Paul Gibson’s Hull and East Yorkshire History

A Brief History of the Hull History Centre

Part One - French’s Gardens

Hull’s new multi-million pound History Centre has just been constructed on a site that had long been used as a car park known as the ‘Mason Street Car Park’. But what was there before the car park, and what happened to Mason Street?

A bundle of deeds from the Sykes family collection held in the Hull University Archive (reference DDKE/12/1-14) are listed in the catalogue as ‘mostly an original bundle relating to the development circa 1800 of 'French's Gardens' (land originally belonging to the Charterhouse) with purchasers deeds for Sykes Street, Mason Street, Bourne Street and Princess Street’. They begin in the 17th Century and part of an early document, dated May 1659, mentions ‘13 acres of meadow in Sculcoates Great Ings with tithes thereof’. The Charterhouse buildings had been pulled down in 1643 under orders from Lord Fairfax during one of the sieges on Hull in the Civil War to prevent Royalist forces occupying the site; this may account for the property being sold off as the gardens would no longer have been required. Charles Vaux ‘gentleman’ of Hull, the town clerk from c.1651, acquired some of the land described for £233, from John Alured ‘esquire’ of Beverley, and a later document (a marriage settlement) of May 1685 contains a more detailed description, some of which is reproduced here: -

‘… stable and garden, garden house and stable, large garden encompassed by a brick wall to the East and North, and waste ground called the Growth from the Stone Chayre to the gate and turnpipe at the great Garden End towards the North, on the Charterhouse Green; cottage and 2 garths; close within the moats and walls where the Charterhouse lately stood (6 acres) with the moats and ponds about it ‘all which grounds sometimes was called ... the site compasse circuit and precincts of the late Priory or howse of the Carthusians’ near Hull; close (3 acres) sometimes called Brigg Yate Close now called Posterne Close on the South side of Charterhouse Moates …’ 

An early representation of gardens in this area is shown on Woolner’s plan of Hull made in 1715 (shown right), and confirms the relationship between the gardens and the Charterhouse, as lanes and footpaths led from them to the Charterhouse estate. So it appears that the Charterhouse gardens were sold-off and a large portion was eventually to be leased by Mr French. Another parcel of the land became ‘Bourne Garden’ to the south of French’s Garden stretching south to the old town walls.

The dense descriptions of the area in the old documents relating to French’s Gardens, mention long lost field names and buildings that have since crumbled to dust. They do however ­­give a few clues as to how land outside Hull’s old town walls was developed into an estate of new streets, as the Old Town became too small for Hull’s growing population. As Hull expanded it took in lands that had long been marshy open fields or gardens surrounding the ancient estate belonging to the Charterhouse. The earliest Charterhouse buildings, established in the 14th Century, had long been demolished – mostly around the time of the Civil War as mentioned earlier. Only the Charterhouse hospital still survives today, although most of it was rebuilt during 1780, and remains an historic oasis in what is presently a rather forgotten area. It is hoped that planners resist the urge to redevelop this area, as the east end of Charterhouse Lane is one of the oldest surviving alignments outside of the Old Town. Opposite the end of Charterhouse Lane – on the west bank of the River Hull, are the remains of an ancient path that was used by the Charterhouse to obtain their water supplies - marked by the afore mentioned ‘Stone Chayre’. This tiny footway has gradually been beaten into submission over the years but can still be glimpsed behind the barriers that fence off this area. Despite my own written protests in 1997 that this important site is saved, it appears that it may fall foul of the ‘River Hull Corridor’ development one of those ‘environmental enhancement’ things (over my dead body). Today’s much-reduced Charterhouse estate would once have had its own kitchen gardens and as Hull expanded around the Charterhouse estate from c.1770 more market garden areas were laid out in this area to feed the new population, many on land that formerly belonged to the Charterhouse - sold off during the 17th and 18th Centuries.

Another part of the transactions mentions: -

‘… brick messuage covered with tiles, stable and shade house, large garden or orchard with a long garden wall for fruit trees, 3 closes of meadow and a stable, all in Sculcoates, lying within a great gate or portico and parcel of the site of the Charterhouse (12 acres in all). Gardens of God’s House Hospital to the East; closes of Hull Corporation East and South ; with tithes of the premises …’

The ‘great gate or portico’ mentioned in the text is reference to a large brick gate that arched over what is now Charterhouse Lane, the remains of which can be seen on Hollar’s 1640 plan of Hull (first image top of page). Thomas Jeffreys’ plan of Hull made in 1767 shows land marked out into small plots south of the Charterhouse gardens, and directly outside the town walls. This was formerly ‘God’s Close’ and ‘Half Moon Close’ and was laid out as another planned garden known as Bourne Garden, to the south of French’s Gardens.

