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Hull Maritime volunteer and accredited tour guide, Don Knibb has some interesting nuggets of information on Solar Gate, in Queens Gardens. It is one of many stops on the maritime guided walks.


Popularly known as the Cheesegrater, the Solar Gate is in fact a solar sculpture which aligns with the sun to mark significant moments in history, some of them particularly relevant to Hull itself.

It is in fact a most unusual type of sundial. It doesn’t work whenever the sun is out; rather it works ONLY at 16 specific dates and times during the year. It is a highly advanced piece of engineering which uses specialized digital tools to align pairs of apertures cut in opposite faces of the structure with the precise angle of the sun.

At the exact moment of alignment the sun’s rays pass through the apertures and illuminate a marker set in the ground which records a significant date in history. Examples include events of general significance such as the summer solstice and ones specific to Hull itself such as the refusal to admit King Charles l to the city on 23 April 1642, said to be a pivotal event in the run up to the English Civil War. The sculpture is illuminated after dark with a lighting system installed both inside and outside the structure.


Completed in 2017, it was designed by the architectural firm Tonkin Liu (Directors Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu.) and consists of a lightweight two shell structure made from stainless steel. It stands 10 metres high, but the two shells are only one metre apart at most, and this tapers to 100 millimetres at the edges. Its strength derives from its shell form, inspired in part by the structure of mollusc shells. The steel for the sculpture was fabricated by Pearlgreen Engineering of Hawthorne Avenue, Hull.


The marker for 22 June 1633 commemorates the imprisonment under house arrest of the astronomer Galileo Galilei. His crime? Defending Heliocentrism – the belief that the sun is at the centre of the solar system and that the planets, including the Earth, orbit around it. This view was opposed by the Catholic church at the time and considered heretical by the Roman Inquisition.

Free maritime guided tours will get start again on 11 February 2023. The walks start in the Museums Quarter, High Street. More info.


Text by Don Knibb, Hull Maritime volunteer

Images by Olwen Evans-Knibb, Hull Maritime volunteer