13 September 2022
Hello, I’m Charlotte Tomlinson, and a couple of weeks ago I joined the Hull Maritime team in the role of Community Engagement Officer.
I work as a creative historian and I’m thrilled to have joined a project that is so dedicated to exploring, protecting, and celebrating stories of Hull’s past. I’m especially excited because this is a project that’s committed to doing this work in collaboration with Hull’s communities.
Over the next few years, I know I’ll be spending lots of time asking people to think about their connections with Hull’s maritime past, present, and future, and getting to know hundreds, if not thousands, of local people a little better. With this in mind, it seems only fair that I spend my first blog post for the project sharing a bit of my own story, my relationship to this wonderful city, and reflecting on what maritime means to me.
Growing up in Hull, and having lived here for most of my life, I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been told that people in this city have a special relationship to the sea. ‘We’re water people’, a friend told me a few months ago, and I have to say that I agree – I’m never happier than when I’m at the seaside, or looking out towards the North Sea from Victoria Pier, or walking along the miles of riverfront we are lucky to call home.
It wasn’t until the Hull Maritime project started a few years ago that I fully reflected on what maritime has meant to my own life so far. I realised that I had grown up on stories of my ‘Hessle Roader’ grandparents, bargee great grandparents, and parents working in factories along the River Hull or enjoying nights out in old dockside buildings. I had spent the weekends catching buses that skimmed the edges of the docks along Hedon Road, and evenings making trips to walk along the front at Paull with my family, looking for ships. The maritime story of Hull was all around me, and it took many, excitingly varied different shapes. I just hadn’t taken the time to fully notice that before.
I had, however, been thinking about the connection between people, place, and the past for much longer. I’ve been working as a historian for most of the last ten years, even launching an award-winning community heritage project here in Hull, as well as working with organisations in other cities, like East End Women's Museum (eastendwomensmuseum.org), the University of Leeds, and the Museum of London Docklands | Free museum in London (where we often joke that I just can’t give up port cities and dockland communities). Stories of Hull’s experiences of the Blitz – an event closely linked to the city’s importance as a major port – led me to my own PhD, which explored the stories of women who joined the Women’s Voluntary Services during the Second World War.
Joining Hull Maritime is therefore not so much a sea change, but a return home on the tide for me. In fact, for the past year I’ve been back in Hull, leading the community engagement programme for another major heritage project in the city, The Half Life of the Blitz, (based from the University of Lincoln and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council). Over the last twelve months I’ve spoken to hundreds of people across Hull and the surrounding areas in a series of workshops, events, and oral history interviews – and I know I’ve already met more than a few readers of this blog in that project too.
From the dockers of East Hull to the matriarchal networks of Hessle Road and beyond, I’ve spent months and months immersed in stories of the city’s past. I’ve recorded memories of banana boats and ‘pineapple warehouses’, dashing to the finish line of ‘pram races’ and hopping from one side of the River Hull to another across its once jam-packed barges. I’ve spent hours listening to tales of life at sea as well as here on shore, and I firmly believe that there’s a place for all of them, and for all of us – whatever our story – in the city’s maritime past and future.
In other words, I believe that at its heart, this project is all about people. And in this community engagement role my work revolves around just that – people who have played a role in our maritime story so far, or have perhaps dedicated their time to protecting this heritage, through to those who might not have considered this part of Hull’s past before. I believe this project belongs to all of us and I’ll work hard to make sure that that’s the case.
I love to work in creative, collaborative ways, and over the next couple of years I’m going to be focused on doing just that – from community theatre projects, to training courses, to site tours and craft workshops. One of the first jobs on my to-do list is to launch the next round of Hull Maritime’s Community Grants Scheme, where we invite local groups and individuals to come to us with maritime-linked projects and activities which we can support through small pots of funding.
Most of all, I love to chat. If you’d like to talk to me about working together, learning more about the project, or something else, I’d love you to get in touch at email@example.com. Let’s grab a cuppa – I look forward to meeting you soon.