One familiar name begins to appear through all the dense legal wording in the afore mentioned bundle of deeds, and in April 1768 a sale results in the parcel of land formerly belonging to the Mason family, on which the History Centre would eventually stand, being sold for development.

This large area of land became known as French’s Gardens. A plan made in 1778 to show the Dock Company’s new estate (George Street, Savile Street etc) north of the ‘New’ Dock (later Queen’s Dock) shows French’s Gardens north of ‘Bourn(e) Garden’, which was bounded by the line of what would become Prince’s Row. Only the 12 acres mentioned in the description above were French’s Gardens and were soon to be developed as new streets and housing.

19th Century historian John Richardson gave a clear definition of French’s Gardens in his research into Hull’s streets compiled c.1840. His was an almost contemporary description and although some of his research has since been proved to be inaccurate his notes on French’s Gardens appear trustworthy. Some of his manuscripts were serialised in the Hull & East Yorkshire Times in 1915 and the following extract refers to French’s Gardens: -

‘This name was given to a portion of the parish of Sculcoates situated a little to the north of Charlotte Street, being where Mason-street, Bourne-street, Sykes-street, and Worship-street are now placed, and took its name from one Joseph French, who up to the year 1788 occupied this plot of ground with gardens, and dwelt there as may be seen by a reference to the Hull Packet of July 22 1788, as follows: - ‘To be let, together or in two tenements, and entered upon at pleasure. The messuage wherein Mr Joseph French, gardener, lately dwelt, situate in the parish of Sculcoates; also a stable and yard, with cow houses and convenience near the same, very suitable for a cowkeeper.’ 

But who was ‘French’? Joseph French, who was listed in a 1784 trade directory as a ‘Seedsman & Nurseryman’ (probably the same Joseph French who was listed as a ‘land surveyor’ in a 1791 trade directory). In 1784 there was also the company of ‘French & Yates’, who were listed as Brick & tile Makers, and from the little information available it seems certain that French’s Gardens were definitely commercial rather than pleasure gardens. Sadly no alleys lanes or streets appear to have commemorated the name ‘French’, although some alluded to the area once being entirely made up of gardens - such as ‘Garden Place’ off Sykes Street and ‘Garden Square’ off Princess Street.

Comparing Richardson’s description with the 1853 Ordnance Survey plan and Woolner’s 1715 plan, it’s clear that the 12 acre plot mentioned in the deed information (see below) fits almost exactly on an area bounded by, and including, the property on the south side of Mason Street, the line of Worship Street to the west, the first line of property on the north side of Sykes Street (north) and both sides of Bourne Street and Paradise Row to the east.

Close inspection of the later 1853 Ordnance Survey plan reveals that the boundary lines of the original parcel of land could still be clearly seen at that date, defining the extent of building lines in the development of the housing.

Robert Thew’s engraving of Hull in 1784 (above right) shows formal garden plots laid out east of Grimston Street (originally Conduit Street) ending at the line of ‘Trippet’ (now Wincolmlee) with barren ‘closes’ west of the line of Worship Street. By the time of Hargrave’s plan of 1791 (below right)  the southern part of this area (Bourne’s Garden) was built upon as far north as the line of Prince’s Row (later re-named Charlotte Street Mews) and the land west of Worship Street were made up of orchards belonging Mr John Grimston Esquire. In October 1796 the plot is sold to a well-known local land-owner Joseph Sykes: -

‘Lease and Release for £3,707-10s: - Reverend William Mason precentor and canon residentiary of York Minster (only son of Reverend William Mason of Hull, eldest son of Hugh Mason of Hull and eldest brother of Robert Mason, third son of Hugh Mason, all deceased), to Joseph Sykes of West Ella esquire: -French's Garden (11 acres 2 rods 9 perches) formerly in several parcels and lying on the West side of the site of the Charter House or the Great Gate thereof (brick wall of Dock Company to the South) and an adjacent parcel (20 perches) used as a kitchen garden, with tithes of the premises, all in Sculcoates.’ 

