Hull Maritime volunteer and accredited tour guide, Janet Penny delves into the history of Beverley Gate.
The first town defences were licensed in the early 1300’s by King Edward II. Initially the defences consisted of a ditch and a raised bank with a wooden palisade on top.
The defences were replaced by brick walls in the late 1300’s. Brick was used as there was no stone available in the area but there was lots of mud from the Holderness plain.
Hull was the first town in Britain to have a brickworks and was also the first town to be built entirely of brick. Approximately five million bricks were used in the walls’ construction and in medieval times they were the largest brick-built construction in the country.
The walls surrounded the north, west and south of the town with the River Hull on the eastern side. It was not until Henry VIII visited the town in 1541 that he ordered defences to be built on the eastern bank. The southern section along the River Humber was the first part to be built and also acted as a flood defence.
The walls had four main entrances, or gates as they were known, with about 30 interval towers and several small entrances called posterns which were narrow and could be blocked very quickly if necessary. Quite often new posterns were opened up to allow quick access to individuals’ homes if they could afford to pay for the work.
The walls were demolished gradually, starting in the 1770’s, in order to make way for the town docks and the warehousing that was required.
The only section of the walls still exposed is part of the Beverley Gate, the most important entrance connecting Hull with Beverley and York. This was excavated in the 1980’s after being hidden for almost 200 years. It was at this gate that access was denied to King Charles 1 on 23 April 1642 by the then Governor, Sir John Hotham. It was at the time when Parliament was in dispute with the crown as the King wanted absolute rule over the country. Hull was on the side of Parliament and instructions had been sent by Oliver Cromwell not to allow the King to enter the town. It was because Hull had a huge arsenal of weapons that it was strategically important. Not allowing the king access to the town was a site of defiance against the crown, part of a series of events leading up to the English Civil War.
Beverley Gate was also important during the Pilgrimage of Grace which took place when people protested against Henry VIII and his plan to dissolve the monasteries because of his opposition to the Catholic faith. Huge numbers of people set off on a pilgrimage around parts of the country.
Their leader, Sir Robert Constable, was summoned to London by the King; he refused, and this was seen as treason. As his punishment, Constable was hung in a gibbet from the Beverley Gate and his body was left hanging as a warning to the people of Hull for 4 years, only being removed before the King visited Hull in 1541.
The walls were not always treated with respect and at times local people were even known to have removed bricks in order to repair their homes. In 1486 a man was fined 2 pence because his pigs caused damage to the walls which indicates there was probably loose masonry.
Text by Janet Penny. Images by Olwen Evans -Knibb.