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26 September 2022

Volunteer, Julie Corbett writes about their visit to Hull Maritime Museum.

This September I was fortunate to be part of a group invited to see the progress with the redevelopment of Hull’s maritime museum. You can see the artist’s impressions of what building and exhibition spaces will look like here. I can never visualise like that. I find it a struggle to even decide on a paint colour for the garden fence.

Roof of the Maritime Museum scaffold and safety wrap being installed

The contractors for the project are Simpson (York) Limited. You can read and see some photographs from the beginning of the work and details of the investment form both Hull City Council and The National Heritage Lottery Fund here.

The refurbishment involves both inside and outside the building. The scale is quite vast and disorientating as many familiar features of the museum are boarded in plywood for protection. The other confusing change is that all the floors and the internal atrium area are becoming connected. The visitor experience will be amazing but walking round now, as the work progresses, I found disjointed and confusing.

Our guide Robin Draper, Curator of Social and Maritime History was excellent. Robin had just returned from a trip to Pangnirtung in Nunavut, Canada as part of the ‘Diving Deeper’ project funded by the Designated Development Fund, Arts Council England. Hull’s maritime collection includes several Inuit artefacts whalers from Hull acquired by barter or as souvenirs. Robin has written three blogs on the experience, the first of which you can read here.

Main internal staircase protected with bespoke plywood casing

Robin gave us so much rich and detailed information that it is impossible to retell in one blog post, so I have picked three things to write about.

The outside of the building
Replacement stonework with identifying notation

The Maritime Museum is the former Hull’s Dock Offices and was opened in 1871.

The external finish is mainly Ancaster stone. This limestone is only found around Ancaster in Lincolnshire. It is a middle Jurassic oolite which is compressed seashells and sand, the bottom of a shallow sea that once covered Holderness and Lincolnshire.

I thought it was quite romantic that the material on the outside of the maritime museum building was once covered by sea water. Too fanciable a view especially given how badly Hull was affected by flooding in 2007 when thousands of homes and businesses were inundated by surface water after a prolonged rainstorm.

One of the new exhibits in the museum will be addressing climate change and the risks associated with sea level changes along with Hull’s geographical position on a floodplain.

Access ramp to entrance of Maritime Museum
Attention to detail

When I visited the museum before Simpson’s began the refurbishment many of the previous alterations and updating had been revealed. During the lifetime of the building, it had gone from coal fires to central heating and working practices from ledgers to computers. There was evidence in and on every wall.

Uncovered fireplace third floor
Obsolete Telephone

Now many of the walls are clear, and the old workings have been removed. The thing that caught my eye was the reminders for work now.

Note reminder of making good around window
A hole filled with lime (completed)
A hole to be filled with gypsum

I had to find out if gypsum and lime are the same thing. And no, they are not. Gypsum is the sulphate salt of calcium and is lime is the carbonate salt of calcium. I assume the walls they are being applied to are made of different material.

The red line on the above image is a route of electrical cabling yet to be fitted.

This refurbishment is thorough. One of the most exciting aspects of this is that a new gallery will be available, and it is to the standard that national collections can be displayed. This means we can look forward to more visiting exhibitions like Turner and the Whale, when four of Turner’s paintings were displayed alongside some of Hull’s own whaling art.

The Best Room in Hull
Court Room, April 2021

The room has protective, plywood casing but you can see the internal windows have now been revealed. This space is now going to also benefit from the installation of a dumb waiter connecting this floor to the downstairs kitchen so catering can be facilitated.

Court Room, September 2022

And yes, a new café, Changing Places provision and baby changing facilities are to be included in the refurbishment.

One of the points Robin Draper was keen to emphasis was how much public consultation events are contributing to what will be displayed in the museum. One important addition will be a display about the Merchant Navy and another of Hull as a site of transmigration and the stories of the people involved.

It was a great visit and even though I still have no vision of how the museum will look. I am confident it will show the story of Hull, the people and Hull’s place in the maritime story past, present and future.