Hull palace was fit for a king
It is today one of the busiest areas of central Hull.
Here lies the commercial heart of the city, the offices which house the members of its legal profession, its Guildhall, and its courts. Here, too, are found some of its oldest buildings, many carefully preserved, fascinating throwbacks to a very different commercial age.
Of one such building, however there is no trace. Yet once it and the magnificent grounds around it encompassed the entire area now bounded by Lowgate, Queen's Gardens, Bowlalley Lane and Quay Street.
On the site which is now mainly occupied by the central Post Office stood Suffolk Palace, a magnificent tribute to the skill of the builders who in 1387 commenced their work.
Here, some 600 years ago stood a brick and stone hall 60ft in length, with a beautiful range of buildings, tower and chapel.
One yard alone contained an acre of land said to be ornamented with fishponds and a beautiful dovecote.
Another two acre plot was pastureland, surrounded by a 9ft high brick wall. According to one historian writing in the last century: "Before the great hall window was a most delightful and spacious flower garden of upwards of an acre and contiguous to it was the kitchen garden.
On the south side of the hall was a court containing houses for baking, brewing and washing.
Built by Sir Michael De La Pole two years after he had been made Lord Chancellor and Earl of Suffolk, the palace fell to the ownership of The Crown in 1503. And to it came King Henry VIII, who spent time there during a visit to Hull in 1540.
In this period the palace became known as Manor Hall or King's Manor. After another change of ownership the property passed into the hands of the Hildyards, of Winestead who let it out - at £50 a year - to King Charles, who converted it into a magazine in 1639.
It was King Charles 11 who sold it to the Mayor and Corporation of Hull, and they wasted little time and sold it yet again - to Henry Hildyard, of Surrey. The glory days were over.
After that came, apparently, decades, then centuries of decline. A 19th Century writer said of the area: "It is nearly surrounded by fine buildings. In Lowgate, the Town Hall, a number of shops and the Hull Exchange; in Bowlalley Lane (on the former bowling green of the palace) a variety of business premises; in Quay Street various buildings and on the dock side (the former Queen's Dock, now Queen's Gardens) the Hull Dock company's and others warehouses.
"But these enclose in a girdle of respectability a district where squalor and misery are the chief features, though it must be confessed that there are instances of health and cleanliness which it is surprising to find in such unpropitious circumstances.
*See story below.
Richard Cooke was a man with a mission
As editor of the Hull Critic in the later years of the 19th Century he was only too well aware of the squalor of the fast growing town.
In a series entitled "Hull After Dark" his magazine took a look along some of Hullís most notorious streets. Among them was Bowlalley Lane, once part of the Suffolk Palace. This is how Cooke saw what today is a key commercial centre of modern Hull
"It seems a peculiar thing that vice and crime should be permitted to have its fling under the very nose of law and justice. But so it is in Hull.
"Within speaking distance of The Police Court places exist reeking with infamous filthiness."
Let us turn into one of them - the one which many solicitors use as a near cut to the court from Bowlalley Lane. We enter one of the houses and see a dirty old man with limbs as crooked as his heart and mind. For many years he has got a living from the prostitution of women and the illicit sale of drink and is well known to the police as having more girls on his premises than any other den in the locality.
"There are several females in the room, some young and some middle aged but all with dissipation and vice plainly indicated in their soddened features."
They are the lowest of the low against whom some of the unfortunates of the town appear as angels of light...
Across the passage Cooke was shocked to find "a procuress, her bully and a girl about seventeen or eighteen years of age waiting for a mark. As young as she is she has already got the stamp of her character in her face, while it is difficult to say which is the more filthy, her tongue or her hands."
In this hose, too, as in fact the others all round the vicinity,the laws to regulate the liquor traffic are a dead letter.
Cooke maintained that prostitution and drunken-ness were rampant in the area - and robbery was rife.
"Dozens of poor misguided sailors go there after a long voyage, are made intoxicated, filched of their undoubted extremely hard-earned money, assaulted and turned out into the street without the slightest means of making provision for the next voyage.
In the century since then Hull has certainly cleaned itself up. But just how many of those who now work and live in the busy streets of the Old Town ever realise just what once went on in that same area?
Written by The Editor - 14/03/2001 16:00:09
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