With its colourful marina, charming Old Town, foodie restaurants and low-cost housing, this East Riding city has a great deal going for it. Words: Lesley Gillilan
The people of Kingston upon Hull are feeling rather pleased with themselves, and with good reason. Hull (to use its more familiar name) is the UK’s next City of Culture, and though it doesn’t take up the mantle until 2017, the place oozes confidence and ambition. Its maritime centre is in the throes of an exciting regeneration. And down on the waterfront, with its foodie restaurants, colourful marina and freshly minted Creative Quarter, it’s hard to believe that Hull was once named the worst place to live in Britain.
At the point where the vast Humber Estuary meets the River Hull, the East Riding city is best known for its views of the iconic Humber Bridge and its spectacular harbour aquarium, The Deep. Less well-known is its charming Old Town: a warren of winding streets and passages with a history to rival York’s (originally a walled town, it was named Kings-town upon Hull, after Edward I established the port here in 1299). Highlights of an Old Town tour might include its Georgian High Street, quirky Land of Green Ginger Street, the ornate Guildhall, a smattering of Flemish-style architecture, and a number of unusual cream telephone boxes (unique to Hull).
Hull’s ‘proud Victorian buildings and independent spirit’ was part of what attracted Yorkshire-born actor Andrew Pearson to the city when he moved from London to Hull 10 years ago. Low-cost property was also part of his thinking (the sale of a small flat in Shepherd’s Bush bought him a five-bedroom house in Hull); as was the location – ‘It’s a very open city, full of light, and close to the countryside’ – but the move was largely about lifestyle and career. ‘I was ready for a change and I recognised Hull as a great place to start a creative enterprise.’
Andrew has since co-founded the city’s award-winning Ensemble 52 theatre company, as well as a performance venue, Fruit, and the Heads Up Festival. Involved in many aspects of the city’s arts provision (including the City of Culture bid), he is excited about its potential. ‘Hull is not in the habit of blowing its own trumpet but there’s a huge amount of optimism,’ he says. ‘It still has a bit of an image problem, but people who come here for the first time, tend to leave with an incredibly positive impression. Hull’s future is very bright.’
WHERE TO BUY
On the quays and marinas of the Humber waterfront, or tucked down narrow streets of the Old Town, the city offers a lively mix of Georgian merchant houses, converted maritime buildings, and shiny new apartments. Prices are affordable: a two-bedroom flat in the former offices of a steamship company is selling at £124,950. The area known as ‘The Avenues’ offers leafy streets of roomy Victorian and Edwardian houses, close to shops and bars on lively Princes Avenue; expect to pay between £210,000 to £320,000 for a five- or six-bedroom house on Victoria, Westbourne or Park Avenue. Outside the city, Cottingham (on the western edge of Hull) or the historic market town of Beverley (to the north) are an easy commute.
Check out the Hull Truck Theatre, the renowned Ferens Gallery, the Museums Quarter (six of them, all free, including the Wilberforce and the Streetlife museums) and the boho Fruit Market (the hub of Hull’s emerging Creative Quarter). The city has good cycle paths, great live music venues, and lots of green space – central Queen’s Gardens is to have a new performance area for 2017. There are quaint pubs in the Old Town (Ye Olde Black Boy is the oldest), and contemporary restaurants by the marina (such as the award-winning 1884 Dockside Kitchen). Annual events include the Freedom Festival in September and Hull Fair in October (one of the largest travelling funfairs in Europe). For more information, see visithullandeastyorkshire.com
JOBS & COMMUTING
Built on whaling, fishing and shipping, modern Hull’s economy is sustained by its busy cargo and ferry port, Hull University (which caters for around 17,0000 students) and a variety of industries, including healthcare, digital enterprises and the arts. The new Siemens’ wind turbine factory at Green Port Hull is a major boost to the job market. London by rail takes two and a half hours (to King’s Cross with Hull Trains) or three and half hours by road (via the M1). Leeds and York are just over an hour away. P&O Ferries operates services from Hull to Zeebrugge and Rotterdam. The closest airport is Humberside.
Among Hull’s secondary schools, Trinity House, close to the centre, Sirius Academy, to west of the city, and the Church of England’s Sentamu Academy, to the east, are all rated Good by Ofsted.
The city is haunted by old reputations: in 2003, the first edition of controversial book Crap Towns named Hull as the worst of the 50 ‘worst places to live in the UK’. Ten years later, co-editor Sam Jordison admitted to eating his words. ‘Hull, it turns out, has got a great deal going for it,’ he writes in the book’s website blog. ‘Poetry, community, history… Who knew?’ In 2013’s Crap Towns Returns, Hull didn’t even make the top 50.
Leading up to its City of Culture year, Hull is powering ahead with a £25-million facelift that aims to transform the centre and boost tourism. Art installations, atmospheric lighting, pedestrian streets and the refurbishment of the area around Humber Dock Street and the Fruit Market Creative Quarter are all part of what the city describes as ‘the largest improvement project in its history’.
PAY A VISIT
Tickton Grange ticktongrange.co.uk
On the edge of the Yorkshire Wolds, this family-run, country-house hotel is 30 minutes from Hull city centre, and a short hop from the town of Beverley. Bespoke rooms range from jazzed-up Georgian (in the main house) to rustic modern (in a converted granary in the grounds). Hang out in the gardens or in a fireside chair in the library-like lounge bar. The hotel’s own Hide Restaurant serves imaginative dishes prepared with local ingredients. From £120 a night.
What Andrew likes about… Hull
A favourite restaurant and bar is Henry Yeast & Son henryyeast.com in The Avenues district. ‘It’s a hidden gem, with great food and a huge selection of Belgian beers – a slice of the Low Countries comes to Hull.’
Built in 1897, by clothier Joseph Hepworth, the Hepworth Arcade is a ‘fabulous’ Victorian shopping arcade in the heart of the city. ‘It’s home to a high-end audio shop, gallery, the city’s coolest second-hand clothes shop and Dinsdale’s, the greatest joke shop in the world. I’m compelled to walk through it every time I pass.’
Opened in 1887, to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, East Park is one of the city’s many public open spaces. ‘A great place to hang out with 130 acres of parkland, a zoo, a Victorian waterslide and the Pavilion Café.’
CAN YOU AFFORD IT?
East Riding: £151,154
Average house prices: [February 2014]. Source: Zoopla
Famous Hullensians include abolitionist William Wilberforce, aviation pioneer Amy Johnson, poets Stevie Smith and Philip Larkin, and actors Tom Courtenay, Maureen Lipman and Reece Shearsmith.