Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Materiality & Locality- Holy Trinity, Hull

That old churches are usually hewn from the rock that surrounds them can be a blessing and a curse. The creamy limestone of the Cotswolds form not only the rolling hills, but also the finely cut tracery of its churches. The flatlands of Norfolk, whose ground yields only flint has resulted in a legacy of ancient round towers.

Britain’s underlying geology generally sweeps across the country in diagonal bands, and the vernacular styles match these swathes from southwest to northeast. Bands of  cold granite, fine timberwork, crumbling sandstone towers, crisp limestone detailing, giving rise to local vernaculars that disregard administrative boundaries.

Hull, located distant from good stone, but economically close to Flanders, and the Hanseatic Cities, is blessed with wonderful early brickwork in Holy Trinity Church. Today, many of us overlook brick as the building material of bland mass-production in Victorian times. But this is claimed to be earliest use of brick in a major British building since Roman times.

Holy Trinity claims to be the largest parish church. I wouldn’t wish to get too caught up in superlatives, but it is bloody massive. Not cathedral scale, like Tewkesbury or Sherborne, but a big town church. It benefitted from being founded as a chapel of ease, meaning that it had no graveyard. These green oases can so often isolate a great church from the surrounding streets. Holy Trinity pushed East to the busy road, and on all other sides fills the square of old Hull that still skirts it. It never dominates. Post-war planning shifted the heart of the city to Queen Victoria Square. The Old Town was left. For a city with such a dreadful reputation, the Old Town is surprisingly quaint in places. And Hull still has many rewarding civic buildings. If, like me, you love the derelict industrialisation of inner city Britain, walk north along Wincolmlee. Adjacent to the River Hull are enormous old grain stores and factories and bridges and railways and walls, meandering.

East Yorkshire overlooks Holy Trinity Church in favour of Beverley’s two masterpieces, and Heddon, and Howden, and Patrington. At the heart of Britain’s “worst city” stands a landmark to Hull’s ancient origins.

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