Unhating the Phoenix

Even the earliest memories I have of Hull are of a city that was both a little scary and a little sad. Invariably a visit there started by car, train or bus, arriving along Beverley Road, where trees seemed to grow from the windows of ghost houses, or in the diesel-scented Paragon Station, a place so tatty it instilled fear in my six-year old self. And above all I remember its boxy, shabby, post-war architecture. These buildings awed me. I gazed up, admiring their arrogant angles and their hopeful, doe-eyed windows, their flat roofs and their unapologetic Brutalist walls. Some soared into the sky, terrifying edifices, others contained within them promises of shopping, of toy departments in the marble bowels below or the light filled penthouses above. Hammonds, a sturdy department store, was a special treat, winding stairs leading ever up, precariously and deliciously close to the sheer drop beyond the window, to the joy of the cafeteria where smiling dinner ladies might fawn on me as they served me chips and eggs and bacon. And there were many of these buildings, some squat and cheeky, some dour and Stalinist, a unique product of one era in history, an era of breathtaking optimism and renewal. One building held a massive frieze, as though it were a knight brandishing a shield, and I was spell-bound each time I passed it. These buildings are what rose from the ashes of Hull, destroyed in large areas by the worst bombing on any British city. And they were full of hope, they were brave, and they are still mine. These buildings are part of Hull, they are part of the city’s heritage, part of its history. They are unloved by almost all, a knee-jerk and visceral reaction at times, indifference at others, but very few love them as I do. Many wish to erase them, aping the dogmatism of the 1960s planners who thought little of bulldozing whole swathes of the city, despising as they did the buildings of 60 or 70s years earlier.
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