Inspiring Hull can hold its head high
LAST week, Athena fulfilled her New Year’s resolution of revisiting Hull, now nearly halfway through its year as a City of Culture. It was, from the first, a hugely memorable visit and an inspiring example of how an investment in culture can serve us in the 21st century.
Arriving by train, she received a strikingly warm welcome at the station from a team of volunteers clustered in a small pavilion on the concourse. One of them offered information about events that day and directions to them. Emerging into the sun, Athena crossed into the city just as Hull began its lunch. The fish-and-chip shops were busy and the Prince’s Quay had an almost Mediterranean appearance, with tables set out along the waterfront.
Beyond the good weather, the town felt like a place transformed. Around the Victoria Monument the streetscape has been refashioned from an over-sized roundabout into a handsome town square, with fountains and benches.
A similar change has overtaken the formerly gloomy space beneath the west front of Hull’s great parish church of Holy Trinity—elevated last month to the status of a minster. In return for £100 towards the ongoing restoration work, Athena could have abseiled down from the main tower. Instead, she admired the magnificent funerary slabs of Hull’s 17thcentury burghers and the superlative 18thcentury Communion table.
In church-visiting mode, there was also time to take in St Mary the Virgin Lowgate, kindly opened by one of the churchwardens, and the wonderfully improbable Baroque interior of St Charles Borromeo, recently raised to Grade I status.
There was friendliness to be met with everywhere and wandering around in the old town presented some completely unexpected gems (of which the Danish consulate was a particular surprise, its 17thcentury frontage crammed into a tiny, concealed courtyard).
No less rewarding were the museums. In the Maritime Museum, the comedian Bill Bailey’s ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ formed an amusing contrast to the eye-opening exhibitions on the history of the city’s whaling and fishing trade. In addition, the refurbished Ferens Gallery offered a positive feast for the eyes with its re-presented permanent collection, loans and exhibitions. The last included Spencer Tunick’s Sea of Hull —photographs of the city filled with more than 3,000 nude volunteers—that has almost become emblematic of the year as a whole and a reflection of the way the City of Culture has been popularly embraced.
Athena continued to nearby Burton Constable, which, as part of the City of Culture programme, hosted Radio 1’s Big Weekend last month. With its 18thcentury collection of scientific instruments and cabinet of curiosities, this great country house is enjoying a renaissance of its own under the management of a trust that celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
As Athena boarded the train home, she was hopeful that other British cities might learn from Hull’s example.
‘Athena was hopeful that other British cities might learn from Hull