Descriptions of Hull 16th to 18th centuries 9 (12/10/’20).

Richard Blome (1635-1705) is Dr. Woodward’s fourth travel writer (s.p.b.s), his description of Hull and Holderness being taken from his publication of 1673 Britannia, or a Geographical Description of the Kingdom of England, Scotland and Ireland. One of the points Blome made was that Hull’s trade ‘being inferiour to none in England except London and Bristoll’ contrasted with the decline of Hedon’s fortunes where ‘the rise of its neighbour Hull hath wrought its ruin’ (the photo above shows Hedon church in the middle distance, this taken from a point on the public right of way that was the line of the Hull – Hornsea railway).

If Blome actually visited Hull himself, perhaps in the 1660s, he was clearly impressed; that said Blome has sometimes been accused of plagiarism and, as he left little surviving primary evidence of his life, that we cannot know.

Blome states that Hull, although ‘a Town of no great Antiquity’, had ‘fair buildings’, ‘paved streets’ and that ‘the commodious scituation of this Town, hath made it a place very well inhabited’. Here lies the problem, were these generalisations but a thin disguise for the fact that Blome had little evidence and was being promotional rather than factual? He does however reference some facts about the town – ‘one (street) of which resembleth Thames-street in London near the Bridge, where Pitch, Tar, Cordage, Sails and other necessaries for ships are vended’ (London Bridge being the one crossing at that time) and that the ‘great Market is on Saturdays’ (held in Market Place immediately east of Holy Trinity church). Blome also gives quite detailed evidence about the governance of the town, as did previous writers.

Having dealt with Hull Blome goes on to describe Holderness as a ‘Promontory which shooteth it self forth far into the sea’. A strange phrase – was he guessing at the post-glacial origin of Holderness? I think not.

Descriptions of Hull 16th to 18th centuries 8 (6/10/’20).

The third travelogue writer chosen by Dr, Woodward (Descriptions of East Yorkshire: Leland to Defoe (E.Y.L.H.S., 1985) was John Evelyn (1620-1706) who briefly visited Hull during the Commonwealth era of the 1650s. Evelyn was a royalist sympathiser who had escaped to the continent during the Civil Wars, 1642-1651. He was born into a wealthy family and indulged an interest in travelling at home and abroad. Post Restoration, 1660, he gained a series of public/government posts having developed into a polymath with a wide range of interests and having ‘discourses’ published on a wide range of topics but especially arboriculture and horticulture – The Compleat Gardener, The French Gardener, A Discourse of Sallets (salad crops) and Sylva, or a Discourse of Forest Trees and the Propagation of Timber – Evelyn would have applauded the 21st century resolve to plant more trees to help combat climate change.

The portrait above was painted when he was 21 years of age.

In mid-Summer 1654 Evelyn travelled to Hull from Beverley and, after a short stay left for Barton by ferry from Blackfriargate staithe.

Evelyn’s few comments on Hull begin with his summary of the topography between Beverley and Hull (the Hull valley floodplain) ‘fenny but rich country’. He then sums-up Hull as being ‘situate like Calais, modernly and strongly fortified’. Whether he chooses to Compare Hull with Calais because of their coastal locations or similarity of their fortifications (roughly contemporary) seems unclear. By the seventeenth century Calais was again in French hands having been re-captured during the reign of Mary I. It had been captured and fortified during the reign of Edward I and subsequently controlled much of the English trade in woollen cloth. By the time of his diary extract on Hull Evelyn had travelled much abroad.

As a royalist Evelyn then comments on Governor Hotham’s ‘refusing entrance to his Majesty’ and then ends by stating that ‘The water-house is worth seeing’, the context here being a mystery to me.


Descriptions of Hull 16th to 18th centuries 7 (5/10/’20).

Camden’s name not only survives in the context of his authorship but also in the name of a society and in the name of a London borough.

William Camden’s two best remembered publications are Brittania and Annals (short version of the full title). The former was first published in 1586, then written in latin, and a later edition of 1607 included a full set of English county maps which greatly enhanced its importance (I have blogged before about the history of county maps but did not check-back to see when that was). The latter was a history of the reign of Elizabeth I (and bit of James I) written as a year-by-year catalogue of events with a bias towards supporting the queen. The picture above shows the cover illustration and title page of an edition of Brittania published in 1607.

The Camden Soc. was founded in 1838 to promote the interpreting and publication of historical texts (making primary sources of evidence available to the general reader). The title Camden Series survives now under the remit of the Royal Historical Society.

The London borough of Camden Town is so named as a result of a series of historical accidents whereby the name endured. In his later years William lived in a house in the Kent village of Chistlehurst, south-east of London (and now an affluent part of the London green-belt). The property he had lived in was called Camden Place and in the 18th century it was greatly enlarged and lived in by a series of influential politicians who adopted the name Camden in their titles. As London expanded onto the grounds of Camden House the name was adopted for the local borough. Surely William would have been flattered.

Descriptions of Hull 16th to 18th centuries 6 (4/10/’20).

