Parks and Gardens

Botanic Gardens
Hull Corporation Parks and Gardens prospectus 1957 (Ref L.352.73)The Botanic Gardens significantly pre-dated Hull's first municipal park, first opening in 1812 on a site of approximately 6 acres in Linnaeus Street. The Hull born botanist P. W. Watson (1761-1830) and Adrian Hardy Haworth (1767-1833), an entomologist and botanist who attended Hull Grammar School, were involved in its initial construction.

In 1877 the gardens were removed to a 49 acre site near Spring Bank, purchased from the North Eastern Railway Company. They remained here until their closure in 1889 following financial difficulty, with Hymers College opening on the site in 1893. The curator of the gardens, James C. Niven, also lectured on Botanical Science at the Hull School of Medicine and was previously employed at Kew Gardens. He would later design the layout of Pearson Park.

East Park
Now comprising approximately 120 acres on the north side of Holderness Road, this is the largest of Hull's parks. The park was laid out both on land purchased from the Trust of Mrs Anne Watson for the sum of £117,000 and the Corporation-owned Summergangs Farm. As with West Park, the design was conceived by Borough Engineer Joseph Fox Sharpe. The official opening on 21 June 1887 coincided with Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, with a procession headed by the Police Band marching from the town centre. During the ceremony, Alderman W. F. Chapman suggested that the city's newest public space should in fact be named in honour of the Queen. However, as local historian Mary Fowler points out, a certain economy of expression prevails locally and it is often referred to simply as 'park'.

In the years preceding the First World War, the site was enlarged by several gifts of land from T.R. Ferens, including that which was utilised for the excavation of a boating lake. A watchtower from Hull Citadel was also moved close to the entrance of the Khyber Pass, and part of a tower from Cuthbert Brodrick's old Town Hall (demolished 1911) relocated to the park. The park is today an English Heritage Grade 2 listed site. This includes a rare water chute dating from 1929, designed by Messrs. Chas. Wicksteed & Co. Ltd. Latterly, the park underwent a £10.3 million refurbishment which was completed in 2008.

Pearson Park
Hull was a rapidly developing city in the mid-nineteenth century, with its population rising from 22,161 in 1801 to 239,157 in 1901. However, widening participation in global trade, coupled with cramped inner-city living conditions, left it susceptible to the spread of a number of contagious diseases. With major cholera outbreaks in 1832 and 1849, issues surrounding sanitation, public health and town improvements figured prominently on the agenda of politicians and journalists alike.

Following the Corporation's failed attempt to purchase land at the former site of the Citadel, the attendant need for higher quality public amenities and open spaces was addressed by Zachariah Pearson, Lord Mayor and highly successful shipbuilder. In 1860, at a cost of £7400, Pearson purchased and presented to the Board of Health 27 acres of land, with a further 10 acres around its perimeter to be retained for private development. Thus, located between the Beverley Road and Prince's Avenue, Hull's first public park, a 'People's Park', came to fruition.

Notably, a top floor flat at 32 Pearson Park was home to Philip Larkin, University librarian and poet, from 1956 to 1974. It was during this eighteen year period that his poetic output was at perhaps its most prolific. Larkin would write most of The Whitsun Weddings and all of High Windows whilst working from this address.

Pickering Park Gates (Ref C DMX.23.12)Pickering Park
The 50 acre Pickering Park in Hessle Road was presented to the corporation by Christopher Pickering, opening on 13 July 1911. Having co-founded Pickering and Haldane's Steam Trawling Co., Pickering would go on to make numerous charitable donations to the people of Hull.

The Museum of Fisheries and Shipping opened in Pickering Park in 1912 after Thomas Sheppard had obtained a building in Pickering Park from a local trawler owner. It later moved to the Town Docks Museum building in 1974, where it is now known as the Maritime Museum.

Queen's Gardens
Hull Corporation purchased Queen’s Dock from the North Eastern Railway Company in 1930 for the sum of £117,000. The dock was subsequently filled in, with Queen’s Gardens opening on 19 September 1935. Having become an obstruction to traffic, the statue of William Wilberforce, atop a 90 foot tall doric column, was re-sited from Queen Victoria Square to its current location at the garden's eastern end. The statue was re-dedicated by Mrs Arnold Reckitt, the great-granddaughter of William Wilberforce.

