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

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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.

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