There has been much welcome talk of a government initiative to nominate free ports in the north & develop a platform for the renaissance of some of the great cities of yesteryear, the cities that drove the industrial revolution & made Great Britain the most powerful economy on the planet.
This is a very exciting concept, much more fruitful than hand outs to politicians & bureaucrats which usually ends in waste & failure. Lord Salisbury understood full well the role of a government was to release the entrepreneurial spirit of the people, the businessmen & women ask only one thing of the State & that is to be allowed to trade with the minimum of interference. To understand the power of that ethos just look at post war Hong Kong & Singapore. No natural resources save an excellent harbour.
I want to write about Kingston on Hull today, simply because I know it so well, but much here could be written about other Northern ports which flourished in the nineteenth century & can again by releasing the most precious assets the harbour & the can do spirit of the inhabitants.
The advantages of declaring Hull a free port are self evident. Tax, customs & tariff free zone with any such responsibility met only at the end of the commercial chain. What old soldiers used to call ‘no names, no pack drill’. In short a massive release from the stifling bureaucracy so beloved of the western economies.
But I do not intend to make the economic case here, it is already proven.
I want to flag up their worth to those in London & the south east who never leave their part of the world except to visit Tuscany or Provence at holiday time. This response has been triggered by an interview I did with LBC back in 2016 when Hull was designated the UK cultural city of 2017.
A sneering patronising radio presenter singled me out as I represented Yorkshire in the European parliament for ten years & presumably was a suitable guest. I had not appeared on her show before otherwise she might have been a bit more circumspect.
Her attitude was basically ‘ha ha, Hull a cultural city, what a joke’.
She picked the wrong bloke.
I listed on air what was available in Hull, I make the same observations here because a rebirth of the commercial aspects of Hull cannot be taken in isolation. The city cannot prosper unless potential immigrants who might be tempted to participate in the renaissance understand what the area has to offer their families.
This list is not meant to be inclusive, but a taste of what could be available to professional & skilled people without which the scheme will flounder. Nor do I attempt to give them in any order of priority. I expect those reading this from outside the East Riding of Yorkshire will be as surprised as that unfortunate woman who interviewed me, sorry her name escapes me.
Hull Minster, recently restored is a world class ecclesiastical building, I am a guide at York Minster so I know my onions, not perhaps in the league of York or Beverley but few are.
Hull New theatre is another building as good as any in Europe & better than most, recently restored with productions of London standard, indeed the opening event post restoration was the Royal Ballet.
Ferns Art Gallery is arguably one of the top regional galleries, with some wonderful works by Atkinson Grimshaw & Lady Butler, two of my favourites, moreover there are other fantastic works you can stumble across with the gallery’s no nonsense laid back Yorkshire approach.
Hull’s pubs in the old town are a sheer delight, even Lancastrians get the train over such is their history & ambience. They are unspoilt, some of the rooms unchanged since the days of the English Civil war where citizens planned to deny King Charles entry to the city’s arsenal. Hull was staunchly parliamentarian then as it is now, the primacy of the English parliament Is close to the Hullensian heart now as it was then. Unlike royalist York !
Other attractions include The Deep, one of Europe’s premier aquariums, Victorian architecture screaming for welcome restoration in some quarters & proximity to the glorious Yorkshire Wolds & coast.
There is a plethora of affordable housing, oh & by the way Hull is a European centre for clinical excellence in neuro surgery & the University the leader for marine law.
Finally, & perhaps most importantly the people are some of the friendliest in the country. I know this because I commanded the Training Squadron of 150 Yorkshire Transport (Territorial) Regiment based in Hull some years ago now.
So Hull, home of William Wilberforce, Philip Larkin, Amy Johnson, Maureen Lipman, John Venn, John Ward too many more is not alone, other great northern port cities can boast similar attributes, let’s get on with it.
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file