As the 18th Century drew to a close Sykes sold French’s (short-lived) Gardens for much more lucrative building land, no doubt due to the price of land in this area being at a premium due to the development of the new dock and the Dock Company’s estate of new streets to the immediate south of the gardens (George Street, Charlotte Street etc). The name Mason Street is noted from as early as 1800 in the many advertisements and sale notices that begin to appear in the local newspapers. Other streets in the area also took their names from local land-owners and worthies such as Sykes Street, Grimston Street, Jarratt Street and Bourne Street (John Bourne was master of the Charterhouse in the late 18th Century).

One interesting feature of the early maps and plans is the inclusion of an old track or footpath, shown on Woolner’s 1715 plan, leading north-west from the old North Gate in the towns walls across the fields and gardens to the main arched entrance to the old walled Charterhouse grounds. The lane is not named on Woolner’s plan, but the later 1852 Ordnance Survey plan reveals that it marks the alignment of what we now know as Carroll Place (where the Register Office is). The southern end of the old track was lost during the development of Queen’s Dock in the 1770s, but the north end remained becoming Paradise Row from c.1803; a fitting name as ‘Paradise’ was often represented as an ‘enclosed garden’ in monastic terms – in this case the gardens of the Charterhouse. A much narrower path, probably the original width of the lane, can be seen extending north from Paradise Row on the 1853 Ordnance Survey plan beyond a wall next to the chapel that stood there; Greenwood’s engraving of the Jehovah Jireh Chapel made in 1835 shows the gate to this path on the right (east) of the chapel.

The enclosed section is marked as part of the Charterhouse grounds, and remained in situ until at least the late 1920s, as it was shown as a path on the 1928 Ordnance Survey plans. It is amazing that this ancient alignment continued to be used as a municipal boundary running south across the dock (now Queens Gardens) for centuries after. Paradise Row was renamed Carroll Place in 1950 erasing an ancient street name in an ill-advised planning decision – Alice in Wonderland indeed.

Part two – Building the history

During the early years of the 19th Century the whole area was soon built upon, and regular notices of land for sale in the Mason Street, Bourne Street and Princess Street area appeared regularly in the Hull newspapers. Also, a document in the East Riding archives notes the ‘erection of houses and paving in Mason Street, Sykes Street and Bourne Street’ in April 1800 (abstract of deed of covenants between Nicholas Walton and Joseph Sykes PE56/24 - 8 Apr 1800). The street must have been laid-out slightly earlier than this however as the following notice appeared in the Hull Packet in the winter of 1800, and its content suggests Mason Street was already inhabited: -


Gratefully acknowledges the obligations she is under to her numerous Friends in Hull and the vicinity. For their continued support; and begs to inform them, that she has just received from London, an Assortment of MILLINERY, made up in the newest and the most fashionable taste, which is now ready for their inspection, at her house in Mason-Street, French’s Gardens. N.B. Mrs. T wants a few APPRENTICES of respectable Parents. HULL, November 27, 1800.’

And so Mason Street came into being and from c.1800 the street and the many courts and alleys that ran off it were developed rapidly as the speculative builders raced to get their properties let and the rental monies in their banks. Although the area continued to be referred to as French’s Gardens well into the 1840s, the street was first listed in the trade directories in Battle’s 1803 directory (issued in June), which recorded - ‘Mason Street – Bourne Street to Conduit Street’ (Conduit Street was the earlier name for Worship Street).

As the land was being laid out with the new streets it was occasionally the site for other events such as in September 1807 when the Hull Packet reported that the Earl Fitzwilliam had been in Hull and inspected his regiment (the First West Yorkshire Militia) ‘in French’s Gardens’, where he gave a short speech supporting the recent act of Parliament allowing the militia to volunteer ‘into the line’. After this he ordered the men sixpence each for a drink.

