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Janet Penny is a white badge accredited tour guide and delivers the maritime guided walks as part of Hull Maritime.

As part of the guided walks, Janet talks about various landmarks and its history.


The magnificent Wilberforce House is a grade I listed building which means it is of exceptional interest. It was built in the 1660’s by William Caitlyn, a local builder who built several houses in the area in the Artisan Mannerist style which is created by masons rather than architects. Other buildings by Caitlyn include the Crowle House which is further down High Street.

The house has an unusual three-storey projecting porch and striking stonework incorporated into the brickwork. The windows are later additions in the Georgian style except one which is an older leaded type, no one can really explain why. A typical merchant house it served three purposes, a business on the ground floor, living quarters above and it was an advertisement of the owner’s success. Most of the successful merchants had their homes on High Street, next to the river so that goods could be landed straight off the ships and into their yards and warehouses.

At the rear of the property is a beautiful garden leading to the River Hull whilst at the front of the property is a small garden with an impressive mulberry tree which was planted in 1959 to commemorate 200 years since Wilberforce’s birth. There is also a wonderful statue of William Wilberforce that is passed by visitors before they enter the building.

It is believed that King Charles I stayed overnight in the original house on the site in 1639 which this house replaced. The house was built for Hugh Lister the fourth son of Sir John Lister, a wealthy merchant and was briefly used as the Governor’s house when the Lister family left.

Wilberforce House

The Wilberforce Connection:

The house is famous for being the birthplace of William Wilberforce MP who was the leader of the movement to abolish slavery. It went into the ownership of William Wilberforce’s grandfather, also called William in 1732. William senior was at one time apprentice to the then owner, John Thornton, he went on to marry the daughter of the family and then bought the house to live in.

William was born in an upstairs bedroom in the house on 24th August 1759 and was baptised in Holy Trinity Church nearby. After attending Cambridge University he became the MP for Hull at the age of 21. He soon became the leading spokesman against the slave trade and he spent the rest of his life working towards its abolition. The house was sold in 1830 in order for William Wilberforce to pay off his son’s debts.

Current use:

It had several uses including an accountant’s offices before being bought by Hull City Council in 1903 who opened it as Hull’s first museum in 1906 with displays about Wilberforce and the slave trade.

It remains a much loved and popular museum.

Text and image by Janet Penny, Hull Maritime volunteer and white badge accredited tour guide.