Correctly termed Kingston-upon-Hull, this city once stood third among England's many seaports. The big river here is the Humber, which opens up to the Hull waterfront North Sea the same way the Delaware opens to the Atlantic. The Hull is the small river which empties into the Humber. There's a graceful modern bridge which crosses the Humber south to Lincolnshire, and large piers and shipping buildings characterize a typical waterfront, similar to many Atlantic ports in the U.S. which reached their heyday in the nineteenth century. The most flamboyant architecture -- the Guildhall -- features a massive sculpture of Queen Boadicea, we think, cresting the waves in her chariot. Or perhaps it's mythical Britannia. There's also a gigantic monument, paid for by public subscription, topped by a statue of Wilberforce, a local boy who abolished Negro slavery in Britain on August 1, 1834. And of course there's the huge statue and fountain of Queen Victoria in the central square.
Hull kept reminding us of those Atlantic seaports in the U.S., with a big commercial center near the waterfront, no doubt once filled with the offices of shippers and middlemen and customs collectors and insurers and of course banks to keep the whole thing liquid. One of the old piers has been England's smallest window (slit) converted into a nifty glass and steel shopping mall, with a central atrium filled with mirrored escalators and overstuffed teddy bears hanging from parachutes and hot air baloons. On the top floor, near the amusements and cheaper stores, we found a cafe with a simple menu: fish and chips; beans on toast; sausage on toast; chips and gravy; or bacon sandwich. You could also get a chip butty, which is a hamburger roll filled with fries. Never let it be said that the English go in for fancy dining!
There were plenty of waterfront pubs and a street full of slightly sleazy sailors' dives just to complete the picture. Most English towns have a problem with downtown traffic flow, because the street plans are hundreds of years old, back in the times when oxcarts and horse-drawn wagons brought goods and shoppers to market. So many towns have restricted downtown traffic and made some streets into pedestrian walkways. Even London has a five-pound congestion charge, which works pretty well. Of course central London is still overpowered by buses, taxicabs and delivery vans! George Eliot, that is
We were rather hoping to be able to spend more time in Hull, because we have a parcel of nineteenth-century ancestors who hailed from farming country only about five miles west of town. But somewhat surprisingly, Hull, which is clearly the major city of the East Ridings, was not chosen as the county seat when Yorkshire was split up in the 1970s. That honor went to Beverley, a much smaller market town about twenty miles to the north.
So after receiving this disappointing news from the Hull City archivists, we decided to stroll through a different set of streets on the way back to the railroad station, and were rewarded with two more sightseeing treats. The first was England's smallest window. It is a narrow piece of glass set in a slit between two slabs of stone. The building was once the coach house for a fancy inn, and the porter would sit inside in inclement weather, watching through the tiny peephole to open the door when a coach and four arrived.
The second sight was a pub called The George. The pub sign is a treat for any English Lit major: George Eliot herself gazes down at passers-by.