INTRODUCTION AND HISTORY
OF THE SOUTH BLOCKHOUSE, HULL
On the east bank of the River Hull, beneath a parking area next to The Deep, lies a substantial monument – The South Blockhouse – part of a system of defences built on the orders of Henry the Eighth to protect Hull’s eastern side. Although Hull was a walled town from the 14th century, its eastern side, alongside the River Hull, remained essentially undefended to enable ships to dock at the wharfs of the town’s busy port. In the mid-16th century, on the orders of Henry VIII, new defences were constructed on the opposite bank of the river to remedy this deficiency. This followed the Pilgrimage of Grace (in 1536), when parts of the north of England rose against the Crown, largely in response to the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Henry also faced the threat of a French invasion, sponsored by the Holy Roman Empire.
The eastern defences of Hull were built between 1541 and 1543, to designs by the architect John Rogers. The designs, unique in England, involved two identical blockhouses (North and South) with a larger fortress – known as Hull Castle – between them. These elements were linked by a wall, completing the enclosure of the town, which hitherto had been defended only by walls on its north, west and south sides. These new fortifications also defended the port. The North and South Blockhouses were of cloverleaf design, with three identical lobed bastions, and on the fourth side, a square entrance block, arranged around a central courtyard. The walls of the blockhouses were 15ft (4.6m) thick at the base, rising to a height of two storeys. Passages within the walls led to stairs and a series of small chambers, including storerooms. There were gun-ports at two levels, with further gun positions being sited on a flat roof behind low parapets. The thick curved walls of each bastion met at a point, a shape intended to deflect shot fired from enemy guns.
In 1997, trial excavations carried out in advance of the construction of the access road for The Deep discovered that the South Blockhouse survived virtually intact and unbuilt-on, with parts of the thick walls and integral gun-ports being exposed. Of particular significance was the discovery of a breech-loading cannon, similar to those found on the Mary Rose, which has been conserved and is now on display on a replica wooden carriage at the Hull & East Riding Museum.
In 2017, as part of the City of Culture celebrations, Humber Field Archaeology staged two events on the site of the South Blockhouse to raise public awareness of the site’s potential. Inclusion of the site as a project within the Hull Old Town Heritage Action Zone had helped secure funding for the events from Historic England and Hull City Council. In July, as part of the CBA Festival of Archaeology, the lines of the monument were marked out in paint so that its location, shape and scale could be appreciated and archaeologists were on hand to provide information about the site and show finds from previous excavations. In September, to coincide in part with the Heritage Open Days festival, two trial trenches were excavated, exposing further well-preserved elements of the 16th-century building, this time including areas of the original brick floors. A number of open days while the trenches were open allowed the public to visit and see the remains for themselves. It is hoped that eventually a visitor attraction can be developed which can tell more of Hull’s sometimes turbulent past through the excavation, interpretation and display of the South Blockhouse.
To view the posters displayed at the events, please click on the document below.