site unseen Wilberforce House, Hull

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The Independent Online
As an old saying once went, "From Hull, Hell and Halifax, Good Lord deliver us".

I can't vouch for hell, but Hull and Halifax are certainly full of interest. Take Hull for instance. Although the city centre has been pedestrianised and is neat, if a little dull, head east towards Queen's gardens. Hull's maritime links are immediately revealed because this ornamental garden was once an old dock which was closed in 1930 and subsequently filled in. Just in front of the cafe is a memorial panel commemorating the original Robinson Crusoe, who is reputed to have sailed from here in 1651 on his way to shipwreck and immortality.

Keep walking east towards the Old Town and you encounter one of Britain's most extraordinary high streets, a wonderful mix of the elegant and the tatty. The Old Dock Office of 1820 is now a pub called The Mutiny on the Bounty, commemorating the ship of that name which was originally built here in 1784.

Further down the cobbled highway are the Georgian Blaydes House and Maister House, which both testify to the wealth of the great families that dominated the affairs of Hull for centuries. Today Maister House is occupied by a firm of architects , although members of the public are free to pop inside and admire the original staircase.

These delights are interspersed by boarded-up hou- ses, innumerable dark but atmospheric alleys and a host of cranes at work on the redevelopment of the adjacent riverside.

But best of all is Wilberforce House, a brick Tudor struct- ure rebuilt in about 1656 and now home to a museum (Hull is crammed with museums). Here the great anti-slavery campaigner, William Wilberforce, was born in 1759. Unlike their colleagues in Bristol and Liverpool who specialised in the African slave trade, the merchants of Hull carried on the bulk of their business with Europe, which explains why they led the anti-slavery campaign.

A pamphlet available from Wilberforce House contains a "Description of a Slave Ship". At first glance you look and wonder just what all those black matchsticks are doing jammed up against each other - and then you realise that these are in fact human beings, penned together as if they were battery hens.

That the charming garden next door is called Nelson Mandela Gardens offers a poignant reminder that the fight against oppression never ends.

Wilberforce House is in High Street, Hull. It is open from Monday to Saturday, 10am-5pm; Sundays 1.30pm-4pm.