Category Archives: United Kingdom

The Annual Family Holiday

When I was a boy in the 1950s and 1960s family holidays came once a year and were rotated tri-annually between a caravan in Norfolk, a caravan in Cornwall and a caravan in Wales.  I’m not being ungrateful because these holidays were great fun and in those days it was all that my parents could afford.

In the 1950s about twenty-five million people went on holiday in England every year as life started to return to normal after the war.  Most people went by train but we were lucky because granddad had a car, an Austin 10 four-door saloon, shiny black with bug eye lights, a heavy starting handle, pop out orange indicators and an interior that had the delicious smell of worn out leather upholstery and this meant that we could travel in comfort and style.

Although there were not nearly so many cars on the road in the 1950s this didn’t mean that getting to the seaside was any easier.  There were no motorways or bypasses and a journey from Leicester to the north Norfolk coast involved driving through every town and bottleneck on the way which meant sitting around in traffic jams for hours and worrying about the engine overheating or the clutch burning out.

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Just getting to the coast could take the whole day and usually involved stopping off along the route at some point for a rest and a picnic.  Granddad would find a quiet road to turn off into and then when there was a convenient grass verge or farm gate he would pull up and the adults would spread a blanket on the ground and we would all sit down and eat sandwiches and battenburg cake and they would drink stewed tea from a thermos flask and I would have a bottle of orange juice.

One of the favourite places to go on holiday at that time was Mundesley which is about ten miles south of Cromer where there were good sandy beaches and lots of caravans.  I last stayed in a caravan in about 1970 and I have vowed never ever to do it again.  I just do not understand caravanning at all or why people subject themselves to the misery of a holiday in a tin box with no running water, chemical toilets and fold away beds, there was no fun in it whatsoever.

In 2000 the National Statistics Office estimated that British families took 4,240,000 towed caravan holidays a year year; how sad is that?  To be fair I suppose it was good fun when I was a five-year-old child but I certainly wouldn’t choose to do it now when I am ten times older.  Caravans simply had no temperature control, they were hot and stuffy if the sun shone (so that wasn’t too much of a problem, obviously) and they were cold and miserable when it rained, which I seem to remember was most of the time.

Bad weather didn’t stop us going to the beach however and even if it was blowing a howling gale or there was some drizzle in the air we would be off to enjoy the sea.  If the weather was really bad we would put up a windbreak and huddle together inside it to try and keep warm.  Most of the time it was necessary to keep a woolly jumper on and in extreme cases a hat as well and Wellington boots were quite normal.  As soon as the temperature reached about five degrees centigrade or just slightly below we would be stripped off and sent for a dip in the wickedly cold North Sea in a sort of endurance test that I believe is even considered too tough to be included as part of Royal Marine Commando basic training.

After the paddle in the sea we would cover ourselves up in a towel and making sure we didn’t reveal our private parts struggled to remove the sopping wet bathing costume and get back to our more sensible woolly jumpers.  Then we would have a picnic consisting of cheese and sand sandwiches and more stewed tea from a thermos flask.

If the sun did ever come out we used to get really badly burnt because when I was a boy sunscreen was for softies and we would regularly compete to see how much damage we could do to our bodies by turning them a vivid scarlet and then waiting for the moment that we would start to shed the damaged skin off.  After a day or two completely unprotected on the beach it was a challenge to see just how big a patch of barbequed epidermis could be removed from the shoulders in one piece and the competition between us children was to remove a complete layer of skin in one massive peel, a bit like stripping wallpaper, which would leave you looking like the victim of a nuclear accident.

Family Holiday

We didn’t always go to Norfolk and we didn’t always stay in caravans.  If we went on holiday with mum’s parents who lived in London we would get a train to Herne Bay or Margate in north Kent and stay at a holiday camp in a chalet which was just about one step up from a caravan.

Beach holidays in the fifties and sixties were gloriously simple.  The whole family would spend hours playing beach cricket on the hard sand, investigating rock pools and collecting crabs and small fish in little nets and keeping them for the day in little gaily coloured metal buckets before returning them to the sea at the end of the day.

