Some time ago (around 1995) whilst searching for a telephone number of one of my sisters, I came across a puzzling entry. The sister in question has retained the family name of Gibson following a divorce - hence I was scanning the Gibson section and there it was ... Arthur Gibson, Sunnybank, Hull - what? Why would the name of a relative I had presumed dead be in the current directory? I rang the number. The voice that answered was obviously that of an elderly gentleman, which fitted, but I was still puzzled: -
Paul – Hello, Hello is that Arthur Gibson?
Arthur – Who's that? What do you want? You'll have to speak up I can't hear so well these days
Paul – It's Paul Gibson, Jack and Annie's lad, do you know them?
Arthur - Don't be daft, they're both dead - who is it you say?
Paul – I know - I'm Jack's son, are you my uncle Arthur?
Arthur – Yes, now what do you want, snooker's on telly?
Paul – I though you'd died!
Arthur – No, I'm just trying to hear the snooker, what do you want? Do you want a sub?
Paul – I'm trying to do the family history, can I come and see you?
Arthur – Don't come when snooker's on!... Buzzzzzzz...
Paul – Hello, er... - hello?
It became more than apparent that Arthur, my uncle - then one of only two living brothers of my father was definitely alive and kicking, keen on snooker and a bit deaf. I put the phone down, didn't ring my sister, and sat and wept for some time after realising someone I thought dead lived just around the corner - we were never a close family, the Gibsons.
This chance discovery in the Hull telephone directory set me back on a trail I had started years previously. My parents had died in the late 1980s under quite trying circumstances and at a time when I was very ill myself. The recovery from their loss and my illness took years and left me wanting to ask all those questions that for some reason so many of us never get round to asking whilst our parents and grandparents are still alive to answer. Where did you live before such-and-such a house? Where were we from before that? What was Granddad called? Where did you and Dad meet? - and a million others.
Due to a basic ignorance of my own family structure, English social history and the basic local resources available then in terms of primary sources for studying family history, I had got little further than birth certificates and wedding certificates for my parents; family history on the Internet was only just beginning then, and anyway - I didn't have a computer until 1998. The second chance occurrence was made either at a ‘Car Boot Sale' or an ‘Antique and Collectors Fair' I can't remember which.
A small box containing several sections of postcards of Hull and East Yorkshire from various periods over the last 80 or 90 years was on a stall, and I pulled out the ‘Hull' section and was pleased to see some cards were real photographic views of various Hull city centre streets. I was stunned to find that Hull was not the smelly, half-demolished, disjointed city, strewn with impersonal road systems that I thought it was. Stylish buildings of amazing architectural detail grandly towered over bizarrely un-populated streets. No noisy impatience, barely any vehicles at all in fact, just grand trams sailing along unhindered by today's lines of traffic, and characters proudly resting by bicycles or hand-carts. Ladies in fashions that stood them apart from the men, feminine and full of grace. Could this be the Hull my parents and their parents knew? I was determined to find our how our family fitted into these pictures. Where did we live? What was our connection with this beautiful city and the age-old question - where do I come from? From that date I have collected any and every picture of ‘Old Hull' that I can lay my hands on and now have thousands on file.
From my own recollections and family photographs, I knew I was born Paul Leslie Gibson on the 15 July 1960 at number 33 Richmond Terrace, off Waterloo Street, in Hull - up in the front bedroom of the three bedroom early Victorian terraced house my parents had occupied since the 1940s. N.B. Maps of the 1830s and 1840s show Charles Street taking shape and some years later, beyond the Cottingham Drain, the new Waterloo Street was laid out; Charles Street was developed by the Reverend Charles Jarratt - a wealthy land owner, and Waterloo Street was named in honour of the Duke of Wellington's great Victory in 1815, but not laid out until c.1852.
Memories of our house are many and varied and as I grow older they seem to come to me more than they used to, or is it that I now spend a lot of time studying the past? Anyway, my earliest memories are of sleeping in the same bedroom as my parents, after being carried up a huge staircase to bed by Mum, usually after falling asleep watching Sunday Night at the London Palladium and The Avengers, with a packet of Smith's crisps (complete with little blue bag of salt) and a bottle of Murden's Orangeade if we could afford it.
