Early in the 14th century, Kingstown-upon-Hull received the benefit of being protected with fortifications as its strategic importance was recognised by King Edward I. Walls were built stretching from the west bank of the River Hull (near to North Bridge) to the north bank of the River Humber. The rivers themselves already served as protection from the east and south, but fortifications were later added to the east of the River Hull where a fort and garrison were built.
Demolition of the walls began in the late 1700’s as the town expanded and new docks where built; the area which had been previously enclosed by these walls became known as ‘The Old Town’.
Mediaeval Kings Town is still on view in various places, with narrow streets, cobbled roads, and secret passageways down which only the brave dare venture after dark. Like the rest of Hull, much of it was destroyed during the blitz of the Second World War during which many great and historic buildings were lost. There are still a few gems however, some with modern facades hiding the history that lies behind.
The street pattern remains largely unaltered from those early days, and the nearer the river you get the older and narrower they become.
I decided one day to take a walk around the old town and planned a route that would take in what I thought were the most interesting bits, and then thought to write about it in case anyone else wanted to try it.
Walking from Paragon Station (or interchange as they now like to call it), the Old Town is approached via Whitefriargate, or ‘Whitefragate’ as it’s locally called. This was once a very busy shopping street, which has been in decline over many years, largely due to the council’s decision to close the market it once led towards, and the high rents and rates. At the moment it is a street full of closed shops and is a sad reflection of what it used to be. It is currently scheduled for regeneration however, though only time will tell if it is too late to breathe new life into this empty space.
I remember walking along here as youngster with my mum on Saturday afternoons, long before it was pedestrianised. I recall crowds of people and lots of litter, primarily small squares of discarded newspaper which were used to wrap up bags of greasy soggy chips from Bob Carver’s.
Whitefriargate was once the site of a Carmelite monastery (the White Friars), when this area of ‘Wyke’ as it may have been known then, was granted to the brotherhood by one Robert de Scardeburgh, who was the Dean of York.
Here you can now see the remains of the Beverley Gate, one of the last few remaining scraps of evidence that Hull was once a walled town.
To get something out of the walk along here it best to look up, where you will see architectural hints of the street’s former grandeur, for example opposite Parliament Street, you can see what remains of the once grand façade of The Neptune Inn. This grade II listed building was built in 1797 with the intention of housing wealthy merchants coming from Queen’s Dock (now Queen’s Gardens).
The Land of Green Ginger
Many stories have been told about the origins of its name. Ginger was cultivated here in the middle ages it is said, while others tell of the name stemming from the title of a Dutch firm trading here in much later times (Lindergroen Jonger or similar), but no-one knows for sure.
There are some dark and narrow alleyways off these streets, giving a taste of what the town must once have been like.
The George on the left is a 17th century coaching inn. It was once far larger than it is now, going much farther back and in fact went all the way through onto Whitefriargate. It boast England’s smallest window, which was used by porters to spot incoming coaches as they sought entry to the stable yard.
The Land of Green Ginger leads onto Manor Street and Alfred Gelder Street, but my walk turns right just after the George.
Turning right onto Bowlalley Lane, this very narrow cobbled street was once considered to be part of Bishopgate (Bishop Lane lies opposite), but its name was changed in the 18th century due to becoming the well known site of, you guessed it…. a bowling alley!
There are two narrow passages on the left, the first of these ‘The Pathway’, leads straight through to Alfred Gelder Street where you will see the 1914 Guildhall (look up to see the magnificent sculptures).
Doubling back and walking along to the second alley, Exchange Court gives a real feel of old Hull, the ‘Exchange and News Room’ was located here in 1794. It’s dark and damp, with high buildings preventing the ingress of sunlight into its pathways.
Exchange Court bends to the right and you emerge onto Lowgate.
The view to the left on Lowgate is dominated by the 15th century church of St. Mary. Cross the road and walk under its arched bell tower; if you’re in luck the doors will be open and you can wander inside. The church is in need of restoration but it is certainly worth popping in.
Lowgate was once known as Marketgate, and was originally the location of Hull’s main market until the building of modern indoor halls in the 19th century. The southern part of it is still known as Market Place.
After St Mary’s turn right onto Chapel Lane; a street named after the ‘chapel of ease’ which St Mary’s was once known as.
Looking along this narrow cobbled street, one wonders what it must have been like if carriages were to enter in opposing directions, as I’m pretty sure they didn’t have one way systems in those days!
You can see the contradiction in architecture here, with the ancient wall of the church on one side and the modern brick built crown court on the other.
As Chapel Lane ends, turn left onto High Street, the town’s original main thoroughfare. It follows the path of the nearby River Hull and would once have served as the landing ground for ships berthing along its bank.
It’s difficult to believe now, that this narrow silt lined river channel was once the main dock of King’s Town.
As you walk along you will come to Wilberforce House on the right. In 1759 this was the birthplace of William Wilberforce, the politician known for helping to bring about the abolition of slavery; it is now open as a museum.
Doubling back again to walk along High Street, on the left are the Streetlife and Hull & East Riding museums, both well worth visiting if you have the time (and they’re free).
You will also pass a number of ‘Staiths’ on your left; these short streets all lead to the River Hull and would once have been used to bring goods from ships on the river to the warehouses which lined the street.