There were proper metal spades as well with wooden handles that were much better for digging holes and making sand castles than the plastic substitutes that replaced them a few years later.  Inflatable beach balls and rubber rings, plastic windmills on sticks and kites that were no more than a piece of cloth (later plastic), two sticks and a length of string that took abnormal amounts of patience to get into the air and then the aeronautical skills of the Wright brothers to keep them up there for any decent length of time.

I remember beach shops before they were replaced by amusement arcades with loads of cheap junk and beach games, cricket sets, lilos, buckets and spades, rubber balls and saucy seaside postcards.  I can remember dad and his friend Stan looking through them and laughing and as I got older and more aware trying to appear disinterested but sneaking a look for myself when I thought no one was watching.  I knew they were rude but I didn’t really know why.

For a treat there was fish and chips a couple of nights a week but this was in the days before McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken so most of the catering and the eating was done in the caravan or the chalet or if we were really unlucky in the dining room of the holiday camp.

Later, after dad learned to drive, we used to go to Cornwall and Devon and North Wales, to the Nalgo holiday camp at Croyde Bay and the Hoseasons holiday village at Borth, near Aberystwyth.  The last time I went on the family holiday like that was in 1971 to Llandudno and by my own confession I was a complete pain in the arse to everybody and I don’t remember being invited ever again.

In 1975 I went to Sorrento in Italy with dad for my first overseas holiday and nothing has ever persuaded me to go back to British holidays in preference to travelling in Europe.  Since then I have spent my summer holidays on Mediterranean beaches where the sun is guaranteed and the beer, rather than the weather is always cold.

East Anglia, Rebellion, Revolution, Sedition and Defence

Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.” – John Adams (Second President of the United States)

After four nights it was time to leave our luxury caravan holiday home and return to Grimsby so after we had cleaned up and made sure everything was spick-and-span I took a last look around to make sure we had left it in good order before locking the door and moving on.

I had really enjoyed it here in Great Yarmouth and I was already looking forward to my next cheap caravan holiday in Whitley Bay in Northumbria the following month.

We had a full day ahead of us now so whilst in East Anglia we planned a day which took in both eastern counties of Suffolk and Norfolk.

My pal wanted to drive into Yarmouth but I didn’t agree that this was such a great idea through the morning rush hour traffic so after visit to McDonalds for breakfast buns we abandoned that part of the plan and drove directly west which was generally against the flow of traffic making its tedious way into the bottle-neck town.

Framlington Castle Suffolk

We drove now to the Suffolk town of Framlington which is a small, rather unremarkable place except for the fact that it has an impressive medieval castle with imposing walls and towers which was once the home of the Dukes of Norfolk who were forever scheming and stirring up rebellious trouble in Tudor England.

It is a good castle, not the best, it reminded me of Richmond in Yorkshire, there are no internal buildings left, all long since demolished but there is an impressive stone wall and 360° walk around the top of the castle walls and defences from which there are fine views of the town and the surrounding countryside.

After stopping briefly for a drink in a nearby pub where my pal almost caused a riot by asking the local drinkers what made them different from Norfolk people we moved on directly back to Norfolk and the town of Thetford which is only just across the border in the neighbouring county.

Framlington Casle Door Suffolk

Thetford also has a castle but we weren’t looking for that today, instead we were interested in the two most famous things about the town – The revolutionary philosopher Thomas Paine and the television comedy programme, Dad’s Army which was filmed around these parts.

Captain Mainwang Thetford Norfolk

We looked first for the riverside statue of Captain Mainwaring, the officer in command of Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard and found it which will mean nothing to readers from outside the UK but which is one of the most successful sit-com programmes from the BBC in the last fifty years. I had a row with my pal here because he seems to be incapable of taking a straight photograph, always excusing himself with the explanation that what he is doing is art. Every picture on a slant as though I was standing on the side of a hill.

We found the hotel where the cast of the TV series used to stay when filming and then the ‘Dad’s Army’ museum which was sadly closed today but only make me promise myself that I would plan a return visit to this very fine town.

