Hull and the East Riding Yorkshire

Hull and the Humber

The wide River Humber forms the southern boundary of East Yorkshire and separates Yorkshire from Lincolnshire. It is undoubtedly the most obvious historic dividing line between the North of England and the Midlands.

Humber is a Celtic river name meaning ‘good- well’ and the root of the name can be traced back to the Sanskrit ‘Ambhas’ meaning water. The antiquity of the name demonstrates the river’s importance. The Humber gave its name to the ancient kingdom of Northumbria – the land north of the Humber which once stretched as far north as Edinburgh – and the river forms one of the largest river estuaries in England, matched only by the River Severn and the River Thames.

Humber Bridge
Humber Bridge © David Simpson

The Humber is formed by the confluence of Yorkshire’s River Ouse with that famous river of the midlands called the Trent.

The two rivers merge at Faxfleet, about six miles east of the port of Goole. Almost every single river in Yorkshire (the exceptions being the Esk, the Ribble and the Tees) feed the River Humber via the River Ouse.

A few miles further east, along the Humber from Faxfleet is the town of Brough where the Roman road from York linked up with a Roman ferry across the Humber towards Lincolnshire.

Brough was known to the Romans as Petuaria and was probably the tribal capital of the Parisi. The Parisi were the great Celtic or ancient British tribe of east Yorkshire. They were culturally more sophisticated than the Brigantes tribe who inhabited the rest of Yorkshire and they may have had links with a Celtic tribe in Europe called Parisi who gave their name to Paris in France.

A few miles further east of Brough is Hessle on the outskirts of Hull, where the magnificent Humber Bridge crosses the River Humber. The bridge, one of the world’s longest single span suspension bridges (4,626 feet) was commenced in 1972 and opened in 1981. It links Hessle with Barton upon Humber in Lincolnshire.


Hull is located at the point where the little River Hull (which starts in the Yorkshire Wolds) joins the River Humber, twenty miles from the sea. Hull, has a population of around 300,000 and is the third biggest port in England after Liverpool and London. It is sometimes described as ‘the biggest fishing port in the world’.

During World War Two Hull suffered some of Britain’s heaviest wartime bombing and many new buildings were later constructed to replace those that had been bombed. Today Hull has important links with the European continent and there are important North Sea ferry links to Zeebrugge in Belgium and Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

Hull Marina
The marina by the River Humber at Hull © David Simpson

Hull was originally a little settlement called Wyke which belonged to the Cistercian abbey of Meaux near Beverley. In 1293 King Edward I purchased Wyke from the abbot of Meaux and built a town here that he renamed Kingston-upon-Hull. Today the name Kingston-upon-Hull is now more of an historic name and the place is usually known as Hull.

King Edward had recognised Hull’s potential importance as the site for a harbour and as a war base and In 1299 the King granted the town its first charter. The harbour at Hull was developed by a merchant family called the De La Poles who abandoned an earlier haven development at Hedon to the east of Hull. Sir William De La Pole became Hull’s first mayor in 1331. His son, Michael also became Mayor of Hull and later founded a Carthusian priory in the town.

Hull’s strategic importance was recognised centuries after the reign of King Edward when in the English Civil War Hull was the first place to be openly hostile to King Charles I. The King was on his way to Hull from Beverley in 1642 when the gates of the town wall were closed to him by Sir John Holtham who was the Governor of the town. The Parliamentarians had persuaded Holtham to side with them during a meeting at a house in Hull’s Silver Street. The building where the meeting was held was Sir John’s House – later to become the White Hart Inn.

The Old Town of Hull

Medieval Hull was located west of the River Hull and on the north side of the Humber. It was bordered on its western flank by a moat served to protect this important war base from attack. This area of town is known as the Old Town. Here many of the streets and narrow alleys have medieval origins. The moat on the western side of the old town later became the site of Hull’s Queens docks, which were built in 1778. Some of the docks were later filled in and became the Queens Gardens.

Old streets in the ‘Old Town’ include Silver Street, Manor Street, Posterngate, Black Friar Gate, High Street and the Market Place. The most notable feature of medieval times is the church of Holy Trinity which dates from the fourteenth century. The church is notable for incorporating some of the earliest uses of brick.

Hull Holy Trinity church
Holy Trinity church in Hull © David Simpson

A brickyard was recorded in Hull as early as 1303 and it seems that the popularity of brick as a building material may have spread across the country from Hull. Brick is certainly an important material in the elegant villages of lowland Yorkshire.