Up a smaller staircase, which grew out of the cupboard on the landing (I never could figure that out - it seemed to defy the laws of physics) and rose very sharply overhead, was the ‘attic'. This had housed chicken incubators during the war apparently (Granddad's exploits) but now housed a sort of shrine to the Beatles with a life sized poster and items of memorabilia, which would probably be worth hundreds now. A Beatles shoulder bag from B.E.A., then a popular airline, a Beatles plastic guitar and various other bits. This accounted for my first musical memory, which was hearing ‘Help' by the Beatles on a jukebox in a seaside café - probably Hornsea as that's where the Gibsons always seem to have gone for holidays, ever since holidays were invented! The sun was so bright in that memory that everything seems white or very over exposed. Needless to say the Beatles poster came down and a large picture of the Monkees went up, as they were now the ‘fave-raves' of Anne and Denise, two of my sisters. The large picture was made up of lots of chewing gum cards, which each had a section of the larger picture on the back, and the more you had the more complete the picture became. It must have been an expensive exercise when pocket money was just a three-penny bit each week.
Bath time was another event that I remember very well. Having no bathroom we, like all our neighbours, had a zinc bath that hung very awkwardly either behind the door of the outside toilet, or the kitchen door. The bath would be brought out every Friday evening (after ‘Crackerjack’) ready for Dad coming in from work (Dad was a bricklayer with George Houlton & Sons for most of my youth). After Dad had his session in the bath, which was in front of the fire-place in the ‘middle room’ - just in front of the ‘Radiogram’, it was the turn of my sisters and I. Anne and Denise were only four or five years older and so we three bathed together to save water – one at each end and me in the middle! Presumably Jean, an older sister who was still at home, and Colin the only brother still at home, bathed later. I don’t actually recall them or my Mother bathing, although I’m sure they did - presumably I was tucked up in bed by that time. They being older did receive some privacy, although as I grew older I was shifted out of Mum and Dad’s room to share Colin’s bed, Jean still having to share a bedroom with Anne and Denise who slept in the same bed. Cosy days and nights!
Anyway, life in Richmond Terrace was just fine, we were poor by anyone’s standards with Christmas presents sometimes being only a ‘Compendium of Games’ or a ‘Monopoly’ set (which I still have) supplemented by golden chocolate coins and fruit & nuts. The one benefit of having few presents was that you learned the importance of taking care of your things, as you often didn’t know when next you would get anything. Consequently I still look after everything I own with meticulous (some would say obsessively compulsive) care. Many memories of events in that first house come to me, but very few are bad ones. Yes - doors did always seem to be left open, night and day, and I can remember being woken up one night and coming down to stand at the doorstep with most of the street, as huge sheets of lightening lit up the Bass Brewery warehouse opposite our house. When the dramatic event had finished we all went back to our sleep, but doors were left open in the summer heat of the city without fear, for the rest of that freak shower. The Bass warehouse belonged to Bass Charrington Ltd (Brewers) and was originally owned by Moors’ and Robson’s. It served as an excellent playground for us nine or ten year old inhabitants of Charles and Waterloo Street. Climbing up stacks of palletised crates of beer, and perilously up spiral staircases to old disused offices and games rooms up on the top floors. I don’t think the men who worked there were too bothered by us, either that or they didn’t notice us creeping around!
Another favourite haunt was the old ‘Ragged school’ that was taken over by ‘Pickfords Removals Ltd’ on Russell street, off Norfolk Street, which backed on to the old drain-side (see pic). It had been disused for some time and various gangs had their headquarters in the grand vaguely Gothic surroundings of what was once a ‘Truant & Industrial School for Boys’ (built in 1856). Its front actually faced Marlborough Terrace, but our access was gained through a hole in walls that had been uncovered by the demolition of houses in Russell Street. Fires were often built, and when collecting wood for bonfires (or ‘Bonnie-raiding’ as we knew it) it was often stored here, sometimes being set alight by rival raiding parties! Just along from the Ragged School ruins (I don’t think it ever had a nickname as such) at the junction of Liddell Street, Norfolk Street and Richmond Terrace was the Mechanics Arms Public House, run by the Rebera family. The son Glen was a friend although somewhat older than me. It was above the pub where I can remember watching football and stuff on his telly, which seemed huge compared to ours. Back along Richmond Terrace, adjacent to the little iron bridge, which linked our houses with Marlborough Terrace, there was a house that still had a huge ‘Rington’s Tea’ enamel sign on the wall - possibly evidence of it being a shop at some point (or was it just advertising space?).