Bell Hotel Thetford Norfolk Dad's Army

As we wandered around the attractive town centre we came eventually to the statue of Thomas Paine, the most famous son of Thetford and arguably of Norfolk and all of East Anglia, perhaps even of all of England.

Paine was a radical revolutionary, a sort of proto-Marxist, a latter day Leveller, a real trouble maker, an all round (excuse the pun) pain in the ass to the establishment of late eighteenth century England and he didn’t come from London or Bristol, not even Ipswich or Norwich but from sleepy little Thetford.

He published a pamphlet called Agrarian Justice exploring the origins of property, openly challenged the concept of monarchy, introduced the idea of a guaranteed minimum income, supported the abolition of slavery and questioned the very concept of Christianity, as a consequence of which only six people attended his funeral.

How wonderful it is that history often delivers theses delicious little curve-balls and reminds me that I am privileged to live in the greatest country in the modern World.

Paine supported both the American Revolution (one of the Founding Fathers no less) and the French Revolution and his most important work was The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen which became the basis for a nation of free individuals protected equally by the law.  In 1792 he was elected to the French National Convention.  The Girondists regarded him as an ally, the Montagnards, especially Robespierre, as an enemy and eventually he was arrested but escaped the guillotine and was allowed to travel to the USA

The Declaration is included in the beginning of the constitutions of both the Fourth French Republic (1946) and Fifth (1958) and is still current. Inspired by the  philosophers of the French Enlightenment like Voltaire and Rousseau, the Declaration was a core statement of the values of the French Revolution and had a major impact on the development of freedom and democracy in Europe and Worldwide.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen is considered so significant that it is considered to be as important as Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, the United States Bill of Rights and inspired in large part the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

That I suggest is a fairly important legacy and it is rather smug to sit here and think that an Englishmen shaped the American Revolution and the Constitution of the USA except of course we now have Donald Trump and poor Thomas Paine in his grave somewhere in the state of New York is probably on a permanent Hotpoint spin-cycle

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East Anglia – Anglo Saxons and East is East

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Over time I calculate that I have visited forty-seven of the forty-eight traditional (ceremonial)  English Counties (often for pleasure but sometimes for work) but I am fairly certain that I have never visited the County of Suffolk and my travelling companion was rather astonished to hear this admission and saw it now as his personal responsibility to fill this glaring geographical gap in my UK travels.

We drove south almost as far as Essex and the plan was to start at Sutto Hoo and then work our way back north.

I don’t want to be accused of exaggeration but Sutton Hoo is perhaps the most important archeological site in the whole of England – an Anglo Saxon burial ship for King Rædwald of East Anglia who was in his day the most powerful chieftain/King in all of the South-East of England.

It is a great Indiana Jones/Howard Carter sort of story.  The initial excavation in 1939 was privately sponsored by the landowner Edith Pretty and carried out by a local freelance archeologist called Basil Brown and a couple of estate workers who could be spared for the task.  Unsurprisingly when the significance of the find became apparent national experts took over.

Sutton Hoo Face Mask

The most significant artefacts from the burial site are those found in the burial chamber in the centre of the ship, including a suite of metalwork dress fittings in gold and gems, a ceremonial helmet, shield and sword, a lyre, and many pieces of silver plate from Byzantium.

I was pleased to visit but I have to say that the story is a whole lot more interesting than the site.

There is a pleasant walk through the gentle Suffolk countryside to the site of the excavation but the reality is that there is very little to see except for seventeen burial mounds which look rather like giant mole hills.  This is a place that requires some considerable imagination to appreciate it and it really doesn’t take long to view.  The point I suppose is this, some places we visit to spend time and see things, a museum for example but some places we visit simply for the significance of the place and the Sutton Hoo burial mounds fall firmly into the latter category.

There is an interesting exhibition hall and interpretation centre but there are no original artefacts on display because these are all in the British Museum because although it was decreed that the treasure belonged to Edith Pretty she promptly presented it all to the nation which was at the time the largest gift made to the British Museum by a living donor.

Suton Hoo Guided Tour

It seemed somehow that we should be staying longer in such a significant place but two hours was quite enough and so just after midday we began the drive back towards Norfolk and Great Yarmouth.

