Hull (again)

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The Reckitts chimney stands 141m tall. Located on Morley Street in Hull, it’s where Reckitts, in 1884, began making synthetic ultramarine (often known as dolly blue). Used as a laundry product, ultramarine prevents the yellowing of white fabric when it is washed and enhances the brightness of colours. It is now widely used in the cosmetics, paints and automobile industries.

Natural ultramarine was derived  from ground lapis lazuli, sourced in the mountains of Afghanistan. Artists reserved the use of this expensive bright blue pigment for their most important (usually religious) works. Cennino Cennini (b. c.1370 – c. 1440) described it as “illustrious, beautiful, and most perfect, beyond all other colors”. Vermeer used natural ultramarine extensively (Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, 1663-1664). In 1828, the French chemist Jean-Baptiste Guimet developed a synthetic equivalent, which was used for example by Renoir (Les Parapluies, c. 1880), Monet (Gare St Lazare, 1877) and Pissarro (La Côte des boeufs, 1877).

For decades, the chimney pumped sulphur dioxide into Hull’s atmosphere. My grandparents lived in Stoneferry, the area in which this factory was located. I remember the sweet smells drifting from the cocoa processing plant on Cleveland Street and the hot metallic tang of the factories by the river.

(Image licensed under Creative Commons; http://www.mylearning.org/local-history-pack–a-how-to-guide/images/2-1838/)

Hondartza Fraga in Hull – ‘a still better seaward peep’

Hondartza Fraga, our occursus artist in residence in 2011, has begun a new residency at the University of Hull, funded by The Leverhulme Trust.

Based at the Maritime History Studies Centre, Hondartza will be examining Hull’s whaling history in the year 1780-1850.

Ms Fraga will examine and represent the various relationships that evolved while whaling crews undertook lengthy, arduous and dangerous voyages to Arctic waters. She will explore how whalers understood material objects (like their ships and equipment), arctic environments, whales and whale products. Ashore, she will consider the domestic lives of families left behind for long periods, their notion of whales and their engagement with the material culture of whaling. Ms Fraga will also respond to the social and economic roles of whale products in the emergence of a modern consumer society and in the evolution of Hull as a port-city with transnational commercial interests.

Source: http://seawardpeep.wordpress.com/the-residency/

Read Hondartza’ s residency blog here.

Nothing is vaster than empty things

When I was very young, I would spend most weekends at my grandmother’s house – a modest two-up, two-down Victorian terrace that sat in the middle of one of the sprawling industrial estates in east Hull. The toilet was in what my nan called the verandah – a precarious lean-to attached to the back kitchen that also housed the dog basket and twin-tub. The bathroom, which had no toilet, was in what had once been a bedroom, looking out over the back alley that we all called the tenfoot and across to the back yard, where my grandfather, a mechanic, worked all day on motorbikes and his own blue Morris Minor van. The front bedroom, where I would sleep with my aunt, gave on to Leads Road, which at night juddered and trembled with the thunder of lorries.

My brother and I would spend much of the weekend scrabbling around in a square of patchy scrub and mud that we – like all the others who lived on Leads Road – called bomb site. It yielded rich finds: pieces of shrapnel, red bricks, nuts and bolts, wild flowers, weeds and old pennies. We played out innumerable scenarios amidst the small tummocks of rough grass. Usually, they related to a war which – although we were born in the 60s and 70s – did not feel so distant to us. My cousin once cut his wrist there, having fallen on some broken glass while pretending to be a commando, and had to be taken to hospital for stitches. As his mother, my other aunt, led him away, he cried out to us, ‘I’m wounded, men, I’m wounded!’

We knew that the houses which once stood on the land where we played had been destroyed during the Second World War, during one of the many bombing raids which razed vast swathes of Hull. Sometimes, I asked my grandmother about the missing houses, but she never really told me anything, other than that she knew the families who had lived (but, she seemed to intimate, not died) in them. Once she told me the story of how, during an air raid, she chose – for reasons she never understood – not to enter the nearest shelter but ran instead to another, which was much further down the road. The first air raid shelter suffered a direct hit and all the people inside were killed. This, she would say, pointing at a space only she could see in the road, is where I escaped death. As she spoke, I could smell the sweetness that drifted at tea time from the cocoa factory round the corner.

I went back to Hull a couple of years ago with my camera. I wanted to take a picture of bomb site (there was never any definite article). When I got there, I saw that new houses have been built on the land and they look as though they’ve been there for a while now.