Hull: A pint of culture

We huddle around the table in the corner, clasping tankards, our heads leaning in to hear one another over the cacophony of revellers. Around us are dark, oak-panelled walls, illuminated by the glow of the inglenook fireplace.

By Emily Rose Mawson
Published 6 May 2014, 17:12 BST, Updated 1 Jul 2021, 11:24 BST

It could be 1642, and we could be the plotters who allegedly met here in Hull's Ye Olde White Harte to trigger the start of hostilities leading to the Civil War.

"Hull has always had a radical edge, with ideas imported from Europe," says heritage guide Paul Schofield. "According to tradition, officials met in Ye Olde White Harte when it was still a private property to decide to deny King Charles entry to the city."

I laugh when he adds that several royal statues in the city preside over public toilets — a warning to monarchs to remember their place?

But we're in the UK City of Culture 2017 on innocent business: a cultural pub-crawl. Outside the Grade II-listed pub, which is one of around 20 historic ale houses in the Old Town, the afternoon sun is shining on Georgian facades: a realm of quirky street names, award-winning museums and bona fide character.

On Posterngate, we follow a trail of herring (among 41 pieces of life-size sculpture on the 'Seven Seas Fish Trail', inspired by Hull's fishing heritage), and we detour along Land of Green Ginger to see the world's smallest window, on the 17th-century The George Hotel – less than an inch wide. If the gatekeeper who once looked out from it were to peep out today, he'd see a quieter place. The cobbled pavement is silent on Hull's oldest street, High Street, running along the River Hull where the medieval port used to be. The hustle and bustle of sailors from the Continent has disappeared — it was devastated during the Second World War — but the sights and sounds seem to linger in the remaining brick warehouses.

Schofield tells me that up the road, the Streetlife Museum of Transport — one of four museums in the award-winning, free-entry Museums Quarter — recreates times-gone-by. We gallop towards it on a simulated carriage ride before thirst beckons: we make for Ye Olde Black Boy, one of the oldest pubs in the city, dating from the 1720s.

"Hull has always had a wonderful collection of pubs," says Schofield, as we sample a pint from the local Great Newsome Brewery — one of six real ales on tap this evening, "mainly because of it being a major port."

As the light begins to fade, we meander along the River Hull — usually brown with silt but today, golden. We pass the last of the city's fishing vessels, the 1960s Arctic Corsair, and ahead of us a synchronicity of fin-shaped architecture is illuminated: the swing bridge connecting the east and west banks, and The Deep aquarium.

There's a stiff breeze sweeping in across the marina. It carries a sense of promise; a cosmopolitanism that goes with being in a city that's the last stop before the Continent. The broad River Humber beyond is rippling in waves.

I look up at the hopeful expressions of a family from northern Europe en route to the New World in the late 19th century, sculpted on the quayside for eternity.

And I remember a line from Robinson Crusoe, as he set sail: "Had I now had the sense to have gone back to Hull, and have gone home, I had been happy." Which is certainly how I feel as we visit one more pub for one more pint.

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