Reflections on my home town

Keeping a meaningful blog up-to-date is not trivial, I find. In recent weeks I have been busy moving house (some reflections to come) and dealing with the sudden death of my father. The latter has clearly taken up much mental space rendering most other issues less significant.

TCH_HullI find myself writing now from my home town, Kingston-Upon-Hull in the East Riding of Yorkshire in the UK. It is not a pretty town. It was heavily bombed during the war – it was and is a significant port – and the rebuilding was not the most sensitive. Take this picture (left) for example. This is Prospect Street in the City Centre at 0815 on a weekday morning. This is a utilitarian 1960s building showing considerable creativity with respect to naming. Actually, the name is fit-for-purpose. The shutters are ubiquitous as are the pawnbrokers and betting shops.

That said, Hull, as it is known locally, has a historic quarter and grand buildings to demonstrate its former significance and power.20140403_224345[1]  The Guildhall (right) is one of the most impressive in the county which boasts both York, Leeds and Sheffield. It was designed by  Edwin Cooper and completed in 1916. It was damaged in the war but restored fully in 1948. Nikolaus Pevsner, the architectural writer and critic, not a man to be easily impressed, described its Baroque Revival style exterior and interiors as a ‘tour de force’. Nearby are the Town Docks buildings – as grand as Liverpool’s waterfront, arguably – the City Hall (concert hall) and the Ferens Art Gallery, bearing the name of one of the City’s great benefactors.

20140403_224200[1] Hull’s relative isolation delivered over the years a number of quirks. For some reason, British Telecom – and its predecessor, the General Post Office (GPO) – did not swallow up Hull’s Corporation-owned and run telephone service, epitomised most visibly by the cream public telephone boxes (left). These two fine specimens are located next to the equally grand GPO office on Lowgate, now a Wetherspoons pub.

In recent years there has been much regeneration in the Town Centre. Ferensway – named after the benefactor – has been completely redeveloped; it is dominated by a shopping centre, though nearby is the splendid Hull Truck Theatre and the Albermarle Music Centre – an upgrade of the former youth centre on the site. That said, the shopping centre reaffirmed the railway station area as the centre of the city. Over recent years, the heart of the city had shifted slightly East. But such is the poverty in this city, the new focus has just caused the existing Interchange_Hullshopping areas to fall into disrepair, with those shops/chains able to do so, moving.

To my eyes also, there was a missed opportunity. The grand Paragon railway station had its stone façade re-instated (in the 1960s another utility office block was parked in front of it). The old bus station was demolished and an ‘interchange’ built. Not before time, but the result is less-than satisfactory (right). It straddles the side of Paragon Station. With 40 stands it is long, cold, echoey and slightly threatening.

Endeavour School HullNew architecture is appearing all over the City. I cannot help feeling that the errors of the 1950s are being repeated. Take the Endeavour School on Beverley Road (left). The naming is what one might expect (and in contrast to the ‘Town Centre House’, above). But it really looks like a ‘secure’ facility rather than a place of learning, youth and endeavour.

I will return with my camera and a copy of Pevsner for some more reflections about this City. There are things to be optimisticHull City v Swansea about. Siemens is investing heavily in a Wind Turbine manufacturing facility here. It will be City of Culture in 2017. And the football team (right) are in the Premier League. That quirky telephone company provided the funds to build the stadium that enabled improved fortunes for the club.

Further reading on the architecture of the Guildhall available from English Heritage:

1 comment so far

  1. […] the centre. What I like about it is that it seems to sum up the real city. I come from a wholly unattractive city, so I am used to finding beauty in things that are not generally regarded as beautiful. It is not […]

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