Inside the church we can see an effigy of William De La Pole, Hull’s first mayor who died in 1366. The church of Holy Trinity underwent restoration in 1869.

The High Street in Hull was once the most important street in the town and is the home to Wilberforce House which was the birthplace of the anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce (1759-1833).

William Wilberforce
William Wilberforce © David Simpson

Wilberforce was elected as a Member of Parliament at the age of twenty-one and later became known as ‘The Nightingale of the House of Commons’ because of his campaigning work. He was the leading figure in the campaign to abolish the slave trade and his work resulted in The Abolition Act of 1833 which abolished slavery throughout the British Empire. Wilberforce House is now a museum dedicated to the history of the slave trade.

The Guildhall

One of Hull’s most imposing buildings is its Guildhall which is Hull’s Town Hall. There had been a Guildhall at Hull as far back as the fourteenth century but this was located on the south side of the market place. A new building replaced this at the north end of the market place in the seventeenth century but this too was demolished at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

This in turn was replaced by another new Town Hall in 1866 designed by Cuthbert Brodrick who also designed the Town Hall at Leeds. Indeed, although Brodrick was born at Hull in 1821 he is principally famed for shaping the architecture of Leeds.

Guildhall, Hull
The Guildhall, Hull © David Simpson

Brodrick’s Town Hall at Hull was rather short-lived as when Hull was granted city status in 1897 the civic fathers had ambitions for a larger building. A new town hall designed by Sir Edwin Cooper was erected to the west between 1907 and 1914 and was soon renamed the Guildhall.

This is the grand structure that we see today. Brodrick’s Town Hall was demolished but many parts of it were salvaged and reused in the erection of a First World War Memorial at Brantingham village about 10 miles to the west of Hull.

The village of Cottingham lies on the northern outskirts of Hull retains a feeling of separateness from the neighbouring city. It was granted a weekly market in 1199 and an annual fair in 1200. The parish church dedicated to St Mary dates from the fourteenth century and has been described as the little sister of Hull’s Holy Trinity church, though it is by no means a small church.

Beverley Minster

Beverley, six miles to the north of Hull was once the capital of the East Riding of Yorkshire and is the home to Beverley Minster, regarded as one of the most beautiful churches in England. I

The minster has the architectural grandeur of a cathedral rather than a church and indeed many English cathedrals are more than overshadowed by Beverley. The first church, with an attached monastery was built at Beverley in the seventh century by St John of Beverley who had trained under St Hilda at Whitby. In 687 AD he became the Bishop of Hexham and later the Bishop of York

John later returned to Beverley, where he retired and was buried in his church. Later the Danes almost destroyed the church but it was rebuilt and visited by King Athelstan in the tenth century, sometime before a great battle with the Vikings. Pilgrims continued to flock to John’s shrine and in 1037 he was canonized as a saint. In 1138 the saint’s banner was carried with the standards of other famous northern saints at the Battle of the Standard near Northallerton.

Beverley Minster
Beverley Minster © David Simpson

Sometime after the Norman conquest the church was refashioned by the Normans, but their new building was destroyed by fire in 1188. Around 1220 rebuilding of a new minster church began and work continued until around 1420 culminating in the magnificent church of today.

Inside the minster is an elaborate shrine to the Percy family which was constructed in the fourteenth century. Nearby is a Frid Stool or peace stool, a primitive seat of Anglo-Saxon origin which is similar to one found at Hexham Abbey. The stool offered sanctuary to criminals similar to the sanctuary offered at Durham Cathedral. Beverley’s organ is a Snetzer organ, one of the best surviving examples, dating from 1767.

The town of Beverley

The town of Beverley grew up around the minster church and received its first charter in 1129. Beverley was incorporated as a borough in 1573 during the reign of Elizabeth I and was a place of great importance and wealth.

As well as the minster there are a number of other historic features in Beverley worthy of note. The beautiful parish church of St Mary’s, for example dates from the twelfth century and predates the minster. The church is famous for a carving of a rabbit which is said to have inspired Lewis Carroll to create the March Hare in Alice in Wonderland.

Beverley Minster, Old postcard
Beverley Minster, Old postcard

Most of Beverley’s town centre is Georgian and Victorian in origin but at the northern entrance to the town is marked by the medieval North Bar. It was one of five gateways that protected the entrance to the town and was supported by a drawbridge, in the days when Beverley was surrounded by a defensive ditch.

Beverley’s Market Place is the home of a Saturday market and has a market cross dating from 1714, which is supported with 8 columns. Horse racing has been held in Beverley since 1690.

