Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Moving Tale From Hull



My collection of old postcards has been built on the principles of serendipity : there is no great collecting theme nor is there a geographic concentration. I am as happy with a picture postcard of New York as with one of old York. Edwardian chorus girls and late Victorian statesman nestle side by side in my collection (as they probably did in real life). If there is a common factor it tends to be that the cards are scruffy, dog-eared and cheap. Postcards are fantastic time capsules : the results of a great social experiment which caused ordinary people to choose a contemporary view and write a few words of greeting on the reverse side. I would happily take over the Great Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern and pin up thousands of vintage postcards on the walls, some picture side up, some message side up. For me they would say so much, tell so many stories, send thoughts in so many diverse directions. As the directors of the Tate Modern have not yet invited me to put on such an exhibition, I am reduced to regularly featuring random cards here on News From Nowhere.

My random card on this occasion shows Victoria Square in the East Yorkshire city of Hull. The magnificent building in the centre of the view was (when the photograph was taken in the first decade of the twentieth century) the headquarters of the Hull Dock Company. Now it is the home of the Hull Maritime Museum which, I regret to say, I have never visited. Once the sun comes out, I am determined to visit Hull and make up for this cultural shortfall.

The splendid monument that can be seen on the right of the postcard is the 102 foot high Wilberforce Monument which was built in memory of Hull's most famous son, the anti-slavery campaigner, William Wilberforce. Sadly, in the 1930s, some short-sighted local Councillors decided that the monument got in the way of the tram-lines and it was moved - millstone grit block by millstone grit block - to some ornamental gardens nearby.

Harry Miller, the sender of the card, was staying at the Imperial Hotel in Hull in 1908, but I can find no record of such a hotel today. Rather strangely, however, a company - the Imperial Hotel Hull Co - does exists with registered offices in London. It is listed as a property development company. So the card provides a somewhat moving little story : the Dock Offices have become a museum, the Wilberforce Monument has been moved to a park, and the Imperial Hotel has moved to a firm of Chartered Accountants in London.

12 comments:

  1. Alan: Shame on you for not having visited the maritime museum. I trust you will remedy this ASAP.

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  2. You are giving me a new respect and love for postcards. I have started seeing them in an entirely different way.

    I think your idea for an exhibit is a wonderful one!

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  3. I love flicking through the postcard boxes in a local 'bits and bobs' shop. As you say, little bits of history, especially as people don't always send them now.

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  4. What Is It About The Sea? I Always Feel That The Nearer The Coast, The Mightier & Solidier The Buildings Become ...not only Hull, But Think Of The Great Liver Buildings on Merseyside.
    it's as if they were made as a barrier to The Sea.

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  5. I have a set of paternal great-great-great grandparents named Miller, who settled in Indiana from Germany.

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  6. When we were down in London over new year, I spotted a stall full of vintage postcards on Greenwich market. Normally, I would have passed by, but the interest I have found in your posts prompted me to stop and browse for quite some while. I didn't buy because they were rather pricey, but I had fun.

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  7. Well,just let me say this to the Tate Modern -- it's their loss. Your collection is wonderful, Alan!

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  8. Great postcard and great story. Unfortunately I've never been to Hull ... it's one of those places "up north" beginning with "H" that I've never been to - Hull, Halifax, Huddersfield, Harrogate, Hartepool ... in fact I'd be hard pushed to pinpoint some of them on a map. Must seek to address this.

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  9. amazing how much things change over time...wonder if henry is one of my relatives?

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  10. There is so much more to a postcard besides the picture. I have a collection of local postcards of the Miramichi area here in New Brunswick. I like the postal cancellations and caligraphy on the old ones.

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  11. Alan, I was thinking about a future where some old gal or guy is showing his grandchildren his collection of e-mails. Dear God, what have we wrought?

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  12. Anonymous8:18 PM

    My family worked at The Imperial Hotel in Hull. It was completely demolished and replaced with Center Hotel and has since changed names again.

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