Hull Maritime Museum is one of the stops on the maritime guided walks delivered by accredited White Badge tour guides.
Here's more information on the museum by Ian Martin and Don Knibb, Hull Maritime volunteers.
Built in 1871 by architect Christopher George Wray – who worked in India and Egypt as well as in England - the Grade ll* listed maritime museum was originally The Hull Dock Company’s office.
Hull was the third largest port in the UK, along with Grimsby, one of the largest fishing ports in the world and at one point in its long history was also the largest whaling port. The office was built on a peculiar triangular plot to replace a previous one on Dock Office Row and in 1975 it became the home of the city's huge collection of maritime artefacts.
When it was the Dock Company’s office, the superintendent’s office was on the ground floor. Here you could also find the wharfage office, where shipowners and captains or their representatives would come to pay their harbour dues. The first floor is largely taken up by the magnificent Court Room where shareholders’ meetings were held and where the Directors entertained their visitors.
Above the cornices in this room you will see pairs of cherubs holding the coats of arms of Hanseatic League and other ports which have historically traded with Hull. The decoration on the shields is much more recent though, having been painted by the artist Joanne Westgate in 1989. The whole building, but particularly the Court Room, was very much built to impress.
From the Directors’ offices you would have been able to see right in front of you ships moving between the Old Dock (now Queen’s Gardens) and Junction (now Prince’s) Dock. As late as 1961 the poet Philip Larkin referred to ‘ships up streets’ when describing the scene in his poem Here.
On closer inspection of the building you will notice that every statue, carving and decoration has a maritime theme. King Neptune and his Consort sit above the main door facing Queen Victoria Square and the carvings which are everywhere include dolphins, seahorses, mermaids and mermen among many others.
The railings, which escaped intact during the Second World War when many others were removed and melted down to make armaments, are topped with gilded tridents. The building began a huge transformation in 2022 and is due to open its doors again in early 2025.
When it reopens it will be a world-class museum to make Hull proud. Visitors will be able to tour one of the three domes and take in the panoramic views of the town docks and River Humber beyond.
The opening up of the building’s central light well, with a glass roof, will create a full height atrium with walkways at different levels. The exciting renovations will not only provide space for the museum’s fascinating maritime collections but will also make more of a feature of the beautiful historic building itself.
When the building was used as the Dock Office the housekeeper was allowed to live in two of the three domes you will see on each corner of the building. One dome was her living room and the other her bedroom. What a fantastic place it must have been to live with sailing ships passing majestically below her windows as they entered the largest inland dock in the UK.
Text by Ian Martin/Don Knibb
Images by Hull City Council/Don Knibb