Discover Hull’s rich history of freedom and growth

Published: Wednesday 4th January 2017 by Courtney Farrow

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A Charter is a public document addressed by a donor to a wide audience, recording title to a piece of property. It can also define rights and privileges of a town and its people.

Charters were written on parchment (treated and dried animal skin) using quill pens. This was usually done during the day, as any mistakes caused by poor lighting were hard to correct. Like all formal legal documents created before 1733, Charters were written in Latin.

Over a period of 500 years, Hull was granted over 40 Charters, which tell the story of our city. To find out more about this rich heritage, visit Hull History Centre to see the Hull Charters exhibition.

This is the first major exhibition of Hull History Centre for our year as UK City of Culture. As well as showing how the city developed physically, it also illuminates changes in economy, trade, culture, population, national importance and civil freedoms.

Hull Charters takes the form of numerous information boards, displaying scans of the original Charters with simple annotations. Each Charter is accompanied by descriptions of what it meant to the people of Hull, and how it helped to shape the world we know now.

As well as the Charters, the boards share maps, illustrations, and portraits. In addition, there are digestible facts covering all kinds of topics. We jotted down a few that caught our eye:

  • In 1279, the Abbot of Meaux was granted the right to have a market and fair at Wyke, the earliest reference to what is now Hull Fair.
  • When Edward I acquired Wyke there were 55 occupied building plots, and 55 undeveloped plots. The population must have been 2,000. Today it is over 250,000.
  • The port of Ravenser Odd, further down the Humber near Spurn Point, became a Free Borough on the same day as Hull. However, it was destroyed by a succession of tidal surges in the mid 14th Century, and Hull was able to flourish unchallenged by any local rival.
  • It is estimated that 4,700,000 bricks would have been needed to build the medieval walls of Hull.
  • Hull was a county from 1440 until 1974. Between 1975 and 1996 it was part of the County of Humberside, and then became a unitary authority. So the City hasn’t been part of Yorkshire since 1440!
  • The de la Pole family became very rich and powerful, and married into the royal family. One of the family, the Earl of Lincoln, was King Richard III’s nephew. Had Richard not been dethroned, he might have succeeded him as King.
  • in 1461, Mayor Richard Anson was killed at the Battle of Wakefield during the Wars of the Roses. He was in command of thirteen soldiers provided by Hull in support of the Lancastrian King Henry VI.
  • King Henry VIII visited Hull twice in autumn 1541. He decided to build major fortifications on the east bank of the River Hull.
  • Queen Elizabeth I appointed her Secretary and spy-master, Sir Francis Walsingham, to be Hull’s first High Steward in 1583. This honorary office is now held by Lord Mandelson.
  • Hull has two ceremonial swords. The Second Sword is supposed to have been given to the town by King Charles I and is dated 1636.

These facts and many more show how Hull changed from a settlement run by monks, to a King’s Town, to a prominent port that denied Charles I entry in 1642. All of this paved the way for Hull to then become a hub of whaling and fishing, a hive of industry, and finally the UK City of Culture that it is today.

Knowing our roots really can be quite eye-opening and help us to understand our present even better. Pop down for a visit and who knows what you might learn!

Hull Charters runs at the History Centre until 24 February and entry is free. Opening times are 9:30am-5:30pm Tuesday-Friday, 9am-4pm Saturday, and closed Sunday-Monday.

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Published: Wednesday 4th January 2017 by Courtney Farrow

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