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Visit to Hedon
Thursday, October 1st 2009

by Dorothy Smith and Gillian Granger

On a beautiful Autumn afternoon, a baker’s dozen of us descended on Hedon to meet up with our expert tour guide, Dr. Martin Craven. We gathered on the old Market Hill, the centre of the town in mediaeval times and the site of the first town-hall, jail and bullring, for a preliminary outline of Hedon’s history, a necessary backdrop to set in context the places and events we were to explore.

Twelve of the baker's dozen with Dr. Martin Craven in Hedon
Twelve of the baker's dozen with Dr. Martin Craven in Hedon (Photograph by - Mike Welton (The baker?))

No mention of Hedon appears in Domesday Book, Dr Craven explained, but it soon made up for lost time. Hedon, part of the Count of Aumale’s estates, was a classic Norman new town with streets laid out in a regular, planned grid-iron pattern, not simply a haphazard random development. It was founded around 1130 by William le Gros, Count of Aumale and Lord of Holderness, and developed by successive Counts of Aumale to serve as a port for their lands in Holderness.

Hedon’s first Royal Charter was granted around 1170 to William le Gros, whose main fortified manor was at Burstwick. He also maintained a stronghold at Skipsea. Hedon, lying at the head of a navigable waterway, the Haven, giving access to the Humber and thence the German Ocean, rapidly became a port and market town of national importance. A Royal mint was established there in the 1150s by Stephen, arguably, Dr. Craven said, the worst ruler the country has known.

Hedon prospered so rapidly that around 1158 it was granted a Charter by Henry II which bestowed on its burgesses privileges equal to those enjoyed by the inhabitants of York and Lincoln. Further recognition was to follow in 1200, when Henry II’s Charter was confirmed by King John.

The East window of St. Augustine's Church by Clayton & Bell, 1900
The East window of St. Augustine's Church by Clayton & Bell, 1900 (Photograph - Mike Welton)

In gratitude for their new-found prosperity the pious citizens resolved to build a substantial permanent memorial, and the construction of a magnificent place of worship, St. Augustine’s Church, began in 1190 on the site of a smaller church adjacent to Market Hill. From its position on an eminence, it would dominate not simply the town but the whole of the low-lying surrounding countryside. However, Hedon’s meteoric ascendancy was to be as brief as it was brilliant. The silting-up of the Haven, combined with demands for ever-larger ships to carry ever-greater cargoes, proved a fatal combination of factors leading to Hedon’s inevitable decline. The final blow came in 1299 when Edward I granted a charter to his newly-acquired land at Wyke, near the confluence of the Rivers Hull and Humber, re-named Kingstown upon Hull. Merchants followed suit and deserted Hedon for the new free borough with its deep water access. The wealth they had so briefly brought ebbed away, with inevitable consequences for the new church still under construction. It was to St. Augustine’s that we proceeded after a commemorative group photograph had been taken.

A mediaeval effigy inside the church
A mediaeval effigy inside the church (Photograph - Mike Welton)

Although building commenced in 1190, a further 250 years elapsed before this parish church was completed, its history reflecting the rapidly declining fortunes of the town. The quality of the materials used also varied according to the availability of funds. In addition, the religious upheavals of the sixteenth century left their mark: before entering at the south side of the church, we noted evidence shown by building scars of the chantry chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary which was taken down at the Reformation. To-day, the church consists of the chancel, vestry, aisled and clerestoried nave, the central tower, completed in the 1430s, and clerestoried transepts. The dedication is generally believed to be to St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, (now named Annaba) in Algeria, rather than to St. Augustine of Canterbury. The church underwent a general restoration by the architect George Street in the 1870s.

Interior view of St.Augustine's church
Interior view of St.Augustine's church (Photograph - Mike Welton)

Dr. Craven distributed photocopies illustrating the various styles of window architecture ranging from simple Early English thirteenth century lancets, through grouped lancets, then decorated (geometrical, reticulated and curvilinear)styles through to perpendicular (early and late). In addition, we studied plans of the church showing its various stages of development from around 1190 to 1500. Armed with this information, we then spread out to investigate the many fascinating details of this mediaeval building which has been adapted to the changing needs of its congregations over the generations.

The fourteenth century font, two sets of Royal Arms, one of Queen Elizabeth I, ancient tomb slab and mediaeval effigy naturally aroused much interest, as indeed did the blue carpet in the children’s corner, said to have come from the coronation ceremony of Queen Elizabeth II.

The magnificent stained glass windows were seen to their best advantage in the Autumn sunlight and we were particularly intrigued by the most recent, the “city of God” window designed by the distinguished stained-glass artist Harry Stammers, at one time based at York. This window, given by Elizabeth Rimmington in 1951 in memory of her parents and sister, incorporates aspects of St. Augustine of Hippo’s vision of the city of God and the Holy Trinity. It is well worth a visit to Hedon simply to study the amazing detail of this window.