The following advertisements are a selection of the many that appeared in the Hull Packet newspaper in the early years of the 19th Century: -

‘A newly erected MESSUAGE or DWELLING HOUSE, and GROCER’s SHOP, in the occupation of Mr Owen, being the corner house in Bourne Street and Sykes Street, two of the principal Streets lately set out on the ground late French’s Gardens.’ (1803)

‘BUILDING GROUND - TO BE SOLD, FRENCH’s GARDENS. A lot of GROUND, on the south side of Mason-Street, in the parish of Sculcoates, near the Justice-Hall and Kingston-Square, containing 364 Square Yards, with a Frontage of 42 Feet and extending in Depth to the Dock-Company’s Wall in Charlotte-Street Mews.’ (1807)

‘To be SOLD by AUCTION, By W. PEARCE AND SON, On the PREMISES On Wednesday, September 21st, 1808, at four o’clock in the afternoon, A substantial Well-Built DWELLING HOUSE and SHOP, situated at the corner of MASON-street and Worship-street, French’s Gardens, in the parish of Sculcoates; suitable for a GROCER, DRUGGIST, LINEN or WOOLEN-DRAPER, &c.’ (1808)

‘TO BE SOLD BY AUCTION, By W. PEARCE. Upon the premises of Messrs. HALLEY & BONNELL, Coach & Harness Makers, Princess-street, French’s-Gardens, Hull, The Whole of their Valuable STOCK-IN-TRADE; consisting of Sixteen Gigs and Game-Carts; and Six Four-Wheeled Carriages, most of them new. Two of the Coaches are employed between Hull and Scarborough, and are known by the name of Wellington Coaches; and one as a Stage Coach betwixt Hull and Cottingham; at a certain rate per mile. Also, a quantity of New and Old Harness; Ask Planks, Spokes, and Felloes, Lancewood Poles and Mahogany. A large quantity of Plated and Brass Coach Furniture; Iron, Spring Steel, and Old Iron. Paints, Varnish, Lamps, Plate-Glass, Cloth, and Trimmings. Leather, Curled Hair, &c. Together with all the Blacksmith and Coach-Maker’s Tools; and one complete and valuable Chest of Joiner’s Tools; and all the Fixtures, Laths or Throws; and other Articles used in the above Business.’ (1813)

‘On Tuesday morning last, Mr R. Garbutt, merchant, laid the first stone of a new Sunday School, now erecting at this place, in Mason-street, French’s Gardens, inclosed in which (the stone being divided) was deposited, in a lead box, a plate of brass, bearing the following inscription: WESLEYAN METHODIST SUNDAY SCHOOL, for the children of the poor of every Denomination. THE FIRST STONE LAID on Tuesday the 26th August A.D. 1817. The size of this building within is 50 feet by 50 feet; and there are two stories, one intended for the reception of the boys and the other for girls, and capable together of containing about 800 children.’ (1817)

The latter describes one of the few buildings of note that were constructed in Mason Street, the majority of which was quickly developed as housing from c.1800. Maps of Hull from the period show that all of the streets in the French’s Gardens area were fully built up well before 1817, when Anderson’s Plan of that year shows buildings covering every street and alley, except for a small area that remained gardens at the south-west side of Mason Street. Other buildings of note in Mason Street were: -

Mason Street Wesleyan Chapel was built in 1826 on the south side of Mason Street near the corner of Worship Street. This was later used as a Friends (Quaker) Meeting House re-opened following enlargement in 1852 (they acquired it in 1851). This became a schoolroom in 1880 following the construction of an adult school and a new, smaller meeting house adjoining the site to the east. This closed c.1918 and was used for a variety of purposes until its demolition in the 1970s.

The only other community building in the street was the small ‘Mason Street Chapel’, originally built as the ‘Jehovah Jireh Baptist Chapel’ in 1822, sold to the Wesleyan Association in 1837, and also used by the Primitive Methodists. It was for sale in 1852 when the following notice appeared in the local press: -

‘PRIMITIVE METHODIST CHAPEL, MASON STREET, HULL. Mr J S HAMILTON has received instructions from the Trustees, to offer for SALE BY PUBLIC AUCTION, unless previously Disposed of by Private Contract, of which due Notice will be given, at his Sale Rooms, 41, Lowgate, on MONDAY, the 4th October, 1852, at Two o’ Clock in the Afternoon, the CHAPEL as above, with commodious School-rooms attached. The Chapel is fitted up with Sittings, and every other requisite necessary for a place of Public Worship. The Site of the Chapel and School-rooms measures 381 Square Yards or thereabouts.’

From 1856 it was a Wesleyan Association building and in 1859 became the Trippett Anglican School. Located on the north side of ‘Little Mason Street’ it stood on a site adjacent to the surviving St Mary’s (Charterhouse) Burial Ground. It closed in 1909 having been known variously as Holy Trinity School, St Phillip’s School etc., and was later (after 1928) demolished.