More or less following the coast road we stopped first at the seaside town of Aldeburgh famous mostly for being the home of composer Benjamin Britten and which is a genteel sort of place where people of a certain age (my age, I confess) visit to walk along the pebble beach and pass judgment on the scallop sculpture which seems to be the most controversial thing about Aldeburgh (half the town love it, the other half hate it) and later find a tea shop for a cucumber sandwich and a slice of Victoria Sponge cake.

Aldeburgh Suffolk Beach Scallop Sculpture

I rather liked the sculpture but we didn’t stop for cake and moved on intsead to nearby Southwold.  Southwold is ridiculously picturesque and quintessentially English, a town of Tudor houses and thatched roofs, so English that it is high on the list of filming locations for English film and television.

The fictional Southwold Estate, seat of Earls of Southwold, is the country estate of the family of Lady Marjorie Bellamy in the drama Upstairs, Downstairs and the town and its vicinity has been used as the setting for numerous films and television programmes including Iris about the life of Iris Murdoch starring Dame Judy Dench,  Drowning by Numbers by Peter Greenaway, Kavanagh QC starring John Thaw, East of Ipswich by Michael Palin, Little Britain with Matt Lucas and David Walliam, a 1969 version of David Copperfield and the BBC children’s series Grandpa in My Pocket.

Southwold Suffolk Beach Huts

There isn’t much else to say about Southwold except that George Orwell once lived there and so after only a short stop and a drive around the busy streets we continued our drive planning to stop next at the Suffolk port town of Lowestoft.

I didn’t find Lowestoft that thrilling I have to confess, it looked much like Grimsby to me where I live, a run-down sort of a place urgently in need of some investment and a make-over but there was one interesting place to visit while we here – Ness Point, the most easterly place in the British Isles.

For such a significant place I would have expected it to be something special, a bit like Four Corners in the USA but not a bit of it.  Rather like Sutton Hoo, I thought there should be more.  There is no visitor centre, no souvenir shop and it is difficult to find located as it is on the edge of an industrial estate and close to a sewage treatment works and a massive wind turbine called Goliath (it was once the biggest in England).  There is only a circular direction marker known as Euroscope, marking locations in other countries and how far away they are.  Rather like Sutton Hoo I just enjoyed being there.  I felt like an explorer about to set sail.

Goliath wind turbine Ness Point Lowestoft

I was reminded that a couple of years ago I was at the most Westerly point in the British Isles on the Dingle Peninsular in Southern Ireland where we were staring out at two thousand miles of water and next stop Canada and the USA.

The ‘Visit Lowestoft’ web site proclaims that, No trip to Lowestoft is complete without a visit to Ness Point, the most easterly spot in the United Kingdom”  As far as I could see this is about the only reason to visit Lowestoft so with nothing to detain us longer we headed directly back now to Great Yarmouth and the Cherry Tree Holiday Home Park where we squandered the rest of the day in the unexpected evening sunshine.

I liked Suffolk but I have to say that I won’t be rushing back and this probably explains why it has taken me over sixty years to go there in the first place.

Ness Point Lowestoft Suffolk

East Anglia, Great Yarmouth and Not Many Holiday Memories

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The following morning the weather was surprisingly spectacular for mid May with a big burning sun in the sky and my plan was to see more of Norfolk and to stir up some dormant memories.

We started with the town of Great Yarmouth and I have to report that as we entered the town I didn’t even feel a twitch of nostalgia and I have concluded since that Great Yarmouth was probably not on my Dad’s holiday itinerary most likely because there were amusements and attractions and involved handing over cash.

My dad wasn’t mean it was just that he was careful with money and he wasn’t going to waste it in penny arcades when we could all visit a church for free.

I confess that I have inherited this from him and I too will go to great lengths to avoid such places, those that children are drawn to like bees to nectar but which I cannot wait to pass through as quickly as I possibly can. I especially dislike those pointless children’s rides that do nothing in particular and cost a disproportionate amount of money to the pleasure they seem to provide. I hate them outside supermarkets and in shopping malls and if I were Prime Minister the first thing that I would do is pass a law to make them illegal.

