Hull – City of Culture 2017

I woke up this morning to hear a couple of interesting snips of R4 Today, amused when their reporter, busily chatting with home base, rather spectacularly missed culture secretary Maria Miller’s announcement of that the 2017 UK City of Culture was to be Hull, coming to her speech just after the announcement as she congratulated the other short-listed cities on the strong cases they had presented which were not as convincing as that of the chosen city.

A few minutes later – or was it earlier? – the programme had a discussion on time travel, with a learned US professor telling us that Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity had stated that travel into the future was possible, and that had been experimentally proven, and that while his General Theory indicated the possibility of travel into the past, so far this had not been achieved.

I had to disagree, having published on the matter in the 1980s, when I wrote about the experience of my first visit to Hull. I can’t remember the exact words (and am too lazy to look them up since they come from a pre computer age and are hidden in stacks of paper), but it went something like this:

I boarded my train in Manchester in 1965 and emerged an hour and a half later in the 1950s at Hull Paragon.

I didn’t mean it unkindly, but Hull was definitively in a different time zone, and in many ways that endeared the city to me. I kept on going back, and a few years later married into it; we continued to make frequent visits for the next thirty-five years, though never stayed for more than a couple of weeks at a time.

Hull then was in many ways a ‘city of culture’ back then. My parents-in-law to be had met both playing violins in the same orchestra, and there was a fine old ‘New Theatre’ with a wide range of performances (music, opera, ballet, drama, pantomime…) as well as a fine municipal art gallery, the Ferens. Ordinary people still went to concerts, plays and exhibitions as well as themselves taking part in thriving amateur performances. Larkin was by far from being the only poet, and in the Hull Daily Mail the city had one of the better provincial newspapers, if I did spend most of my time reading it laughing at the almost pocket-money house prices in the ads.

I took some of my earliest photographs in the old town at night, and a few years later found a subject in the widespread changes that were occurring across the city as the Council finished off much of what the Luftwaffe had left with large-scale redevelopment. The ‘Cod Wars’ killed the fishing, and much of the industry was dying, a process greatly accelerated under Thatcher. Barbara Castle gave the city a bridge across the Humber a few miles upstream as an election bribe, but by the time it arrived there seemed little reason to use it, and in 1976 it was made largely redundant with the eventual opening of the M62 to North Cave.

One of the many things I loved about Hull was its openness to the arts – it seemed to have few of the cliques which make – for example – London so unwelcoming to the outsider. I walked into the Ferens Gallery to make an appointment to show someone my work and ten minutes later was talking with the curator. Before long I was offered my first major show (and still my largest), on the top floor of the gallery in 1983, with around 140 prints. Most of them are in my book ‘Still Occupied: A View of Hull‘ (see below), though this also contains some later work and only contains black and white images – the show had around 20 colour images as well.

I continued to photograph Hull on later visits, though these have been much less frequent and shorter in recent years, as our relatives and friends have died. Hull has continued to change, although not always for the better in my view. But some of what I seemed almost alone in admiring back in the 70s has survived and is now promoted with leaflets, interpretation boards and ‘heritage’ signage. There are some splendid new features such as the River Hull Flood Barrier (they forgot to bring it into action at the first high tides after it was finished) and ‘The Deep’, as well as a rather disastrous marina, some rather dreary new housing and some disappointing shopping areas. Hull also got a ‘Fish Trail‘ and a ‘Larkin Trail‘ (I spent some happy times in the later years staying in a fine large ‘Arts and Crafts’ house owned by an old friend a few yards from where he lived.)

The arts as usual have played a part in the regeneration of the city, although not one always understood by the locals. I think I may well have stolen this story from someone, but I remember being in a bar down an alley just off the High St in the Old Town with my brother-in-law, close to the premises of Hull Time Based Arts in the mid 80s, hearing one of the regulars saying he didn’t get what they were doing. “Call themselves ‘Timebase Darts?  I’ve never seen a one of them with a set of arrers!”

There are a few more of my pictures of Hull on the Urban Landscapes web site, and many more in my rather expensive book from Blurb, Still Occupied: A View of Hull 1977-85.  Currently this costs £34.10 plus rather heavy postage from Blurb for the 120 page book with 270 black and white photographs, though  customers at UK addresses only can order direct from me for £30 including delivery. But everyone can access the full preview of the book above or on Blurb for free – click on the full-page button at the bottom of the preview to see the images properly.

This was one of the first books I made on Blurb, using their Booksmart software, which means I am unable to offer a PDF version, and the layout is not quite up to my later standards. Perhaps I will bring out a second edition for Hull’s year as UK City of Culture, or another book including colour and later work.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images


3 Responses to “Hull – City of Culture 2017”

  1. […] so this was a significant advantage in pursuing my photography – making projects like that I took in Hull over several years possible. Moving to FE freed me up for a half day of work during the week and […]

  2. […] that 1983 show, together with a number of others, were in my 2011 book with the same title, ‘Still Occupied: A View of Hull‘, still available on Blurb (or more cheaply for UK customers direct from me). It contains all […]

  3. […] title (which I suspect will go largely unnoticed) I hope to publish a second edition of ‘Still Occupied’ (this time with a PDF version) and hopefully another book of my more recent images of the city, […]

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