The Fortifications of Hull between 1321 and 1864

Dave Evans, Humber Archaeology Partnership, 2018

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The Fortifications of Hull between 1321 and 1864

As one of the most important ports on the east coast of England, Hull had a major strategic role as a supply base for English armies, particularly in their campaigns against Scotland. Consequently, its defence was a major consideration for the English Crown.

The medieval and later town defences of Hull were amongst the strongest in Yorkshire. From 1321-4 until 1776 the town was surrounded on three sides by a substantial Town Ditch and bank, later fronted by a circuit of brick walls incorporating numerous gates and towers; the fourth side, opening onto the River Hull and the town’s waterfronts, was protected by a boom chain slung across the entrance to the river.

This project examined all of the historical and archaeological evidence for the defences on the west bank of the River Hull, surrounding the Old Town. It brought together for the first time the results of at least 10 excavations and watching-briefs that had been carried out between 1964 and the early 1990s at various points around the Town Defences, along with a number of chance exposures of parts of the Town Wall, and integrated these with what is currently known about more recent unpublished archaeological interventions. It also presented a detailed account of the extensive excavations which took place between 1986 and 1989 at the Beverley Gate – one of the most important of the Town Gates.

A short interim account of the 1960s excavations had appeared in the Hull Museum Bulletins, and some of the early work at the Beverley Gate had featured in two popular booklets produced by the City Council some 30 years ago, but the great bulk of these archaeological interventions had never been published in any form; in fact, a few early watching briefs had been so poorly under-reported that, prior to this project commencing, no activity records for those particular events had been created on the local Historic Environment Record.

The Town Defences at Hull are of national significance, not only because of their scale and extent, but also because of the major role which they were to play in the build up to and the early stages of the English Civil Wars. In addition, Hull is relatively unusual (at least for England) in making extensive use of brick as a building material for its Town Walls and associated gates and towers; it finds much closer analogies in this respect with some of the Hanseatic towns in Northern Europe and Scandinavia. Prior to the commencement of this project, Hull’s Town Defences had received relatively little attention in national surveys of England’s urban fortifications; this was in marked contrast to the more extensive coverage which had often been lavished on the much better-known, post-medieval fortifications erected on the east bank of the River Hull – some of which had long been protected as Scheduled Monuments.

A major synthesis of all of this archaeological fieldwork was published in the Archaeological Journal for 2018, under the title “The Fortifications of Hull between 1321 and 1864”; Historic England has paid for open access to be given to this paper, and it may be downloaded, free of charge, from the Taylor & Francis website (the publishers of the Archaeological Journal). The material presented here includes a PDF download of the Full Archive Report, which contains the detailed evidence for the individual pieces of fieldwork, that informed that synthesis.

Almost all of the fieldwork described here was carried out before the introduction of computers into archaeological fieldwork in the city, and before the advent of digital cameras onto Hull’s archaeological sites. Hence, almost all of the original field records are paper-based or film-based; all of the subsequent inked drawings for publication were penned by hand; and all of the site photographic records consisted of black-and-white print films, or colour transparencies and prints. Even many of the original specialist reports on this fieldwork were either type-written, or hand-written. Hence, the original digital archive was minimal. Only one specialist has handed over copies of a database – and this was created in the early years of the 21st century, long after the original excavation had taken place. It is likely that no other databases were ever created at the time, as many of the specialists were then using card indexes to store their raw data.


Because there were so few original digital files relating to this project, the digital archive presented here comprises only three major items:

  • This Introduction and Contents text as a document
  • The PDF of the Full Archive Report, which presents the results of some 50 years of excavations and fieldwork on various parts of the Town Defences
  • The Pottery Database information relating to the three seasons of excavations at the Beverley Gate (grouped together here under the site code BEG 88)

Humber Archaeology Partnership

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