Unusually, Mason Street had only one pub, the Lord Raglan Inn at no.9, which was one of many to open in Hull following the so-called ‘Beer-House Act’ of 1830 when the first recorded victualler was Mrs Ann Foster in 1831. A later victualler - William Jacks, also had a licence to run Hackney Carriages from the premises during the late 1830s. The building was re-fronted just before the First World War and survived until 1934 when the premises were closed and the licence transferred with that of the Talbot in Scale Lane for a new pub - The Hastings, on Spring Bank West. The closed pub is shown right c.1937, and was demolished following blitz-damage in the Second World War. The following are some of the known victuallers that were once at the Lord Raglan: -

1831 Mrs Ann Foster, 9 Mason Street ; 1834-42 Sarah Bailey, beer retailer, Mason Street ; 1846-51 William Jack, beer house and dealer in earthenware, 9 Mason Street ; 1855 George Martin Williamson, beer retailer and green grocer, 9 Mason Street ; 1858 Isaac Hutton, beer retailer, 9 Mason Street ; 1863-67 Horner Coulson, beer retailer, 9 Mason Street ; 1872-73 Stephen Squire, beer retailer, 9 Mason Street ; 1874-75 J. Hunter, beer retailer, 9 Mason Street ; 1876 J. Goodhare, beer retailer, 9 Mason Street ; 1879-85 Joseph Smelt, beer retailer, 9 Mason Street ; 1892-01 William Shaw, beer retailer, Lord Raglan, 9 Mason Street ; 1905 Mrs M. Almgill, beer retailer, 9 Mason Street ; 1907 H. J. Harrison, beer retailer, 9 Mason Street ; 1909-12 Emil F. Paterson, beer retailer, 9 Mason Street ; 1913 James Wilson, Lord Raglan, 9 Mason Street ; 1916-21 John Stephenson, beer retailer, 9 Mason Street ; 1925 A. R. Chapman, Lord Raglan Inn, 9 Mason Street ; 1930 Mrs Eleanor Chapman, Lord Raglan Inn, 9 Mason Street.

Little Mason Street also had a small pub at one time known as the Corporation Arms, a long-standing Moors’ & Robson’s beer-house. The pub was situated in premises formerly used as a livery stable, and was first listed as no.32, 33 and/or 34 (due to re-numbering) Bourne Street, on the corner of Little Mason Street, but became no.34 Little Mason Street from around 1900 – all effectively the same corner building. It too was seriously damaged in 1941 and the site is shown razed to the ground in a photograph recording damage to St Phillip’s Church, which stood behind it (see right). The site of the pub was sold to the Corporation in 1952 and its licence suspended until 1953 when it was given up to grant a full licence to the Brickmakers’ Arms, Walton Street. The following are some of the known victuallers that were once at the Corporation Arms: -

1863-67 Oswald Chapman, beer retailer, Corporation Arms, 34 Mason Street ; 1872-76 Thomas Crouston, beer house, Mason Street - corner of (33 and/or 34) Bourne Street ; 1879-81 Thomas Everitt Poppy, beer retailer, 32 Bourne Street ; 1881 CENSUS ‘Corporation House’ 32 Mason Street Thomas Poppley, beer-house keeper ; 1882-85 Thomas Poppy, beer retailer, 32 Bourne Street ; 1888-95 James Webster, Corporation Arms, 32 Bourne Street ; 1897-99 Henry Sweeting, beer retailer, 32 Bourne Street ; 1900 Samuel C Barlow, beer retailer, 33 Bourne Street ; 1901-30 T. Y. Dannatt, beer retailer (on), 34 Little Mason Street ; 1936-39 Cyril Blythe, Corporation Arms, 34 Little Mason Street.