Following the Second World War, it was envisioned that the gardens would form a new civic heart of the city, bordered by museums, galleries and fine municipal buildings. This scheme was presided over by Patrick Abercrombie and Edward Lutyens (Ref L.711 A), though never carried out in its entirety.

The gardens were remodelled between 1959 and 1961, with Frederick Gibberd, a prominent post-war civic designer and architect of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, appointed as consultant. Gibberd would also design the Hull College building. A plaque located close to the Mick Ronson Memorial Stage bears a quotation from Daniel Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719; 'Had I the sense to return to Hull, I had been happy'.

Opening of Queen's Gardens (Ref C DMX/39)

West Park
The land on which West Park is now situated was acquired by the Corporation from the North Eastern Railway Company in 1878 at a cost of £1400 per acre. However, a portion of this was initially let to a Mr Johnson and used as grazing pasture, bringing in a revenue of £200 per year. It was not until 1885 that the 'Western Disctrict Park', as it had been initially referred to in the minutes of the Parks (Special) Committee, was officially opened by the Mayor, A. K. Rollit. The park encompasses 31 acres and was designed by Mr Joseph Fox Sharpe, Borough Engineer, with the project providing work for 200 unemployed men.

Adjacent to the entrance gates is the Carnegie Heritage Centre, built by Joseph Hirst in 1902 as the Carnegie Free Library - the result of a £3000 donation from Andrew Carnegie, a renowned philanthropist who had acquired a vast wealth as a steel merchant. The park is today dominated by the KC Stadium, home of Hull City AFC and Hull FC. Construction began in 2001 and it remains the only major stadium in the country built in a parkland setting.

Zoological Gardens Subscribers Family Ticket 1861 (Ref: C DMM/17/1) Zoological Gardens
The Zoological Gardens, comprising about 7 acres at the northern end of Spring Bank, were opened during Hull Fair week in 1840. Both the grounds and buildings were designed by H. F. Lockwood.

In a Hull Times article of June 3 1916, Joseph Henry Hirst cites a formidable list of attractions - lions, tigers, kangaroos, polar bears, eagles, owls, monkeys and an elephant, as well as a typorama of Naples and a 15 foot long model of the Crystal Palace. The entrance fee was one shilling and the gardens were purported to be the most popular in Yorkshire. Fetes were held there regularly, including a yearly gala sponsored by Messrs Wolfenden and Melbourne, proprietors of the Queens Theatre Paragon Street (see our history of Theatres in Hull), which provided tea and entertainment for 500 of the town's oldest poor women.

Having proven to be financially unsustainable, the gardens went to public auction in 1861. Mr Henry Rivett, a hosier and outfitter of 9 Whitefriargate, purchased the trees and shrubs, gifting them to the Board of Health. A number of these were incorporated into the newly laid-out Pearson Park. The land itself was eventually purchased by the Albion Building Society, with a continuation of both Hutt Street and Peel Street built upon it.

Relevant Collections

  • Much of the material relating to parks can be found within larger collections which are searchable using our online catalogue. Relevant material includes Plans Relating to Parks, 1860-1977 (Ref C TBD) and Pictoral Record of the Transformation of Queen's Dock into Queen's Gardens, 1935 (Ref C DMX/39).
  • The Renton Heathcote collection (Ref L RH/1-3) consists of postcards largely dating back to the 20th century. Many of these depict early scenes from Hull's parks and gardens.
  • Though dating from a later period, the photographs taken by the Health Department (Ref C THD/3) offer an insight into the living conditions which typified many working class areas of Hull. Such conditions informed the debate which eventually lead to the creation of the Public Health Act 1875.
  • Other information may be found in Council Minutes [Parks and Recreation Committee (to 1898), Parks and Burial Committee (from 1899)], buildings plans and Ordnance Survey maps. These can be found in the History Centre's Searchroom.