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We began the visit at the site of the old docks where there is a National Trust Museum called the Elizabethan House on what is now called the ‘Historic South Quay’ a name change that is representative of the lengths towns and cities will go to these days to make them sound more interesting and it seems to work because adding the description historic or quarter to a previously run-down area seems to successfully drag the visitors in.

Anyway, it was quite a good museum, quite small really with rooms restored to show how people lived in two important historic times – the Stuarts and the Victorians. It didn’t take long to walk around and I am glad that I didn’t have to pay to go in on account of the fact that my pal is a member of the National Trust and he sneaked me in using his wife’s membership card.

The best feature in the house was the conspiracy room where it is alleged that during the English Civil War the leaders of the Parliamentarians, including Oliver Cromwell himself, met one day and agreed on regicide and pre-determined the fate of King Charles I and there is even a copy of a signed document to prove it.

Across the road from the Museum was a fishing boat museum with free entry, my dad would have liked that and so did I so we made our way to the gang plank entry.

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This was the Lydia Eva the last working steam drifter that is seaworthy and working out of Great Yarmouth.  Now a tourist attraction, not a working boat.  A drifter was a fishing boat that steamed out to the fishing grounds and then turned off the diesel engine, lofted a sail and simply drifted through the a shoal of silver darlings and scooped them up. Simple. Eighty years ago it used to fish for herring in the North Sea but without modern day regulations and quotas and massive over-fishing the Lydia Eva and a fleet of similar boats the fishing industry in Great Yarmouth shot itself in both feet and within just a few years these efficient trawlers had landed so much herring, it is estimated at two million fish a year, that there was simply none left.

It is a similar story to the town where I live, the once great fishing port of Grimsby which was once recognised as the largest and busiest fishing port in the world. The wealth and population growth of the town was also based on the North Sea herring fishery but this collapsed in the middle of the twentieth century and so the ships diversified to distant water grounds fishing targeting instead for cod in the seas around Iceland.  The concessions that Britain made to Iceland as a result of the Cod Wars eventually put these fishing grounds off limit destroyed the fishing industry in the town.  To this day the people of Grimsby don’t particularly care for cod and have a preference for haddock which they consider to be a superior fish.

Large Cod

Consequently the docks are a rather sad and forlorn place now, abandoned and decrepit, as though everyone left the place one afternoon and left it in a time warp of crumbling buildings, pot holed roads, streets of empty houses, redundant warehouses and a giant ice making factory which is now a listed building that no one cares for as it is slowly demolished by the passing of time

It is a sad story and it is said that many men who survived perishing in a watery grave at sea came home without jobs and drowned instead in beer.

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Anyway, back to Great Yarmouth.  Today the Lydia Eva wasn’t at all busy so I was fortunate enough to enjoy a personal guided tour by an ex-fisherman and sailing enthusiast called Malcolm who escorted me around the ship and introduced me to every single rivet in the boat. It was a very fine vessel, sleek and elegant and with more curves than Marilyn Monroe. It was so good that although it was a free visit when I left I felt compelled to leave a contribution.

We had almost finished with Great Yarmouth now and had an appointment in the nearby city of Norwich but there was an hour or so to spare so we found a pub called ‘Allen’s Bar’ which was run not by Allen but by a man called Gareth who just happened to originate from a town quite close to the birthplace of my Welsh pal so we spent an easy hour down memory lane before moving on.

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East Anglia, Holiday Memories

A year ago my pal introduced me to the experience of modern caravanning.

I took quite a lot of persuading.  I stayed in a caravan in about 1970 and I said that I would never ever to do it again.  I have consistently maintained that I just do not understand caravanning at all or why people subject themselves to the misery of a holiday in a tin box with no running water, chemical toilets and fold away beds, there is no pleasure in it whatsoever.