If we include the Corporation Arms as a Mason Street pub, as it was on the corner of the street, then we must include the surviving Old English Gentleman at the opposite end. This was first listed in 1840 as an additional income for the grocer who ran his shop from that address; it was first listed by name around 1872 but didn’t receive a full seven-day licence until March 1956. It was a Hull Brewery house from at least 1890 and was extended to take in a shop next door in Worship Street and the house next door at no.48 Mason Street probably during the 1950s. Shown here in a photograph from c.1910, the OEG continues to trade 100 years later in 2009 and will no doubt receive a well-earned boost in trade from the History Centre when it opens. It is to be hoped that its importance in the history of this area is also recognised, as the buildings which house the pub are the only surviving structures from the original c.1800 development of the area other than one in Carroll Place (Paradise Row). The following are some of the known victuallers that were once at the Old English Gentleman: -

1840  Edmund Halley, grocer & beer house, 22 Worship Street ; 1846-51 Thomas Pursglove, grocer & beer seller, 22 Worship Street ; 1855-63 Thomas Portas grocer, tea dealer & beer retailer, 22 Worship Street ; 1872 Richard Hicks, Old English Gentleman, 22 Worship Street ; 1874-85 Thomas W. Thompson, Old English Gentleman, 22 Worship Street ; 1892-1901 Mrs Anne Thompson, Old English Gentleman, 22 Worship Street ; 1905-16 Thomas Jarvis, beer retailer, 22 Worship Street ; 1921 Mrs Susannah Jarvis, beer retailer, 22 Worship Street ; 1925 Mrs Beatrice Ann Thompson, beer retailer, 22 Worship Street ; 1930-39 Mrs Elizabeth Townend, beer only, Old English Gentleman, 22 Worship Street.

Other than the aforementioned buildings, the rest of Mason Street was made up of the usual fairly poor quality Georgian houses. As was often the case the slightly better quality housing that faced the street hid mostly poorer housing in the many courts and alleys that were located behind them; even those that initially housed ‘gentlemen’ and ‘master mariners’ were soon converted into common lodging houses.

The houses in Mason Street, similar to those in George Street and Charlotte Street were raised above the level of those surrounding them as they were constructed on ‘spoil’ from the excavation for the ‘New Dock’, created in the 1770s; this allowed the construction of cellars and basement floors in many of the houses but with them came the ever-present risk of flooding. Amongst the first residents of the main street, listed in an 1806 trade directory were:-

John Dick Master Mariner, Henry Dring Merchant's Clerk, Ralph Jackson Raff Merchant, John Rounding, Merchant's Clerk and lighterman, Benjamin Stocks Banker's Clerk, George Tindale Master Mariner, Thomas Wells Sworn Mahogany Broker and Commission man (counting house Dock Office Row), 

And in 1814: -

Grammar School Rev John Blezzard master, William Hunt merchant’s clerk, Thomas Miles whitesmith, 1 Sissons Weddel & Co (office), 2 Joseph Sadler master mariner, 4 Thomas Wharton merchant & insurance broker, 8 Thomas Hawkins master mariner, 9 Mrs Bellamy Wells, 10 W H Ungar master mariner, 11 Mrs Elizabeth Hewetson, 12 Henry Dring wine merchant, 13 Thomas Todd bone merchant, 14 Thomas Tindall master mariner, 15 John Potts watch maker, 16 William Hunter sail maker, 17 James Wheldon master mariner, 18 Thomas Morley merchant, 19 Winter & Simpson raff merchant’s (office), 22 Robert Colley master mariner, 23 Henry Ennis corn factor, 24 Thomas Dyers master mariner, 25 Mrs Sarah Williamson, 28 Thomas Holderness merchant’s clerk

Most if not all of these residents were located on the north side of the street as the south was developed slightly later judging from the notices in the local newspapers. The trades of those few residents of the courts and alleys off the north side of Mason Street that were actually listed, e.g. Grotto Square, were of a much more lowly stature except for more ‘master mariners’, seeking new homes near to the dock and the river. Most of these courts and ‘places’ were also constructed below street level and often accessed by steps down from the main street, usually through arched entrances squashed between the steps up to the more ‘respectable’ housing fronting the street. It seems that the entrances were made as low and inconspicuous as possible, as if to hide the embarrassment of riches that came from rental monies gained from the slum housing behind the façade. Taking three of the courts that led off Mason Street as an example, and for interest sake, three that partly lay beneath the new History Centre, the 1881 Census revealed Grotto Square had 98 inhabitants in the 24 houses that were occupied on the night of Census – an average of four persons per household; Williams Square had 51 inhabitants in the 13 that were occupied, also an average of four per house and Catherine Square had 50 inhabitants in the 12 occupied homes, also an average of four per house. However, the likelihood is that many were away from home and not recorded in the Census; in several of the houses detailed in the survey seven and eight persons were frequently recorded living under one roof. Study the photographs closely and you appreciate the overcrowding and unsanitary condition of the housing. The dimensions of the houses in these three courts was on average 10 feet by 14 feet – roughly the size of my living room. These three courts were by no means the worst in the street.