The 1951 window by Harry Stammers
The 1951 window by Harry Stammers (Photograph - Jan Crowther)

Several times during our Hedon visit the names of distinguished past residents cropped up - the historian Godfrey Park, the Whites, several members of the Iveson family among others - and here we saw various memorials to some of them, including a floor slab to Rev. John Ticket, author of a popular history of Hull. We finally gathered in the vestry (now single-storey) where Dr. Craven spoke of the bells. In 1929, Colonel and Mrs. Lambert White donated money to provide two new bells and to have the existing ones re-cast, and the current peal is of eight bells. After expressing our thanks to Mrs. Bond for very kindly opening up the church for us, we set out on the next leg of our visit.

The stone mount for a tethering ring used for bull baiting
The stone mount for a tethering ring used for bull baiting in the Market Place Hedon (Photograph - Mike Welton)

This took us to St. Augustine’s Gate and the Town Hall, built in 1692 and presented to the borough by Henry Guy, M.P. for Hedon. He also presented the Great Mace, carried by the Sergeant-at-Mace on civic occasions. To arrive there, we walked through the Market Place where, still set in the pavement, is a stone, now minus its ring, where bulls were tethered for baiting before animal cruelty was a consideration. We sat in the elegant blue and white Council Chamber, hung with portraits of former Hedon Members of Parliament and Mayors and an impressive Royal Coat of Arms, while Dr. Craven told us a little about the municipal history of the Borough. He spoke of the afore-mentioned Henry Guy, elected to Parliament in 1669, and William Pulteney, M. P. for Hedon in 1705 and later Prime Minister for one day. He referred also to the civic collection of silver, housed in the Town Hall, pride of place amongst which is Hedon’s civic mace, the oldest in the country, dating from 1415, when Henry V granted an important charter to the town. In those days, the mace was not simply an item of ornamental regalia but an effective everyday weapon, in this instance to protect the Mayor who, with his two bailiffs, was responsible for law enforcement and public order within the borough. Reference to the mace inevitably led to mention of Mr. Douglas Goulsbra, affectionately known as “ Mr. Hedon”, for many years Sergeant-at-Mace whose portrait also hangs in the Council Chamber. The Charter of Incorporation granted in 1348 by Edward III gave Hedon the right annually to elect a Mayor, bailiffs and other officers - the first town in Yorkshire to do so. Hedon first sent Members to Parliament in 1295 but regular return of Members did not begin until 1547. Hedon was one of the “rotten boroughs” disenfranchised by the Reform Act of 1832. It ceased to be a borough in 1974, appropriately on 1 April, under local government re-organization legislation. However, it still retains the office of Mayor and its Town Council, and the Hedon crest still recalls its memorable history. We ended our tour by visiting the Museum for most welcome refreshments, after which we were able to look around the fascinating permanent exhibition of bygones, maps, etc., and current photographic competition displays. First open to the public in 1996, the Museum continues the proud tradition of the people of Hedon to celebrate the glories of their past and to enrich the cultural life of their community. We thanked Dr. Craven for a most enjoyable and informative afternoon and look forward to the publication of his latest book just before Christmas.

The Hedon Coat of Arms and a stone motif outside the Town Hall
The Hedon Coat of Arms and a stone motif outside the Town Hall (Photograph - Jan Crowther)

Dorothy Smith, October 2009

It was a pleasant journey from Leeds to Hedon. Here I waited in the car park and soon the rest of the group arrived (13 in all). We went along St. Augustine’s Gate to the Green, once the centre of Hedon. Here we met our guide, Martin Craven. He pointed out the places where he and his wife had been educated — a ‘common’ (state) school for his wife, and an exalted (private) one for him (he said!). Both these buildings looked old and interesting, and well worth visiting.

Hedon was a Norman town. Founded in 1130 it soon became a port and had its own market. It even had a Royal mint, set up by King Stephen. This prosperity was not to last, for the way to the sea, Hedon Haven, silted up, and the merchants who had used it for their shipping moved their business to Hull and Ravenser Odd. Standing in Hedon now, one wonders where is the water!

First we went to the church. Low down on an outside wall is the Hedon dragon. My mother used to write stories about friendly dragons for Children’s Hour, so I have a great liking for these fabled beasts. This one is small and malevolent-looking with jagged teeth — not fit for children. Then we went inside. The church is huge — how did they get the massive stones up there? We could almost hear the shouts (and curses) of the masons and labourers. The stained glass windows are superb, some quite modern. The church took a long time to build - 250 years after being started in 1190. The massive tower took ten years to create, from 1425 to 1435.

Next we went on the busy main road (Hedon’s Market Place) to the Town Hall. We were impressed by the massive brass door latch. In the Town Hall we sat on blue-cushioned chairs in a room said to have been used as a court. In another room (the Mayor’s Parlour) we were shown a fascinating relic — the real things, a small document with surprisingly clear writing. This was the 800 years old charter granted to Hedon by King John — not in his writing! Probably it took him all his time to write his own name!

We didn’t visit the Kilnsea cross on this day, but at least some of us have seen it. I can’t help feeling cheated - ‘our’ cross should be in Kilnsea - well away from the sea and the salt wind.

Our last visit was to the Hedon Museum, where we found rows of tea-cups all neatly laid out for us. Now we came to the only disappointment of the day. I only had time for a few sips before I rushed out to get a bus to Hull.

The day was a great success, and Martin was an excellent guide. But it wasn’t enough — more please.

Gillian Granger, October 2009