Stories from the sea
During a recent visit to Hull’s historic Holy Trinity Church, Alan Crosby was given a sombre reminder about the dangers faced by our seafaring kin There are the names of brothers, of fathers and sons, reflecting the family tragedies so typical of any fish
THullhis August we made a short visit to H ll andd EEast YYorkshire,khi an area II diddid not know well and which proved to be charming and packed with historical interest. Hull itself was in chaos. The city centre is being repaved and smartened up ready for its role as City of Culture next year – the parts that had been completed looked great. We stayed in my brother-in-law’s flat overlooking the marina. Once one of the city’s historic docks, it’s now a delightful place to visit on a sunny day with pubs, restaurants, large numbers of yachts, and fine views across the wide Humber to Lincolnshire.
Among the places we visited was the extraordinary and fascinating church of Holy Trinity, which was built from the 13th century onwards, and still towers majestically over the city centre. It’s claimed, with good reason, to be the largest parish church in the British Isles, and it’s certainly a great deal larger than some cathedrals. Outside, Trinity Square was being given a makeover, which we were told would include fountains and other urban landscaping to enhance the setting of the great building.
Like any splendid civic church, the interior is full of elaborate monuments, which using the flattering and obsequious language so beloved of the 17th and 1818thh centuriesi commemorate theh mayors, aldermen and merchant families of an ancient and – for hundreds of years – prosperous borough, derived from its ever-present shipping and maritime trade. There were many hardworking volunteers inside the church, who were all busy dusting, cleaning, manning the bookstall, acting as guides, and serving visitors at the coffee and cake stand.
Lost at sea
But the quiet north-east corner is a much more sombre place. Most churches of this sort have their regimental flags and military honours hanging high up, and Hull Holy Trinity is no exception with plenty of monuments and commemorations of East Yorkshire regiments. Opposite them, though, is a separate section devoted to those in peril on the sea, and to the hundreds – no, thousands – of Hull fishermen and merchant mariners who were lost in storms and disasters.
It’s intensely moving, not least for me because some of the names of the trawlers were all too familiar. These were disasters whichhih I remember from my childhood, as the names of lost or stricken vessels were read out on the BBC News: “Lost with all hands off the North Coast of Iceland”, “Lost with all hands off the North Cape of Norway”. Those names... the Ross Cleveland, the Kingston Peridot, the Gaul... echoed down the decades. At the foot of almost all the tablets and plaques are two simple words: “safely anchored”, reminding the reader of the terrors involved and serving to comfort and console in their own way.
There are the names of brothers, of fathers and sons, reflecting the family tragedies so typical of any fishing port or maritime community. To stand and gaze at this evocative and haunting place was to realise the sheer scale of death and loss that such communities and families endured. So many folk songs about the sea reflects the horrible uncertainty that those on shore experienced while their loved ones were ploughing the waves. Reading those tablets and plaques made me understand that emotion much more clearly and powerfully.
Family history, as we all know, has its dark side. The north-east corner of Hull Holy Trinity is a stark reminder of human loss and courage.