The drain itself was still open as a waterway in my early childhood, but my memories are only of it ‘filled in’ (it was culverted in 1965). The circuit around the bridge over the drain from Richmond Terrace up Cottingham Place, back over the Charles Street / Waterloo Street Bridge and back towards our house provided an excellent circuit for the young Paul Gibson when learning to ride his first proper bike.
At the Waterloo Street end of the Terrace was Grindell’s Pet shop, which advertised products like ‘Spratts Ovals - the pocket dog food’, and was a marvellous shop to have at hand. On the same side was a sweet shop and newsagents on the corner of Liddell Street, which backed on to our houses. Between the two corner shops were several other shops and the entrance to ‘Richmond Court’, which was ‘Dickensian’ to say the least. As you walked through the arched entry you came to a small row of houses on your right, which could only have been two up-two downs, though they were still occupied when we lived there in the 1960s. At the west end of Richmond Court was the long back alley that ran all the way to the back of the Mechanics Arms without a break, save for the many wooden gates, which led to our back yards and those of the houses on Liddell Street. Most of the gardens or yards still had their Air-Raid shelters, which were now used as sheds, stores, coal-houses and children’s dens amongst many other things. One house kept pigs and I can recall another had a goat in my younger years.
These back yards were the scene of what we called ‘Summer parties’, where us and the neighbours got together for no other reason than the fact that it was the six weeks school holidays and the sky was usually very blue. Shiny stiff plastic table cloths were thrown over make-shift tables, and brittle plastic beakers of pop and little white bread triangular sandwiches were served. The few photos we have of these occasions give an overwhelming impression of joy, which still affects me to this day when I look at them. Often these and other get-togethers were cause for the Box Brownie to appear, for which the historians of every city I’m sure are very grateful. Some of the children shown are now in Canada and Australia, as their families took advantage of the cheap flights that were offered during the 1960s when labour was short in the commonwealth countries and beyond.
Another occasion I remember very clearly was going with Mum to the ‘wash-house’ in nearby St Paul’s Street. Washing laundry and clothes with a big family was just too much for the dolly-tub, dolly-stick and mangle to handle. These contraptions were still available for smaller washes however (as well as being play things for Gibson junior). A makeshift ‘bogey’ was made from an old pram and the dolly tub perched precariously on top for the wobbly journey down to the wash-house, negotiated by young Paul and Mrs Gibson. It was always exciting though, a place full of steam, clean smells, huge women in turbans and the most intriguing machines. My mum always seemed to be working - her early life is the stuff books are written about, but that’s for another day….
Work for mum, as well as looking after us lot, was for most of my young life at the Hull Guildhall as a cleaner, where she cleaned morning and evenings for such a long time that she became a familiar figure to local councillors and Lord Mayors. My overwhelming memory of Mum and Dad at Richmond Terrace is one of the sheer hard work they did. I suppose most people at the time lived the same way when on the breadline, and every penny counted. Mum seemed to have no hobbies at all, and relaxation was simply the bits in between work – oh, and once a year a summer holiday to Hornsea (of course), Rolston Camp, or Withernsea.
Dad’s recreation however, as with all other males in the Gibson bloodline, was going to the pub. Strangely, Dad, Granddad and my many Uncles all had their own favourite pubs and rarely drank in the same one. I suppose living on top of each other in such small houses day in and day out was trying for the best of them, and when it was time to put on your going-out jacket you looked forward to seeing new faces, and having a break from family problems and arguments. For Dad it was the ‘Burns Head’ at the top of our street, a pub I’m convinced he visited everyday at least once, so much so that I presumed it must either belong to him or that he worked there. When going to the pub, Dad always looked as smart as possible and was never seen unkempt outside of our house or in his working clothes.
