In­spir­ing Hull can hold its head high

Country Life Every Week - - Athena - Cul­tural Cru­sader

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

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