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16 February 2021

Maritime Media Volunteer, Julie Corbett looks to the future of Queen's Gardens and reflects on its past.

I always find myself with a feeling of dislocation with any new development work in an area I know well. This is made more acute when I see trees disappear even though I know that the plan is to replace them in a three to one ratio. I grew up with some of these trees. Our relationship to place is jolted at times like these. I can never translate a drawing or representation of what an area will look like and must grow to love a place again. Queen’s Gardens will be no exception.

Guildhall Road
Tree and bush removal in progress Queen's Gardens

Plans for the Queen’s Gardens refurbishment went on display in February 2020. Here is our news item about them. Queen’s Gardens is Hull’s city centre public park on the site of the infilled Queen’s Dock.

Built by Hull Dock Company between 1775 and 1778 it was then Britain’s largest inland dock. Called ‘the dock’ it was entered from the River Hull just south of the current North Bridge. It followed the route of the town defence’s North Wall up to the Beverley Gate. In 1809 when Humber Dock was opened ‘the dock’ became known as ‘the old dock’ and for the visit by Queen Victoria in 1854 reamed Queen’s Dock.

The dock and quay were constructed from brick and stone and some of the parts that remain will be incorporated into the new perimeter layout of Queen’s Gardens. You can read more details here.

Perimeter Of Queens Gardens Showing Where Bricks Of The Dock Were Found
Perimeter of Queen's Gardens showing where bricks of the dock were found

Queen’s Dock closed in 1930 as it was no longer viable. By this time, other Hull docks with entrances direct to the Humber Estuary, space to accommodate larger vessels and the necessary railway and road links for freight trade had taken over. Here is a brief introduction to Hull docks.

Hull Corporation bought the dock from the London and North Eastern Railway Company with plans to make it an elegant boulevard and gardens. The statue of William Wilberforce (then situated in Victoria Square) was moved to its present position to be a prominent focal point.

A Rainy Day View Down The Full Length Of Queens Gardens From New Quay Street
A rainy day view down the full length of Queens Gardens from New Quay Street

However, this green space in Hull’s city centre will always have a filter of blue for me. My husband and I took part in the 2016 art installation by Spencer Tunick.

We were the shade B1, the palest of the four blues he chooses to represent Hull’s maritime heritage. Close to dawn on 9 July with more than 3,000 other people we headed to Queen’s Gardens.

After collecting our pots of paint and printed instructions to waited for the moment to get undressed and cover ourselves with the body paint. The call came and we were extolled to be quick listening for the moment and not to forget behind our ears and to do the soles of our feet last.

I thought I would be self-conscious but no, once I look up I was in the midst of many versions of ‘Smurf’ and I never felt naked at all. It was a completely joyful experience. We posed first round the Rose Bowl and finally on Scale Lane Bridge. We did not take photographs of the event so are especially pleased we can spot ourselves in the image each participant received from the installation.

Participant Of Sea Of Hull Photo And B1 Badge
Participant of Sea Of Hull photo and B1 Badge

Whilst the Sea of Hull is the most memorable event that I have attended in Queen’s Gardens I have attended many events there. Among the most enjoyable have been Pride and many Freedom Festival events.

It is however the gardens themselves that I find most pleasurable and I went before the start of the refurbishment to capture some of the features. I particularly like the assorted style of art and street furniture.

I love this part of the North wall with Kenneth Carter’s long stone panel. He was a lecturer at Hull College of Art at time.

Kenneth Carters Carved Stone Wall Panel
Kenneth Carters Carved Stone Wall Panel

This view towards the Hull College building and William Wilberforce on his doric column shows Robert Adam’s large concrete panel commissioned in the late fifties. Perhaps the only remaining example of this Brutalist style left in Hull.

Hull College Building And William Wilberforce Statue
Hull College Building And William Wilberforce Statue

And finally, here on the north is a plaque commemorating Danial Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, the famous fictional character who sailed from Hull in 1651 on the voyage that ended with him castaway on a desert island for over 28 years. Of course, this is not the dock he would have sailed from.

Plaque Commemorating Danial Defoe’S Robinson Crusoe
Plaque Commemorating Danial Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe

If you have not read local poet Audrey Dunne’s, Autumn Walks in Queen's Gardens: Work of Poetry and Prose’ it is well worth seeking it out.

It is a delightful saunter into these gardens.