Meaux, a few miles to the east of Bevreley was the site of Meaux Abbey, founded by the Earl of Albermarle in the twelfth century but virtually nothing remains of the site. At one time the abbey of Meaux owned the land that would later become the location of the town and city of Hull.

A couple of miles to the west of Beverley is the pretty village of Bishop Burton which is well worth a visit. It consists of white-washed houses with red roofs and is located in a dip with an extensive duck pond that adds much to its charm. The village was historically the property of the Archbishops of York.

Bishop Burton
Bishop Burton © David Simpson

East Yorkshire : Wolds and Coast

Driffield and the Yorkshire Wolds

The Yorkshire Wolds are formed by the most northerly limits of chalk in Britain and form rolling hills to the south of the Vale of Pickering and to the north of the low lying East Yorkshire district called Holderness.

The Wolds were attractive to ancient man, who preferred to stay clear of the poorly drained and easily flooded neighbouring vales. Many Bronze Age burials and other finds have been discovered in the neighbourhood of the wolds.

The little town of Great Driffield lies just on the edge of the Wolds and is sometimes known as the ‘Capital of the Wolds’. Great Driffield is an agricultural settlement and is located at the point where the River Hull begins. The River Hull is formed here by several streams flowing down from the Yorkshire Wolds and many of these streams are noted for their Trout.

An eighteenth century canal (1772) links Great Driffield to a more navigable section of the River Hull further downstream. The Hull flows southward in the land to the east of Great Driffield before joining the River Humber at the City of Hull. Great Driffield’s most notable historic feature is the church of All Saints. It was first built around 1200 but was much restored by Gilbert Scott. Its tower was built in the fifteenth century.

Little Driffield, with its village green, lies a mile to the west of Great Driffield. It is reputedly the burial place of Aldred, King of Northumbria, who died near hear in 705 while fighting in battle against the Vikings. A Saxon monastery is said to have existed sometime during or after Aldred’s reign.

Wetwang , five miles west of Little Driffield is a rather intriguing place name. It could mean the ‘Wet field’. The second part of the name almost certainly means field as it derives from the Viking word vangr and early forms of the village name are Wetwangha, Wetwanghe, Wetwange and Wetwong.

Some place-name scholars argue that the place was actually a Viking name ‘Vaettvangrr’ meaning the field of summons for the trial of an action. Their argument is that local tradition claims that the fields hereabouts are not noted for being wet, although field drainage could have been improved since Viking times.

If Wetwang was the wet field then Driffield was surely the dry field. Strangely early forms and spellings of the name Driffield point to a name meaning ‘dirt field’ or ‘field with stubble’ Later inhabitants forgetting their early origins may have associated the two places with being wet and dry.


The coastal boundary between East Yorkshire and North Yorkshire lies just to the north of Flamborough Head and just south of Filey in North Yorkshire (though Filey was traditionally in the East Riding). Flamborough Head is encountered in the Scarborough section of this site.

The famous coastal resort of Bridlington, just south of Flamborough Head, began as a an Anglo-Saxon settlement, with a name that meant Beohrtel’s ton – the farm belonging to Beohrtel. Nearby is a place called Sewerby – a Viking place name – that name means Siward’s farm or village.

Bridlington is a coastal market town and its most important historic feature is Bridlington Priory. The priory was founded in 1120 for Augustinian canons by Walter de Gant but of the present remains, nothing dates from before the thirteenth century.

Bridlington Priory was largely destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries and its last Prior, William Wode was executed at Tyburn for his part in the Catholic rebellion known as the Pilgrimage of Grace. The church of the priory, dedicated to St Mary remains in full, escaping the destruction that followed the Dissolution of the Monasteries, because it was the Parish church of Bridlington. Some of the stones from the old priory were used in the construction of Bridlington’s piers.

One of the best known characters associated with Bridlington Priory was John of Bridlington, who was born at Thwing, a few miles to the north west in 1362. He was famed for working miracles and after his death in 1401 was made a saint by the Pope.

During the Civil War, Bridlington was used as a landing place by Queen Henrietta, Charles I’s queen. She landed at Bridlington on February 22nd 1643 to escape the canon fire of Parliamentarian ships.

It was only fourteen years later that a Quaker called Robert Fowler set sail from Bridlington to America with eleven Quakers and with absolutely no experience of sailing. Remarkably they landed safely in America only a few miles from their intended destination.