And so Mason Street developed, consisting mostly of housing throughout its life, as it was well served locally with enough shops to warrant it not ever having shops in the street itself. Like much of the rapidly built Georgian housing Mason Street was created before regulations came in to force governing the quality and standards of building construction and design. The unhealthy state of Mason Street’s housing, especially the courts and alleys, came into question during the early 20th Century and was the subject of many ‘sanitary reports’ made by the inspectors of the council’s Health Department – some as early as 1902. One result of these early inspections was the demolition of property in and around Charles Square, near the corner of Mason Street and Princess Street, c.1906. An area that stretched north to Princess Court off Princess Street was cleared, including the south side of Princess Court. The photographs made during the inspections of the housing in Charles Square prior to demolition reveal a Dickensian scene (Charles Square shown above right), and the 1881 Census tells even more. 28 people inhabited the seven houses in the cramped and dark court on the night of the Census, with one house having eight occupants. These dwellings shared a communal privy, the entrance to which can be seen in the photograph shown above and were blind-back houses, having no rear windows or yards. Throughout the 1920s inspection after inspection is recorded in the diaries of the council inspectors and inevitably this led to more compulsory purchase and demolition. Another section fronting Mason Street was demolished in the 1920s and part of the site was redeveloped when mineral water manufacturer Robert Hawkshaw Ltd built new premises there in 1929 (above right).

Further properties were demolished following compulsory purchase in 1937 under the Mason Street No.1 Clearance Area 1937, and two subsequent slum clearance schedules the same year. This involved properties around Chapel Court and property in Little Mason Street.

Many vacant sites in and around the town centre seen in 1940s and 1950s photographs are often attributed to blitz damage and the subsequent clearance, however several large areas are the result of so called ‘slum clearance’ programmes carried out before the start of the Second World War. However, Mason Street was to suffer more than its fair share of damage in the bombing raids of 1941, resulting in the destruction of most of the property between Mason Street and Sykes Street and the immediate area. Among the few surviving buildings were Hawkshaw's premises (who went on trading from Mason Street until 1970), one or two houses at the corner of Princess Street, and nos.40 to 48 on the south side of the street, including the Old English Gentleman, and the former Quaker Meeting House, by then known as the Elim Hall and used by the Foursquare Gospel Church. 

Aerial photographs made by the RAF in 1943 to show the extent of bomb damage to our towns and cities clearly illustrate the devastation that was wrought over Hull, one of the worst bombed cities in England. The majority of the area that was once known as French’s Gardens was once more laid bare with just a few solitary shadows cast by the few remaining buildings and the shell of the Sykes Street Tabernacle Chapel at the north-west corner of the site (see above right). The need for temporary accommodation for those made homeless by the bombings was a priority and the Mason Street area was quickly levelled and built upon. 48 temporary prefabricated buildings were erected on the site as well as a Welfare Centre in Sykes Street, which remains to this day (see late 1960s photograph right). The ‘pre-fabs’ were a regular feature of many Hull streets and roads, remaining in use far longer than was originally intended, but were finally cleared from this site in 1985 as a new dual carriageway crashed across the city and Freetown Way was born. The remaining land that was not required for the new road was utilised for car parking - the fate of many a bombed site, and that brings the story full circle.

Part three – Building the Future

Hull’s local history collections and archives have been stored in a variety of locations across the city, often in less than ideal conditions. It had long been the aim of the City Archives and the Hull Local Studies Library to bring together their various collections, including those held at the Hull University, under one roof with state of the art facilities and access for all. The realisation of this dream began when a planning application (no.00017283A) was submitted to the Hull City Council in 2006 that received approval the same year. In July 2007 it was confirmed that a Heritage Lottery Fund grant had been approved releasing an award of 7.7 million pounds (the second highest amount to be given to the city) towards the project enabling the Hull History Centre project to go ahead. On the 16th January 2008 the Lord Mayor marked the official start of Hull History Centre with the traditional ‘ground breaking ceremony’ and in April 2009 a ‘topping out ceremony’ confirmed the works were proceeding pretty much on-schedule.