To be fair I suppose it was good fun when I was a ten-year-old child but I remember thinking that I never really wanted to do it ever again.  Caravans as I remember them simply had no temperature control, they were hot and stuffy if the sun shone (so that wasn’t too much of a problem in England, obviously) and they were cold and miserable when it rained, which I seem to remember was most of the time.  So they were either pizza oven hot in the day or Arctic freezer cold at night.

I am pleased to be able to report that modern caravans are much improved and imagine my shock then when I tell you that I was so impressed with our holiday caravan accommodation because it had all of the facilities of a modern home with central heating, running water, a bathroom, electricity and a fully equipped kitchen.

A year ago my pal took me to a caravan park in Borth in Mid-Wales and I agreed to go with him because I remembered going there on family holidays fifty years ago when I was about ten years old.

I was delighted to discover that this place was indeed a part of my never-to-be-forgotten childhood and somewhere that I had spent a week or two with my family.

As I get older I appreciate more and more what my parents did for me.  In Wales, in Borth they took us to the seaside for a holiday in a tiny caravan and I can only imagine that they hated it, it must, after all, have been mind-numbingly boring, spending endless hours in a biscuit tin with only the popping of the gas lamp and the smell of calor gas for evening entertainment, especially when it was raining.

This year he persuaded me to go again, not to Borth in Wales this time but to East Anglia and to Norfolk where I also remembered going on family holidays fifty years ago.

We set off early on a Monday morning and after stopping for breakfast in Kings Lynn made our way directly to the North Sea Coast of Norfolk and the small seaside village of Walcott-on-Sea.

The memories returned as soon as we arrived.  They stuck to me like Velcro, so sticky that I had to brush them away like cobwebs from my face.

Seaview Crescent 1

We found it straight away – Seaview Crescent – it was a crescent sure enough and every year that we went there were a few cottages missing as they had fallen over the cliff into the sea during the winter storms.  Luckily ours, which was owned by a man called Mr Bean (he was an old man and dad used to call him Mr Has-Been – well, he thought it was funny) was furthest away from the cliff edge so each year before we left mum and dad could always book a week there the following year with some degree of confidence that it would still be there and they wouldn’t lose their deposit.

I liked it there, we slept on blue blow up li-lo beds in the sun room as the wind whistled around the gables at night, there was a big open green space which was safe so long as you didn’t go near the edge and fall over the cliff, where we played football and cricket and flew cheap plastic kites that raced against the clouds in the North Sea wind.

An interesting fact about Walcott is that this is the only place in Norfolk where the road runs adjacent to the sea and it is possible to stop the car and look out over the sea defenses that were put in place after the great flood of 1953 that washed half of the village away and out to sea.  They are not especially attractive it has to be said, a great sweeping landscape of Soviet style concrete but the North Sea can be harsh so the defences have to be strong!

I remembered this place immediately and after we had stopped for a while we carried on to the nearby village of Happisburgh (pronounced locally as Haysborough).

My sister Lindsay had challenged me to find a flint and cob built church where we had had our picture taken in about 1965 or thereabouts and I wasn’t confident about this because there are over three hundred churches in Norfolk but like Indiana Jones or Howard Carter I found it straight away and some more memories washed over me like North Sea surf in a storm.

It had been a good day so far and it got even better when we arrived at Cherry Tree Holiday Park just a couple of miles or so outside of Great Yarmouth because we had been allocated a Gold Star Superior holiday home and after we had moved in and settled down we congratulated each other on our extreme good fortune and enjoyed a first evening in the late sunshine in Norfolk.

Hull, UK City of Culture – Slave Trade, Fishing and (redundant) Dock Yards

“God Almighty has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners” – William Wilberforce ( A great man of Hull)

After the short detour I considered another, to see the statue of the poet and novelist Philip Larkin, a former resident of Hull, but it was back the way that I had walked already so I ruled it out and continued to the Museum Quarter.

There is a Philip Larkin walking tour of the City but I skipped that as well and left it for another day and another blog post!

I had been to the Museum Quarter before, to the Street Life Museum and the History Museum so I bypassed these and went first to the small independent Fishing and Trawler Visitor Centre in an old ramshackle dockside warehouse.  A  wonderfully eclectic place, the sort of museum that rejects no exhibits, finds a place for everything and piles them up in random order all over the place, a sort of alternative to the minimalist National Gallery of London or the Uffizi Gallery of Florence.