Ye Olde Black Boy
Further along on the right is Ye Olde Black Boy, one of Hull’s ale houses vying for the title of oldest pub in the city, being listed as licensed premises as far back as 1729. This black beamed pub is a great place to sit with a pint on a cold winter night in front of the fire in the cosy front room.
Originally part of a private dwelling known as Gastryk House, the building was first mentioned as being a licensed premises in 1729 under the ownership of William & Mary Smith, although the name of the pub didn’t appear until 1748.
The business changed hands numerous times and was occupied by corn and seed merchants, tobacconists, wine merchants, and various other businesses until finally returning to its role as a pub which it has now occupied for quite some time.
Turning right onto Scale Lane (named after a family of wealthy mediaeval merchants), on the left you will see a building currently called ‘The Old House’, and for good reason. Number 5 Scale Lane dates back to the 15th century and is the oldest surviving dwelling in the city.
Hull’s old town was drastically changed during the industrial revolution, when its wealth as a large trading and fishing port meant rebuilding and redevelopment of properties such as this. Most of what remained was destroyed by the Luftwaffe in the Second World War, including the adjacent house at number 4.
The building has been in use for some time as a pub/restaurant.
Turning right at the crossroads back onto Lowgate, and then taking the first left brings us back into Bowlalley Lane, where this time our interest is White Harte Entry on the left.
Ye Olde White Harte
This narrow passage leads to Ye Olde White Harte, tucked away out of sight, its presence only given away by a sign over the door at its end. Originally built in 1550, during the 1600s this was the residence of Governor Sir John Hotham, the man who took the decision to slam the Beverley Gate in the royal face of King Charlie to kick off the first open act of rebellion during the civil war.
Remodelled in 1881 and eventually becoming a public house, this was once a fine place to drink; but although the interior was badly in need of refurbishment the last time I popped in, it is still well worth a visit for its historical and architectural interest.
Continuing through the passage to the far side and we emerge onto Silver Street; this was not surprisingly where Hull’s silver trade once flourished in the 17th century.
Opposite, just off to the right lays the entrance to Hepworth’s Arcade, an attractive and flourishing group of shops and cafes. Built by Joseph Hepworth late in the 1800s, this lovely arcade is now grade II listed, and was once the home of one of Marks & Spencer’s ‘penny bazaars’. If you enjoy shopping and something a little different you will find some great shops in here.
In the right hand corner of the arcade is a ‘secret’ entrance into Trinity Market, entering here, and then going through the first door on the left will take us into what’s known locally as ‘Blue Bell Passage’ but the door to this is sometimes locked so my walk takes us to the far end of the arcade where we turn right onto Market Place.
Here you will pass the other side of Blue Bell Passage, if you go down here you will find Ye Olde Blue Bell, a Sam Smith’s pub. Like many of this brewery’s pubs, the interior is unspoilt and there are few old-fashioned multi-room pubs of this type left so worth dropping in if it’s open.
After this, we then turn right again after The Corn Exchange onto North Church Side, and then left into Trinity Square.
Trinity Square &
Hull’s now very quiet Trinity Square, was once a place full of people and atmosphere on market days. We often used to visit the Saturday market in its heyday, when people would flock in their thousands to look for a bargain.
My clearest memory was a man with a loud voice calling out to the ladies about his latest offers on bed sheets, towels, and all manner of stuff.
“I’m not going to take a tenner off you,” he would shout, “I’m not even going to ask you for a fiver. Tell you what; I’ll even throw in a couple of pillow cases!”
The space is dominated by Hull Minster (click here for info), which you can see reflected in the shallow pools which now adorn the floor where the market once stood. There is still an adjacent indoor market, which after a period of decline has recently been redeveloped. A few of the original market stalls still exist here, but it has largely been remarketed as a ‘street food’ venue.
The square in now sometimes used for music and food events, but otherwise lies mainly empty.
Just off the square, directly opposite the main entrance to the church and through an archway you will find Prince Street, one of the most photographed and painted parts of the city.
Built in the late 1700s, this gently curving row of town-houses is a reminder of the city’s former Georgian grandeur and was named in honour of the future George IV.
You can clearly see the original layout of the old cobbled streets which still exist in this area, but unfortunately the buildings are now modern flats which have long since replaced bombed or derelict slums.
Turning left leads onto Posterngate, this once was the town’s ‘side entrance’, where a smaller gate allowed access through the walls for those not wanting to use the main Beverley Gate.
We now turn right onto Princes Dock Street (known locally as Princes Dock Side) and exit the Old Town.
Another of Hull’s former docks, the Princes Quay shopping centre now stands in the water where ships once plied their trade. At this point we reach the end of Whitefriargate, and turn left to head back towards the station.
The walk if calculated from the station is 3.2 km or 2 miles, and as a round walk from the top of Whitefriargate it is only 2 km or 1.25 miles. Time-wise it’s entirely up to you! There are many things which may delay your journey such as pubs, museums, and anything else that may grab your attention.
The Maritime Museum
If you have time as you walk past Princes Quay; you will see the Maritime Museum ahead and just to the left. This is due for a huge upgrade at some point and is destined to become a real tourist attraction. At this point we don’t know exactly what the changes will be or when they will happen, but at least I can offer you a picture of the grand Court Room from inside the building!