Uncle Arthur remembered that his favourite pub was the Sculcoates Arms, on the corner of Charles and Raywell Street. ‘Smokey Joe’s’ as it was known, was very much a man’s pub, although ladies were eventually allowed in the ‘snug’. Arthur remembered the pub was constantly full of smoke - “If you didn’t smoke you didn’t go in”. Evidence of the smoking element was a large brass figure of a pixie that sat on the bar, which had a cigarette in its mouth to be used as a lighter by the smokers, that was always lit. The inside of the pub was tiled as well as the wonderful exterior in the familiar green pub tiles. A large stove heated the rooms, and a large pan of peas was often to be found cooking on top for regulars. Arthur and his brothers were not short of pubs, as there were at least 30 pubs within half a mile of our house, and probably nearer 40. Other family favourites were the ‘County’ on Charles Street for granddad, and the ‘Wellington Inn’ Russell Street and ‘Smokey Joe’s’ for Arthur. I think mum may have had a drink, usually at Christmas or a Sherry at weddings.
Although our address was Richmond Terrace - off Waterloo Street, it was always referred to as ‘drain-side’ and regarded as ‘Charles Street’ to locals. Waterloo Street was not an area I spent much time in as a child, save the occasional reccy’ to see what was actually up the other end. Part of the reason I never strayed I think, was the fact that the barber’s shop was up there, and it held no pleasures for me whatsoever. Memories of basin-cuts and strange men kept me as far away from that revolving red and white pole as possible. Consequently most of my adventures and ‘playing out’ took place south of the drain or east of Charles Street.
My memories of Charles Street itself are equally hazy; Brombey’s was always good for comics and was a treasure house at Christmas time, with glitter and lights and baubles which we didn’t have too many of. The other place comics came from in those days was the Sunday paper stall that stood at the Beverley Road junction, near the top of Marlborough Terrace. The County Hotel, at the corner of Francis Street and Charles Street, was run by the Morrison family, including young Georgie - who I explored many premises in the surrounding streets with. I can remember feeling lost and frightened when in some engineering type of premises that seemed many miles from home, but realistically now must have been only as far as Wincolmlee, some two whole streets away. Woodyards were plentiful, and the many obvious dangers were overlooked for the great fun of leaping from shed roofs onto piles of sawdust – this was probably in Francis Street or Reform Street.
The back of old Moors’ and Robson’s brewery on the north side of Raywell Street, mentioned earlier, was visited frequently – interestingly, across the road on the south side were the derelict remains of what now seems likely to have been their office and recreation rooms; these were what we referred to as ‘bombed buildings’. These were places where dead cats could often be discovered and when one was found, the finder was to be heard running around shouting “dead cat - dead cat!”, at which point we all ran and joined him for a look, never quite sure what our next move would be as we stared at the poor animal. Downstairs in the old brewery offices was quite dull, but if you went through to the back, up the stairs, across the walkway (open air) and into the upstairs frontage it was another world. Games of all sorts were played there, usually on the big green table in the middle - that was probably an old snooker or billiard table when I think about it. Around the room were chests and cabinets full of papers and plans, and we loved to throw these around and eventually probably set fire to them. I now pay good money for these on eBay.
During visits to my newly discovered uncle I took the opportunity to find out as much as I could from him without being intrusive or pushy. Many old people seem reluctant to recall the past, as their own personal ‘good times’ seem to have been left far in the past, and their old age bearing little comparison. Bearing this in mind, and taking care not to ask too much in one session, things unfolded that surprised, pleased, and saddened me.
Arthur’s earliest family memory seemed to be a farming life in Dunswell, a small village north of Hull on the main Beverley Road. Dunswell is small now, and at the time my ancestors lived there it must have been smaller still. Arthur recalled being taken to visit his grandfather (William Gibson, born 1849 - my great grandfather) at Dunswell as a child. Arthur, my dad’s brother, was one of seven boys and two girls born to John Gibson of Dunswell (born 1881 – my Granddad and son of William). For some reason in the early years of the 20th Century many of the family moved to Hull. As they were mostly farm labourers, it was possibly a crop failure that forced the move, or simply the need for work and a regular income, as by this time the family was large and needed providing for. I now know that in 1901 John Gibson was single and working as a horseman on a farm in Skerne, but by 1905 was married and living in St John’s Terrace, off Elm Street in Hull. John may have lived at lived at 16 Reynoldson Street in 1902-03, then possibly as a groom to a doctor in Coltman Street, before living in Elm Street. Alicia Street, off Charles Street, was to be his home from around 1914. John married Henrietta Lowther (b. 1884, d. 1961) who became my Grandmother - they married in 1903 at the George Lamb Memorial Chapel (newly built in 1894) in Lambert Street as Henrietta lived at 68 Lambert Street before their marriage.
