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26 January 2021

What do we know about Hull's role in the wine import trade? Maritime Media Volunteer, Don reveals more.

Sometimes the smallest clue can lead to a much bigger story, and so it is with a pretty unprepossessing business card held by Hull Maritime Museum.

Richard Cattley's business card

It's a printed card, carrying the name Richard Cattley and tells us that he was a wine merchant at 160 High St. It's undated, but we know from Pigot's Directory of 1829 that Cattley was in business at that time.

Pigot's appears to be the 19th century equivalent of Yellow Pages, although unlike the latter it starts with a listing of 'gentry and clergy!' He was one of 37 wine merchants in Hull listed in Pigot's, and although we don't have an exact population figure for the city in 1829, we do know that the 1831 census recorded 46,246 people in 'Town and Sculcoates' – an impressive rate of one merchant for every 1250 or thereabouts men, women and children in the city.

Cattley, who was born in 1789, was continuing a long Hull tradition that had its origins some 600 years earlier. It was then that ships carrying wine from the Bordeaux area first started coming to Hull and early customers are known to have included a number of Archbishops of York.

Henry III soon saw an opportunity here, appointing an official to enforce his rights over the trade, including 'prisage' – his right to take a proportion of every ship's cargo.

By the early 16th century Hull ships taking wool to Calais frequently detoured to Gascony, Bordeaux, Spain and Portugal to pick up wine for the voyage home. For a long time Hull was second only to London for wine imports.

There is a map of much of Europe in the maritime museum showing details of trade in and out of Hull over many years – one detail showing wine being carried from Bordeaux to Hull in the 15th and 16th centuries. To the untutored eye the vessel shown looks a bit inadequate for such a valuable cargo!

Map of European trade

By 1792 when George lll was on the throne Hull was handling about 7 per cent of the country's total trade in wine. His hugely extravagant and heavy-drinking son, then Prince of Wales (known irreverently as Prince of Whales because of his size, although we may guess not to his face) would have enjoyed the prisage on that!

The museum also has a number of stoneware jugs or amphora, mostly dating from the 18th century. These would have been used for storing wine, olive oil or other liquids.

Most have some small decoration such as the grey jug with the blue vine shown here. Also shown is one that has been inadvertently decorated – look closely at the the brown jug and you can make out some barnacles adhering to it, suggesting that it was perhaps snared in a trawler catch.

Stoneware Jug With Blue Vine Detail
Stoneware Jug With Encrusted Barnacles

And Richard Cattley's address? 160 High Street? You probably know it better as Maister House!

***We endeavour to make sure all the research and facts we present by staff and volunteers is accurate and checked with rigor. However, we are only human so please let us know if you spot any errors and always cross-reference your research.***