The building was all but completed by January 2010 to high standard; the ‘promenade’ or internal arcade - complete with high-tech glass canopy, looks set to add a stylish and fresh dimension to what had become a very tired part of the city centre. The outside area features details that will appear as a small park with grassed areas – perhaps this could be named (or re-named) ‘French’s Gardens’ to commemorate the man himself? The Local Studies Library was the first section of the new building to open on Monday 25th January 2010 and the other services followed soon after. An official opening was held on 7 June 2010 with special guest TV historian Dan Snow.

Some points to ponder when you visit the centre: -

Whilst entering the building under the stylish canopy you are walking over the original roadway of Mason Street and through French's Gardens ...

The reception desk sits at a point where you would have entered nos.4 and 5 Mason Street seen here in the 1920s

The Local Studies Library, to the left of the entrance, sits on the site of nos.1, 2, and 3 Mason Street; the north side of the library (microfilm and IT areas) sit on the rear yards of nos.1, 2 and 3 Mason Street and the south end of Chapel Court. The corner of Mason Street is shown here in the 1920s, with no.1 Mason Street and the entrance to Chapel Court far right. 

The Lecture Theatre and education area, to the right of the entrance, sits on the site of nos.6 and 7 Mason Street and the entrance to Robson’s Place, as shown in the centre of this 1920s photograph.

Beyond the Lecture Theatre to the east are staff areas that sit on the site of nos.8 to 12 Mason Street and the entrances to William’s Square and Catharine Square. Catherine Square is shown here in the 1920s.

At the back of the building the conservation units sit on the gardens of nos.6 and 7 Mason Street, behind which was Robsons Court. Just two houses were located in Robson's Court and are shown here in the 1920s.

And the staff rooms at the east end of the building sit on south end of William’s Square and Catharine Square.

Mason Street as viewed from the multi-storey car park in George Street in the early 1970s. Note that the site of the old buildings in Mason Street are mostly gone and the 'temporary' Second World War prefabs remain.

Below, right — an aerial view of the History Centre site courtesey of Google Earth - with an 1853 Ordnance Survey plan over-laid.

Note how Freetwon Way winds across the site of most of the property that stood between Mason Street, and Sykes Street to the north; property mostly demolished in the 1920s (see above).


© Paul L Gibson, Hull July 2009 (updated September 2010)


Rob Barnard for invaluable advice regarding legal documentation and jargon, supplying Woolner’s 1715 plan of Hull, an 1806 directory search, and ‘Paradise’ reference.

Hull History Services thanks to Martin Taylor for permission to use images from their collections.

Wilberforce House Museum F S Smith sketch of Mason Street

Brief Bibliography

Victoria County History of the County of York and the East Riding Volume 1; The City of Kingston upon Hull. Edited by K.J. Allison, Oxford University Press for Institute of Historical Research. 1969.

A New Picture of Georgian Hull. Ivan and Elizabeth Hall, William Sessions Ltd., York and Hull Civic Society. Hull, 1978/79.

History of the Town & Port of Kingston upon Hull. J.J. Sheahan, John Green. Beverley, 1862.

Streets of Hull: A History of their Names. John Markham, Highgate Publications (Beverley) Ltd. Beverley, 1987.

Lost Churches and Chapels of Hull. David Neave, with Geoff Bell, Christopher Ketchell and Susan Neave, Hull City Museums & Art Galleries and the Hutton Press. Cherry Burton, 1991.

History of the Streets of Hull. J Richardson, a Malet Lambert re-print of an original series of articles in the East Yorkshire Times in 1915. Hull, 1980s.

Landlord. Graham Wilkinson, unpublished. Hull, 2006.

Hull Pubs & Breweries. Paul Gibson, Tempus Publishing Ltd. Stroud, 2004.

The Evolution of Kingston upon Hull, as Shewn by its Plans. Thomas Sheppard, Brown Brothers. Hull, 1911.

Hull Poll Books, various.

Local Trade Directories, various.

Greenwood’s Picture of Hull. John Greenwood. Hull, 1835.

Forgotten Hull. Graham Wilkinson & Gareth Watkins, Kingston Press. Hull, 1999.

Forgotten Hull 2. Graham Wilkinson, Kingston Press. Hull, 2000.

The History of God’s House of Hull, Commonly Called the Charterhouse. John Cook, Peck & Son. Hull, 1882.

F S Smith’s Drawings of Hull; Images of Victorian Hull 2. Chris Ketchell, Hutton Press and Hull City Museums & Art Galleries. Beverley, 1990.


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