I only followed the direct line of Gibsons in my early family history research as to include all the family would have been impractical with no Internet to help me. Prior to 1820 I found no family details that I was certain of, and never got round to doing the parish registers etc. to confirm the details. Dunswell was in the parish of Cottingham, and seemed to be populated almost solely by Gibsons in the 1800s and earlier; many of who, although they had the same Christian names as my ancestors, were from an entirely different family. To this day however, many Gibsons in the Cottingham, Thearne, Dunswell area are likely to be descendants of my ancestors.
And so into the 20th Century and in to Hull came the Gibsons, and what a place it was – thriving in every sense of the word. By 1914 number 67 Alicia Street had become home to John Gibson, his wife Henrietta, and their first children Sydney Ernest (b.1904), Horace (b. 1908), James Harold (b.1910) and Doris (b.1912) four of the eventual 11 children they would have (the only other girl being Gertrude or Gertie). The small, well very small actually, two-up two-down house was probably built around 1850, and was surrounded by similar but often independently built houses, developed in the ramshackle fashion of the time. A favourite photograph from Uncle Arthur’s collection shows Granddad John outside no. 67 with his pipe and is trusty dog Nell.
Arthur’s memories of Alicia Street were obviously few, as he was born in 1927 and Alicia Street was lost in 1938, one of many streets lost during the neatly titled ‘Kingston upon Hull (Reform Street) Clearance Area Act, 1938’ demolitions. These unfortunate demolitions signalled the end of an era in our family as Alicia Street, Reform Street, Francis Street West, the north side of Caroline Place, and many of the shops fronting onto Charles Street and Caroline Street were lost in one fell swoop. However from Arthur’s few memories and my searches in the libraries and archives for images of the area, a clearer picture of our life there has been formed.
Arthur remembers the house being small even by the standards of the 1930s, and tempers fraying often due to the cramped conditions. Granddad, like most Gibson males, was a bit of a handful when angry, and particularly after a few pints. Apparently he was a strong chap and if his temper went Arthur - being the biggest, would hold him in a bear-hug whilst everyone ran for cover. Regular ‘watering holes’ in that area that were lost during the demolitions were the Lion Inn, at the corner of Francis and Christopher Street, and the Seedcrusher’s Arms on Francis Street. 'The pub' was pretty much the sole source of entertainment, apart from the many picture-houses where one of the latest ‘flicks’ could be seen. Arthur recalled that at the Waterloo picture house on Waterloo Street you could gain entry for empty jam-jars, if you couldn’t afford to pay entry in cash. He and his brothers would also enjoy a game of billiards beneath the New Theatre, in snooker halls located there. Entertainment for great-granddad would have been similar one presumes. Arthur recalled granddad telling him how when they married (he and Henrietta), he was working as a groom to a doctor at 16 Coltman Street, and in the evenings it was common for the doctor and friends to visit one of Hulls many theatres. Whilst waiting with the carriage for the performance to finish, granddad nip up to Lambert Street and see Henrietta, occasionally taking her out in style! Earlier days, before granddad moved to Hull, would see him riding horseback from our house in Dunswell to Hull to see grandma Henrietta. Those were the days!
My father John William Gibson was born in 1915, and by then 67 Alicia Street would have been very crowded, although 10 or 11 people in such a house was not unusual then. Life took place in and around a very small area, you worked - played - and lived within a few square miles usually. No commuting in those days then - you lived where you worked and that was that. However, you wouldn't have needed to go far, for anything you could possibly need was available in Charles Street - one of the most popular shopping and market street’s in Hull, with stores of every description to which people came from far and wide to shop. Arthur recalled Mallory’s on Charles Street having everything - no matter what you asked for - they had it.