Ironically in the following century Bridlington was under attack from an Americans, the Privateer John Paul Jones who was engaged in a sea battle in which his ship was sunk just off the Bridlington coast. Jones managed to escape. This daring American also launched coastal attacks at Alnmouth in Northumberland and at Skinningrove further up the Yorkshire coast.

Burton Agnes Hall and Sewerby Hall

Notable houses in the neighbourhood of Bridlington include the Elizabethan house called Burton Agnes Hall which was built in 1598 six miles west of Bridlington The hall was built between 1598 and 1610 by Sir Henry Griffith and is considered to be one of England’s best historic houses. It was erected on the site of a Norman manor house built by Roger de Stuteville in 1173. It was historically the home of the Griffith family and then the Boyntons. In 1989 it passed to a member of the Cunliffe-Lister family but it is now owned by a preservation trust.

The name Burton means the farm on the burgh or fortified manor. The Agnes in question was Agnes de Albermarle who witnessed a deed at Burton Agnes in 1175.

Sewerby Hall with its gardens is a nineteenth century parkland hall stand just to the north of Bridlington. In pre-Norman times Sewerby belonged to a Carle and Torchil before passing to Robert, Count of Mortain, a, half brother of William the Conqueror after 1066. In 1088 Sewerby, as confiscated from Mortain and the property passed to the Sywardby family who held it until 1545.

Successive owners included the Carlylls of Bootham in York, the Greames in the eighteenth century followed by the Yarburghs and various descendants who eventually sold the property to Bridlington Corporation in 1934. Most of the present day hall dates from 1714.


Holderness is the name given to the coastal stretch of East Yorkshire stretching from Flamborough Head to Spurn Head near the mouth of the River Humber. The district forms a in places rather boggy peninsula about thirty miles long and is bordered by the River Hull in the west, the River Humber in the south and the North Sea in the east. The name is Viking and means the headland (ness) of the hold. A hold was a man of high rank in those area of England known as the Danelaw.

The Holderness coast is prone to erosion and a number of villages that existed at the time of the Domesday Book have since been washed away. Erosion continues today and Holderness villages like Barmston, Ulrome and Skipsea just to the south of Bridlington were once much further from the sea than they are today.

Skipsea may have been the site of the Viking administrative capital of Holderness. It was later the site of a castle built by one Drogo, who was thought to be a Flemish adventurer who fought at the Battle of Hastings. Drogo’s castle was destroyed in the reign of King Henry III.

Skipsea is a Viking name and means ‘Ship Lake’ – a lake on which ships could sail. The lake was perhaps an outlet to the sea which has long since eroded away. A few miles inland is North Frodingham, once the home to the Anglo-Saxon settlers called the Froddings who may have been the descendants of Froda, an Anglo-Saxon mentioned in the poem Beowulf.

A few miles further south we reach the village of Atwick and, inland, Nunkeeling, the site of a twelfth century Benedictine monastery. Two miles further down the coast we reach the small town of Hornsea.


Hornsea’s name means the ‘horn-shaped lake’ – the lake in question being Hornsea Mere, a freshwater lake less than a mile from the sea. It is remarkable, in that despite being only 467 acres, it is actually Yorkshire’s largest natural lake although some man-made reservoirs up in the dales are considerably larger.

In the thirteenth century, the abbot of St Mary’s at York and the abbot of Meaux near Beverley disputed the fishing rights at Hornsea Mere. They eventually settled their argument in a duel employing champions to fight their cause. St Mary’s were the eventual winners, although it is said that no blood was shed during the dispute.

The main street of Hornsea is called Newbegin and there is a museum here dedicated to life in Holderness. Nearby is a shopping and leisure park called Hornsea Freeport and to the south of Hornsea the Hornsea Pottery which produces quality pottery. Hornsea’s church dedicated to St Nicholas was built of cobblestones in the fourteenth century.

South Holderness

About 5 miles down the sandy Holderness coast from Hornsea is Aldbrough village situated inland with a name that means old fortified manor or old settlement – suggesting a site of some antiquity. Further inland towards Beverley and Hull are Skirlaugh and Burton Constable

Skirlaugh was the birthplace of the fourteenth century Prince Bishop of Durham, Walter Skirlaw, who took his name from the place. The Bishop built the church at Skirlaw in 1401. Skirlaw had also been Bishop of Lichfield and Bishop of Wells. During his time as Bishop of Durham he built Yarm Bridge, linking on the River Tees linking the counties of Durham and Yorkshire.

Burton Constable (not to be confused with Constable Burton in Wensleydale) is the home of Burton Constable Hall. Parts of this house date back to 1570, but most of the building is eighteenth century. It is the home of the Chichester -Constable family whose ancestors have lived in the area since the eleventh century.

