Hull historian and paranormal expert MIKE COVELL casts his eye over his hometown’s most enduring (and false) legends…
I was taking some clients around on a ghost walk and at the end they mentioned lots of stories that I had never heard of. Over the years, there have been many books, tours and ghost hunts in Hull where myths and legends seemed to have been invented to entertain (and misinform) the crowds and make money. Curiously, Kingston upon Hull has more than its fair share of myths and tall tales. In researching Hull’s history I have come across many weird and wonderful stories that are fascinating and fantastical, but historically nonsense. Stories that include murders that didn’t happen, headless people that didn’t exactly lose their heads, lipless ladies, and the story of a polar bear being buried under a Hull road!
Here are 10 of the most questionable Hull myths and legends that aren’t anything more than humbug…
1. Hull Dock Offices and the Lipless Lady
Situated on Dock Office Row at the northern end of High Street stands a lovely red bricked built building with a wooden ornate cupola. The building used to be the second town dock offices which were built in 1820 for the Hull Dock Company, but had become too small for purpose and as such they moved to what is now the Maritime Museum in 1871. The story goes that a fire swept through the building, killing a lady, who on her escape had fallen and bit her lip. Needless to say no such fire occurred, with none of the Hull newspapers published between 1820 and the current day covering such an event.
2. The fire that wasn’t
The empty former Barracuda building on Lowgate was, in the 1980s a juvenile court, leading to our next tall tale. The story goes that the building was destroyed by a fire that killed between 40 and 60 children, who were in the holding cells in the basement. A search of the historical newspapers, the Hull Daily Mail archives, the Hull Times, and the Hull Packet, and their various incarnations, all fail to show any such fire. The Hull Watch Committee Minutes of Meetings, which showed both the Hull Police and the Hull Fire Brigade, and features notable fires, also fails to show any such incident occurring, and common sense, when looking at the building, shows very little fire damage.
3. The Phantom Polar Bear of High Street
One of the most unusual claims of recent years is that a polar bear that died in Hull was buried on High Street. This is a great example of local storytelling with no basis in historical fact, but an example of real history being altered to suit the location. Whilst Hull was well known in the late Victorian period for being the home of several polar bears, based at the Botanic Gardens off Spring Bank, those that did die were certainly not buried on High Street, as the newspapers of the period usually included notices of their deaths. Interestingly, High Street was at one point one of the busiest streets in Hull, even until the 1940s, when it suffered great bomb damage, you would think someone would have documented such a unique burial!
4. A game of arrows at the George Hotel
One of the most charming stories I have heard was that men would stand within the confines of the George Hotel, armed with a bow and arrows, and wait for customs officers waiting to investigate tales of smuggling or press gangs wishing to take away drunks to sea. Throughout the entire recorded history of this lovely public house there is no mention of bows or arrows from the little window, and if such a case did exist it would be recorded. The smallest window was used by the boot boy, who would await carriages from customers who would be deposited at the original entrance on Whitefriargate. The George Hotel had its own séance room on the top floor and boasted a male carriage driver and a young phantom boot boy, both of whom were seen in the bar.
5. Alexandra’s Beer Garden that never was
Alexandra Hotel and Public House on Hessle Road is a lovely ornate pub with a lush green piece of land attached to the pub on the eastern side, but alas, this is no beer garden, but a Jewish Burial ground. In 1812 the land was taken on a seven year lease by Henry Levy, Samuel Levy, Lyon Levy, and George Alexander, all Jewish men. In 1819 a freehold was purchased under the names of Alexander, John Symons, Bethel Jacobs, Ephraim Jacobs, and Barnard Barnard and in 1821 Barnard Barnard, who died in June 1821, was the first to be buried in the Cemetery. Interestingly, Abraham Samuel, who died in Scarborough, on Friday July 23rd 1830, was brought to Hull to be interred here. Bethel Jacobs, who had previously appeared in The Hull Daily Mail’s Haunted Shops, was also buried here. Some years ago the landlord claimed that the pub was haunted and discussed the capture of “orbs” on his photos.
6. Sweet Fanny Adams and Exchange Alley
Exchange Alley stands around the rear of Barracuda, it is an L shaped alley that was once the site of several houses, as recorded throughout the years in the census, but one story connected with the little alleyway is a murder that didn’t even happen in Hull! The story goes that Fanny Adams was murdered here, leading to the term “Sweet Fanny Adams”. It is claimed that little Fanny Adams was not so little and a prostitute who was murdered here, and said to haunt the alleyway. In actual fact, 8 year old Fanny Adams was murdered in Alton, Hampshire, some 200 plus miles away from Hull, in August 1867 by Frederick Baker.
7. Hands on Experiences
St Mary’s Chambers sits down the side of St Mary’s Church and once acted as a vicarage for Mrs Scott, the wife of the Rev John Scott. The story goes that the ghost of Mrs Scott can be seen at the window of the former vicarage and if one places their hand on the window, she in turn will place her hand on the window. The story originates in the 1970’s, when the Hull Times, reported that the property was haunted, but made no mention of a woman or of the warm hands phenomena. Instead, it mentioned that the property was prone to cold draughts and a lady in black, not seen in the window, but in a doorway inside the property.
8. More warn hands and spectral spinsters
Around the corner stands Hull Lighting, but before you get to the shop front is an empty cream building with a red door and two windows. The story goes that this window too boasts a spectral lady who will warm your hands should you be brave enough to tempt fate by touching the window. If she doesn’t like you, however, your hand will go cold. It is claimed that she was killed in a fire at the site, however, this was formerly Harrison’s Hospital, a privately run hospital that housed the sick and dying. It, at no time in its history, was the site of a fire or of a woman dying in one. Simple science tells us that putting our hands up in the air will result in the blood flowing from the extremities and turning them cold!!
9. The Headless Boy who never actually lost his head
The Beverley and Barmston Drain, or Barmy Drain as it is known locally, was established as part of a drainage scheme in 1798 when the Barmston Drain Act came into play. The drain, which ran all the way to the River Hull, had to go under several small bridges, and at the River Hull a bridge and sluice gate, which makes the next story rather odd. It is claimed that a ship sailed up the River Hull and into Barmston Drain, where it beheaded, either a boy, his sister, or their parents. Despite the drain being landlocked and ships being unable to pass up the drain, the story continues to be told.
10: Who murdered German George?
Ye Olde Black Boy is a lovely pub that has a long history of its own mythical stories and tales. One such story revolves around a pugilist, known only as “George.” George was allegedly a German, who came to Hull in the 19th century to try his hand fighting the local dockers who frequented Hull pubs. It is claimed that “George” had won a fight at Ye Olde Black Boy but was later murdered. Despite this wonderful story of Victorian fisticuffs, there is no evidence to support the story, no newspapers reported on the case, and no death entry or death certificate has ever turned up. One has to point out that poor old “German George” is also missing a surname which is always withheld with every telling of the story!