Education for the Gibson children was predominantly at the Charterhouse School on Wincolmlee, which was always supplemented by religious education and enlightenment at the well-known Fig Tree Gospel Hall, usually in the form of Sunday school. The Hall was sited in Sykes Street, just a stone’s throw from home, and then moved to Waltham Street and eventually Charles Street where I attended in the 1960s. The ‘sister’ in charge usually gave out the orders (Sister Wendy) and ‘Mr Gardener’ backed her up, according to Arthur. Again the ever-popular Hornsea seemed a positive magnet for the Sunday School day trippers and once at Hornsea Mr Gardener would often hire a horse for the day to ride around the beach, rounding up wayward Fig Tree juniors, and to generally have a lark with.
The Reform Street clearance, Second World War Blitz damage, and other events, all conspired in the late 1930s and early 1940s to destroy the houses, homes and regular haunts of the Gibson family in the Alicia Street area. Arthur, granddad, grandma and auntie Doris removed to Richmond Terrace, where they stayed happily for many years and uncle Ron moved on to Brunswick Avenue. My father married Annie Lillian Kirby (my mum), who he had met playing in Alicia Street; mum was sent to live in Alicia Street and work for various families when her parents died. Jack and Annie (my parents) married at the Queens Hall, Alfred Gelder Street, and lived in Alicia Street with the family until 1939 when they obtained a new house on the North Hull Estate. Dad enlisted in the army at the outbreak of the Second World War (Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry) and mum then moved back to the old family area, in Richmond Terrace, for the duration of the war. They – we, remained in Richmond Terrace until 1970, when our house too was compulsory purchased for demolition - no escaping progress!. This time it was to make way for the proposed ‘Orbital Road’ or Freetown Way, as we now know it, for which a huge swathe of Hull's historical Georgian suburbs were cleared - totally out of proportion with the actual requirements of the project. It is at Richmond Terrace that I entered the scene and the story comes full circle.
It seems strange now going back to that area and trying to fit in all the homes, shops, pubs and alleys in to what seems such a tiny area. Alicia Street more so, as when you look at the maps and try to equate this with the number of properties that once stood there it seems impossible that they all fitted in. All of my research into my family history so far has left me with a challenge - to find a house that my ancestors have lived in that is still standing. Dunswell would seem the only likely bet, and no doubt more wading through census returns and maps will reveal all. The other homes in Hull itself however, appear to have all gone and this never ceases to sadden me and leaves my family history seeming more distant than it should, had I been able to go and look at a house and say – 'we lived there'.
As I update this story in the summer of 2009, I am saddened that memories of Alicia Street and the family history will no longer come from Arthur, Ron or Gertie; this is the reason for making sure what memories Arthur passed to me are documented here. Uncle Ron passed away in 2002 before I had chance to chat with him, and Auntie Gertie is in her nineties and in her own world now - one that sadly, we can’t reach, although she is in a very comfortable nursing home. My last chance was Arthur, but I left it too late for more chats with him as he died in January 2007 – and I miss him deeply.
The list of what I still need to know is a long one, but much of that will be obvious from the previous ramblings. However, mum’s side of the story is even more difficult as she had only one living sibling – my other uncle Arthur, who lived in Gloucester and I left it too late to chat with him too. My one brief contact with Arthur brought photographs of Mum’s brothers and sisters but little information as once again he passed away before I could get to talk with him in depth.
Mum apparently had little education other than Sunday school, and later a stint in the Salvation Army as a teenager. Her early life seems to have been one of sadness and drudgery, working in harsh, thankless conditions for whoever she was dumped on next. Records of her grandparents and parents are few as yet, but it appears her father’s family originated in Nottinghamshire and her mother’s family in the Sheffield area. More will be researched later when the Gibson picture is clearer. Records of the children in the orphanage however, were destroyed by fire, and Mum’s parents graves were bombed in the Hedon Road cemetery during the war. As you can see, what I know so far is very little, and what I need to know is seemingly never-ending.
© Paul Gibson
© Paul Gibson
1996 (updated May 2009)
December 1996 (updated May 2009)