A few miles south of Burton Constable is Hedon. In the twelfth century this was a busy port situated on a stream that flows into the Humber. Its role as a port was later eclipsed by Hull.

The medieval De La Pole family who developed Hull as a port originally concentrated their trade at Hedon. There are still some traces of Hedon’s former importance. In the Town Hall there is an old mace which is said to be the oldest in England. It dates from the reign of Henry V. Hedon’s church is dedicated to St Augustine and was commenced in 1180, but the nave and aisles are fourteenth century.

Patrington, further south has a fine cathedral-like medieval church sometimes described as the ‘Queen of Holderness’ while further north east on the coast is Withernsea, historically a coastal resort for Hull. It has a lighthouse dating from 1894.

Spurn Head and the Humber Mouth

South of Withernsea and Patrington, the Holderness peninsula begins to narrow until it eventually forms the tiny spit of sand and shingle called Spurn Head where the River Humber finally becomes the sea. Spurn Head is a hook shaped peninsula, some three and a half miles long and is as little as 50 yards wide in places. Formed by silt deposited from the Humber and sand washed down from the Holderness coast, Spurn Head is subject to erosion from the sea. It has occasionally been breached by the sea, but the deposits rebuild and Spurn Head can reappear a little further to the west. The Humber lifeboat is based at a jetty on Spurn Head, as are the Humber pilot ships that guide ships into the mouth of the Humber.

Market Weighton and Pocklington

Market Weighton and Pocklington are market towns situated near the edge of the Wolds between Beverley and York. A Roman Road from York to Brough on the Humber runs through the market town of Market Weighton. The churchyard here is the burial place of a so-called giant called Wiiliam Bradley who died in 1820. He was eight foot tall and weighed 27 stones.

Pocklington has a thirteenth century church and a grammar school dating from 1514 which was attended by William Wilberforce. William’s ancestors came from the village of Wilberfoss a few miles to the west of Pocklington on the road to York.


The Market Weighton and Pocklington area is thought to have been the first area of Northern England to be colonised by the Anglo-Saxons from Denmark and Germany (the Angles came from Angulus in southern Denmark).

The Anglo-Saxons formed the Kingdom of Deira in the Yorkshire Wolds and this kingdom gradually spread north and west , ultimately meging with the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Bernicia north of the Tees to form the Kingdom of Northumbria. Deira probably took its name from the River Derwent valley which lies on the northern and western outskirts of the East Yorkshire region.

The medieval church of All Saints at Goodmanham, just to the north of Market Weighton, is thought to have been the site of the principal pagan temple of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom called Deira. In the Easter of 627 Edwin of Deira, a King of Northumbria was converted to Christianity by a missionary called St Paulinus. The conversion and baptism took place at a church called St Peter’s in York at a location that would become the site for York Minster.

Coifi the Pagan high priest of Deira followed Edwin’s example and also converted to Christianity. To demonstrate his new faith Coifi destroyed the great heathen temple at Goodmanham, borrowing Edwin’s arms and horse to destroy the site.

King Edwin is said to have owned a summer palace somewhere near Goodmanham from where Coifi rode out to destroy the pagan shrine at Goodmanham. It is known that in the year 626AD, a year before his conversion to Christianity, there was an attempt to assassinate Edwin at this palace.

Eumer, an agent of the King of the West Saxons attempted to assassinate Edwin while he was celebrating the Pagan festival of Easter. The assassin entered the King’s court and asked to speak with the king on the pretence of having an important message from the West Saxon King.

On seeing the king, Eumer produced a poisoned dagger from beneath his cloak with which he attempted to stab Edwin. Fortunately for the king one of Edwin’s men called Lillam jumped in the way and suffered a blow from which he was killed. A fight followed in which Edwin was injured but Eumer was eventually put to death. On the same night of the assassination attempt King Edwin’s queen, Ethelburga is said to have given birth.

The site of Edwin’s palace is however unknown, the two most likely locations being at Sancton to the south of Market Weighton, where a large Anglo-Saxon cemetery has been found or at Londesborough near Pocklington.

In 634 the palace – wherever its location may have been – was destroyed by the Welsh King Cadwallon of Gwynedd. It may later have been replaced by a new palace at Newbald, south of Sancton as Newbald means new building. Newbald formed a large estate in later medieval times and this may have been associated with the site of the palace. The name Sancton incidentally means something along the lines of holy place.

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