It was an entertaining visit, run by volunteer ex-fishermen oozing with enthusiasm, one of those places where, if you show the slightest dull glimmer of interest, the volunteers will latch on and beat you into submission with stories of the fishing industry and life at sea.

I liked this place, I liked the bric-a-brac exhibits, the scrapbook newspaper cuttings and the detailed models of the old Hull fishing docks (now sadly a shopping mall).

I told them that I was a visitor from Grimsby which claims to have once been the biggest fishing port in the World and this immediately presented a challenge to their bragging rights.  They were keen to point out that Grimsby may have been a big port but Hull had much bigger trawlers on account of the larger capacity of its docks.  Not being a genuine Grimbarian I was careful not to take sides in this potentially dangerous debate.

The Visitor Centre is close to the banks of the River Hull and close by is the trawler Arctic Corsair one of the last side-winder fishing boats to operate out of Hull before the Cod Wars with Iceland and the ignominious collapse of the UK fishing industry.

It is a big ship, about twice the size of the Ross Tiger museum ship in Grimsby but I didn’t go on the guided tour today and thought that I might leave that for a future visit as well.

Instead I went to the William Wilberforce Museum which I had missed previously when I was with the grandchildren because I wasn’t certain that they would care that much for a museum about slavery or that it would hold their attention for very long.

William Wilberforce is probably the most famous son of Hull.  He began his political career in 1780 and dedicated almost all of his life to the campaign to abolish the slave trade.

Most countries have something ‘not to be proud of’ (USA and the bullying of the Native Americans, most of Central Europe and the treatment of the Jews under the Nazis, Australia and the indigenous Aborigines and so on and so on) and in the case of Great Britain the African slave trade is right there at the top.

Thousands of Africans were transported to the colonies in the West Indies (Caribbean if you prefer) and to the emerging southern states of the USA.  In a way it might be argued that Great Britain was responsible for the American Civil War.

For Wilberforce, abolition became his obsession and life’s work.  In 1833 the British Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act and three days later the exhausted Wilberforce passed away.

It is a good museum housed in Wilberforce’s actual birthplace and other adjacent Georgian buildings which by pure chance survived the German bombing raids of World-War-Two whilst everything around them was destroyed.

I had a few minutes to spare now so I walked around the Mandela gardens where I came across an unlikely statue of Mahatma Ghandi dedicated to achieving solutions to difficult World problems through peace and then I spent a final thirty minutes in the Museum of Street Life.

I had missed quite a lot here on my first visit as my grandchildren charged about like a Barbarian Army entering Rome.  My most noticeable ‘miss’ was a bust of the aviator Amy Johnson who in 1930 was the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia.

I knew that already but what I didn’t know is that she was born in Hull in 1903.

I should do more travelling in England and the UK and I am sure that I will when I grow tired of flying to Europe and visiting the Continent.  I have visited the obvious places like Oxford and Cambridge, York, Stratford-upon-Avon (I even lived there for a while) and Chester, Edinburgh and Belfast but I have never been to Bristol or Bath and never previously to Hull but if anyone asks me for a recommendation right now I point out directions to the River Humber and the A63.

I finished my visit by strolling along the banks of the River Hull, a dirty muddy estuary the colour of milk chocolate with decaying dockside buildings and wharfs which was once a busy fishing port but which now is gradually breaking down into an open-air museum of crumbling brickwork, twisted metal and sagging piers with a thousand untold stories to tell.

I like Hull and look forward already to my next visit.

Want to know more about HULL, UK City of Culture 2017? Then visit…

https://www.hull2017.co.uk/

Hull, UK City of Culture – Kings, Queens, Churches, Public Conveniences and Statues

“... Hull has its own sudden elegancies” – Philip Larkin

In a previous post I told you about my visit to the Museums of Hull and how I have recently become rather a fan of the 2017 United Kingdom City of Culture –  such a fan in fact that I quickly made a return visit to see some of the things that I had missed.

