language of Court and the production of the Bible in English was a pillar of the Reformation. Spelling was ‘flexible’ by later standards (see above), for example the word town being spelled variously across just a few lines.

The painting above shows a youthful-looking Richard II seated in the bishop’s chair at Westminster Abbey – he was only 32 when deposed.

Descriptions of Hull, 16th to 18th centuries. (16/9/’20).

In 1985 the East Yorkshire Local History Soc. published a booklet edited by Donald Woodward and entitled Descriptions of East Yorkshire: Leland to Defoe. Dr. Woodward extracted the descriptions of Hull from various travel writers across the two centuries, in some cases also extracts on the rest of East Yorkshire and, as in the case of John Leland, beyond the East Riding. In the case of John Leland Dr. Woodward credits the compilation of his Itinerary to that of Lucy Toulman-Smith as published in 1908 ( Years The Itinerary of John Leland in or about the 1535 – 1543). Lucy Toulman-Smith (1838-1911) was a writer, antiquarian and librarian with a number of publications to her name. She had been born in New England but grew-up in England and in her later years became chief librarian at one of the Oxford colleges (see the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). The bust above is, I believe, the only known image of Leland.

John Leland was ‘in with’ Henry VIII and was given the job of collecting ancient books and manuscripts from monastic establishments during the Reformation. As such he acquired the title of King’s Antiquary and so took to travelling around the country that he continued doing so until his death, keeping copious notes along the way, these being the stuff of the later publication Itinerary.

John Leland’s travelogue notes are particularly valuable because he could not have been guided by a previously published map nor by information from previous writers. Indeed, it is clear from some phrases used that he relied on what he saw and heard along the way, this being a reason sometimes to be cautious as to the reliability of his evidence. His was very much a journey of discovery and as such has led Leland to be termed ‘the father of English topography’, a term perhaps somewhat misleading as his landscape descriptions are often minimal.

So what did Leland have to say about Hull?

(to be continued).