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2 March 2021

Maritime Media Volunteer Don Knibb looks back to 1425 when two major events took place in the same year, both pretty controversial in their own way.

The year 1425 must have been an exciting, albeit controversial, one in Hull. It saw the consecration of the nave of Holy Trinity church, begun as early as 1285 but dogged by long delays in construction caused in large part by the ravages of the Black Death.

The consecration must have been contentious though - the Pope had recently appointed Richard Fleming to the post of Archbishop of York, but Fleming resigned when Henry Vl's Regency Council rejected the appointment.

Henry himself probably didn't care much one way or the other – he was little more than a toddler having succeeded to the throne in 1422 at the age of nine months!

Hull's beautiful Minster today

In the same year and hundreds of miles further north, Hull mariner John Percy was causing trouble – which he must have expected when he put himself at the head of a group who kidnapped the Danish governor of Iceland and his deputy and brought them to Hull.

Unsurprisingly this didn't go down well with the Danish government, but nor did it with the English government, already battling deteriorating relations with the Danes. Another headache no doubt for the Regency Council, although there is some evidence that the Icelanders were only too pleased to see the back of their governor.

So why did he do it? By the late 14th century Hull merchants were finding it increasingly hard to sell wool and cloth to the Low Countries who were now developing their own industries. They were forced to venture further afield to the Baltic, where they soon met with opposition from the ports of the Hanseatic League (from the Low Middle German Hanse meaning an association of merchants or a guild of traders.)

In its heyday the League boasted nearly 200 towns and cities who grouped together to protect their commercial interests and control trading routes.

Hull was never a full member, although it was a port with a Hansa trading post. The Maritime Museum displayed a large map of Hull's trade routes to Hanseatic and other ports – a detail is shown here.

A map of Hull's trade routes to Hanseatic and other ports

Focussed initially on the Baltic, the League rapidly expanded its interests to Norway, where it set up a Kontor - or trading post – at Bergen intended to control the whole of Norway's fish trade.

This of course included fish destined for Hull, and enterprising Hull fishermen sought to evade any control from Bergen by travelling further afield – to Iceland where they could fish without the Kontor's intervention and trade with the Icelandic people as they saw fit. By 1425 though, the Danish king ruled both Norway and Iceland, and it was his representatives in Iceland who fell foul of Percy by trying to put a stop to what they regarded as illegal activity.

In consequence, English fishermen had to deal with the Kontor in Bergen whether they liked it or not, but there were numerous further disputes and even attacks on Hull ships.

By the time the new Dock Offices – now the Maritime Museum – were opened in 1871 the Hanseatic League had shrunk to a mere shadow of its former self, due in part to the rise of competing powers such as the Swedish Empire.

One of the glories of the Dock Offices was – and still is - the magnificent Court Room, originally intended for use by the Hull Dock Company's shareholders, and also used, no doubt, for impressing visitors.

Imagine being in the Court Room and watching the ships at work on the dock that is now Queen's Gardens! The frieze above the impressive windows features 22 cherubs who are a permanent reminder of Hull's trading history. They hold shields decorated with coats of arms of Hanseatic and other cities with whom Hull has historic trading links.

The museum's stunning Court Room
The Court Room features 22 cherubs who are a permanent reminder of Hull's trading history

But it's not all about the past. The League was revived in 1980 to reconnect its original members and promote business, culture, tourism and education with Hull joining in 2012.

Let's hope the fiery John Percy would have approved!

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