I had missed quite a lot as it happens because on the first visit I was accompanied by my three young grandchildren and as this is rather like herding cats my full attention was not always on the City or its Museums.

I began the visit in the centre of the city in Queen Victoria Square, flanked on all sides by grand Civic buildings and in the centre a grand statue of the stoic figure of Queen Victoria rather like those that I had seen previously in Birmingham and Belfast.

This prompted me to find out how far the name Hull has spread throughout the World because this is one of my measures on just how important a place is.  Well, there is a Hull in Quebec in Canada and ten in the USA, in Florida, Georgia,  Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Texas, West Virginia and two in Wisconsin which must be rather confusing especially as they seem to share the same ZIP code.  Interesting that only one of these is on the coast and could have something to do with fishing and the sea.

This is the Weeping Window of Poppies, part of the programme for the First World War Centenary Commemoration…

Hull as it happens turns out to be  a city of statues but I hadn’t walked all this way to see Queen Victoria (I have seen her before) but to visit something below the ground because down a flight of well-worn stone steps beneath the statue is a cool underground world that evokes a more relaxed and elegant time. The public toilets, built in 1923 with tall arch-backed urinals and tiled old-fashioned cubicles it is a tourist attraction in its own right.

Back in Victorian and Edwardian days the British were always rather coy about natural bodily functions and had a preference for building public conveniences out of sight and underground so they didn’t cause offence.  This was in stark contrast to the French of course who had the streets of Paris cluttered up with the totally indiscreet pissoirs!

I don’t make a habit of hanging around public toilets let me make it clear but I had to wait a few minutes for everyone to leave before I could get this picture and I have photo-shopped out the contraceptive machine as not being historically accurate.

Back at street level I visited the Maritime Museum. Formerly the Town Docks offices, the impressive building houses a fine collection of paintings, displays and models as well as whaling, fishing and trawling exhibits. It was Saturday morning and it was quite busy and I was a bit disappointed by the museum because model boats don’t especially thrill me so I didn’t stay long and returned to the City streets and made my way to the Old Town and the Museum Quarter.  I will go back one day when it isn’t so busy.

On the way I took a minor detour to see the statue of Andrew Marvell, born near Hull in 1621,  a seventeenth century English metaphysical poet, satirist and politician (all round clever-dick) who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1659 and 1678 during both the Commonwealth and the Restoration and who was a friend and colleague of the more famous poet John Milton.

Incidentally Marvell  gave his name to the Marvell Press, which published the more recent famous poet of Hull, Philip Larkin who has his own statue at the City Railway Station.

Close to the statue of Marvell is the Holy Trinity Church which along with a number of others claims to be the largest Parish Church in England.  I have heard this before and lots of places can make this claim because they choose whichever criteria supports their case – tallest, longest, widest or whatever and this makes every competing claim a valid one and satisfies local bragging rights.

Hull Holy Trinity Church basis its claim on the fact that it is the largest parish church in England by floor area.  In May 2017 it will be upgraded to the status of Minster.

I couldn’t get a good picture of the church so I settled for this mirror image in a glass fronted office block opposite…

Just a short walk from the soon to be Minster is the rather grand gilded equestrian statue of another English Monarch – King William III which wouldn’t look out of place in Westminster.  During the reign of the King James, the merchants of Hull were victimised by the Catholic King as they refused to bow to his will to fiddle elections in favour of Catholics (History teaches us everything but no one learns – Trump, Erdogan, Putin etc.) and were so relieved when he was overthrown in 1688 that the erected a statue in honour of their Protestant Saviour, King Billy.

Beneath the statue is a historic part of Victorian Hull that cannot presently be visited because the underground toilets have been closed since the 1990s because of structural damage to the walls and safety concerns because of their location in the middle of a busy road. Despite the closure, thanks to their ornate tile work and a number of glass-panelled cisterns, the toilets are protected under planning law and officially recognised for their historic importance as a listed building.

Rather a shame I thought, I would have liked to have seen those.

Want to know more about HULL, UK City of Culture 2017? Then visit…

https://www.hull2017.co.uk/