Brief history of Hull - part 2

Growth of the Port
Increasing trade on the back of the agricultural and industrial developments in Yorkshire and the East Midlands saw Hull’s development as a port accelerate in the 18th century. The first dock was opened in 1778 and others were constructed over the next 150 years. The population of the town also increased, and Hull outgrew its medieval core (now known as the Old Town) as spacious middle-class suburbs developed to the west and east of the town. The 19th century saw the establishment of industries based on processing raw materials imported through the port, such as corn milling and seed crushing.

One member of Hull’s increasingly prosperous merchant class who achieved national prominence was William Wilberforce (1759-1833). Born and educated in Hull, he was elected as MP for the town in 1780, before becoming MP for the County of York in 1784. His profound Christian faith motivated his political life and led to his becoming the leading opponent of slavery in parliament. His campaigning work contributed to the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807 and of slavery as an institution in 1833.

The late 18th century saw the rise of the whaling trade in Hull. By 1800 40% of the country’s whalers sailed from the town, and the trade brought increased prosperity to Hull until it began to decline through over-fishing in the mid 19th century.

By then, the fishing industry itself was beginning to take off in Hull. In the 1840s, the discovery of the “silver pits” – a very fish-rich part of the North Sea – led to fishermen from Devon and Kent migrating to the Humber, at first seasonally and then permanently. The introduction in the late 19th century of new fishing methods – the “trawl” – and of steam powered trawlers meant that Hull fishermen fished as far a field as Iceland and the White Sea.

Improved communications
Trade and industry in Hull were boosted by the arrival of the rail link with Leeds in 1840. Other railways followed, including the Hull and Barnsley Railway and the associated Alexandra Dock which were opened in 1885 to break the perceived local monopoly of the North Eastern Railway.

Hull was at its most prosperous in the years before the First World War. This prosperity, and the civic pride which went with it, is demonstrated by major civic buildings, such as the Guildhall (built 1904-16). Hull was granted the status of City in 1897, and the first citizen received the title of Lord Mayor in 1914.

Return to Part one (upto 1660) go to Part three (1920s to present day) or see further reading list.