A nice little list

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It’s warming that Historic England have gone on a bit of a listing splurge in Hull, a city that before this year was hardly regarded at all for its historic nature, let alone highly. William Wilberforce’s house is listed, as is Andrew Marvell’s statue, but that’s because of who they represent, not where they are.

Today HE has announced nine additions to its list in Hull. The garret flat once occupied by Philip Larkin comes into the above category, but others are there because they’re Hull. The Humber Bridge was devised by Harold Wilson’s government to win a vital by-election, cited as a classic example of pork barrel politics, but it was 15 years before it was opened 1981, a 1,410-metre white elephant joining Hull across the Humber Estuary to Hessle. Everyone in Hull wants to go to Hessle. Another 15 years after it opened Parliament had to pass an Act just to deal with the bridge’s enormous maintenance debts, and there’s an ongoing campaign to get the toll, which pays for the maintenance, abolished. But it’s a lovely thing and the Hullsters love it.
There’s also the tidal barrier, not to my mind an object of beauty, but a miraculous piece of engineering; some art nouveau lavatories including the first ladies’ – what is HE’s obsession with public toilets about? – with their original fixtures and fittings; a statue of Hull’s first mayor; a church; some warehouses; the home of J Arthur Rank; and the grave of a 25-year-old railway fireman whose death in 1906 caused by a train passing a danger signal led to new safety measures.
They may not all seem national treasures, and I wonder if they would have been considered for listing if it hadn’t been Hull’s year of cultural glory, but it doesn’t matter. They are part of an unsuspected minor treasure, even among its own citizens. And so this is Hull, so long a runt in the national litter, being cuddled by the nation.

And the same will hopefully be true for whichever Hull’s successor is as UK City of Culture in 2021, picked from a shortlist of five. They could each do with a hug, their indigenous industries having failed and their futures uncertain. It will be chosen, we discovered at the weekend, from Coventry (motor cars), Paisley (shawls), Stoke-on-Trent (pottery), Sunderland (glass) and Swansea (Dylan Thomas). We’ll know in December which it is to be, and I hope that all of them will get enough of an impetus to big up their cultural credentials that will enable them to capitalise, whether they win the title or not.

As the inventor of the City of Culture franchise, Phil Redmond – who also happens to chair the selection panel and came up with the notion after Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture in 2008 – says, “The appetite for using culture to bring about regeneration and to strengthen communities is clearly stronger than ever". But whoever it is will still need a little help from its friends, like HE, HLF, Arts Council and even the government, as Hull has had.


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