William Camden, 1551 – 1623, is the second travelogue writer quoted in Descriptions of East Yorkshire: Leland to Defoe (E.Y.L.H.S., 1985) and surely the only one to have a London borough named after him (see later). A friend and supporter of Elizabeth I, Camden published a history of her reign in the later years of his life during the reign of James I. His best known publication was Britannia compiled as the first description of England and researched by Camden’s travels around the country.

Certain pieces of information about Hull suggest that Camden had access to Leland’s writings and chose to repeat certain points (this always a factor when considering the reliability of evidence from travelogue writings across time – a good example being the ‘preambles’ of 19th century trade directories when inaccurate information could be repeated time and again).

Although Camden clearly knew of Edward I’s royal charter of the 1290s he assumed that the town of Hull ‘sprang to life’ at that point, having been previously just ‘cribs for cows’ and ‘sheep-folds’ (see Hull in the Beginning in section three of this website). He writes of rapid progress for Hull in the 14th century, ‘for statley building, strong forts, rich fleets, resort of merchants, and plenty of all things, ’tis without dispute the most celebrated Town in these parts’ (Camden had previously described Beverley and showed a reliable knowledge of its history and was complimentary in general about the town).

As with Leland, before going on to the south Holderness coast (‘Headon’, Patrington and ‘Winsted’) Camden recounts the history of local government in Hull up to, and including, the reign of Elizabeth I.

Like Leland Camden had attended St. Paul’s School and Oxford University, he later taught at Westminster School becoming its 10th headmaster in the 1590s. The painting above shows Camden, antiquarian and landscape writer, in winter attire.

(to be continued)

Descriptions of Hull 16th – 18th centuries 5 (3/10/’20).

The ‘tours’ (towers) Leland refers to may have been simply showy pieces of domestic architecture, after all what could have been more ‘showy’ than an eye-catching tower rising well above the general roofline.

However, there may have more prosaic purposes. For example, they would have enabled the ‘Old Harbour’ and the middle Humber Estuary to be viewed and, seeing as M. De la Pole is unlikely to have lived in all four properties at once (Suffolk Palace and three other houses, s.p.b.), and if rented-out the most likely tenants would have been local merchants, they (the upper storey of the towers) may have functioned as look-out points to observe shipping as well as their loading and unloading. There are other examples in Humberside of domestic towers built to give a view of shipping, the ones that come to my mind are one at Hilston (view of coastal shipping), one at Alkborough (views over the upper Humber and Trent Falls) and one at Easington.  In a sort of ‘big brother’ way the towers may also have afforded a vantage point from which to survey goings-on in the town. The photo above shows Trent Falls in the middle distance, picture taken from point above Welton Dale.

The vexatious question of local authority (government) through the ages was an issue highlighted by early travelogue writers. Leland writes (unfortunately this paragraph on p. 11 of  Descriptions of East Yorkshire: Leland to Defoe, s.p.b.s is badly stained) that he had been told that ‘their first great corporation was grayntid to Kingeston’ in 1360 (?). He also states that in the past Hull had ‘bailives’, then ‘maire and bailives’ and in the reign of Henry ? ‘a maire, a shirive, and the toun to be shire ground by itself’ (Hullshire). Fortunately E. Gillett and Ken MacMahon dealt with this issue more thoroughly for late medieval and early modern times in Chapter 7 of A History of Hull (Hull University Press, 1980).

Descriptions of Hull 16th – 18th centuries 4 (2/10/’20).

An intriguing feature of Leland’s description of Hull in the early 1540s is his reference to various ‘tours’ (towers and s.p.b.). The photo above of St. Mary, Lowgate shows a tower he would not have seen because this one wasn’t constructed until 1697 (the passageway through its ground floor section came later). At the time of Leland’s visit St. Mary’s had no tower, the medieval one having collapsed in 1518 (this fact also torpedoes a popular myth about a supposed west tower of St. Mary’s at the time of Henry VIII visit in 1541).

The lofty crossing tower of Holy Trinity church was there for Leland to see although the last part of its construction programme had only been completed a decade before. In a sentence comparing the two churches Leland writes ‘The Trinite Church most made of brike is the larger a gret deale and the fairer’.

Apart from the tower of the town hall which, it seems, functioned as a prison (s.p.b.s) the other towers in Hull mentioned by Leland were part of a private residence, clearly the more prestigious residences. He states that as well as the towers at Suffolk Palace three other properties owned by Michael De la Pole ‘hath a tour of brike’. These were clearly impressive features across the built environment of the town. Having a ready supply of bricks locally (s.p.b.s) made the building of towers feasible as brick walls could be vertical whereas timber -frame buildings with waddle and daub infill needed to be jettied to achieve more than one or two storeys. That said, the towers were unlikely to have been as lofty as medieval Italian campanile, perhaps having three to five storeys. Building a domestic brick tower must have been a very expensive option given the scaffolding and raw materials required. Thus their purpose is a matter of some speculation.

(to be continued).