Family business restores links with past

A new business has restored a family's fading links with Hull's proud maritime heritage.

By opening a restaurant at Hull Marina, Mike Wilson and his sister Vanessa Tomlinson are working yards from where their father, Les, learned his trade in marine engineering.

By naming the business The Wilson they are recognising their family name and the connection with Ellerman's Wilson Line, which sailed from Hull and became the largest privately-owned shipping company in the world.

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Les, now 84, worked on the Wilson Line vessels through the 1960s until the company folded in the early 1970s, a victim of the advent of containers, roll-on, roll-off ferries and the labour disputes that accompanied the new practices.

Now he sits in The Wilson each morning with a cup of tea, bacon sandwich and memories of a Humber Dock – now the Marina – full of Wilson Line ships.

"I used to come down here with my granddad when he took his horse to the horse wash," recalled Les, who was known to his contemporaries as "Jumbo".

"As an apprentice in 1941 I worked just round the corner in Railway Dock, converting trawlers into minesweepers.

"Walking to work one morning I saw a bomb hanging from the eaves of the Fyffes banana shed. The Germans used to drop land mines on parachutes and this one was stuck, still live, hanging there."

He ran as fast as he could but arrived at Railway Dock to find the trawler he was working on had been hit during the previous night's raid: "There was just the funnel sticking out of the water."

His sister Marjorie sailed as a stewardess on the Wilson Line vessel Silvio but a changing world brought new careers.

From the 1970s Les ran pubs in the Hull and Castleford areas and was followed into catering by two of his four children – Vanessa ran a restaurant, and Mike's career included five years managing the Green Bricks pub, across the Marina from the new venture.

"There was nothing on this side of the Marina then but the recent residential and business development has helped us get off to a busy start," said Vanessa, who with Mike heads a team of 14.

"We offer a cafe bar during the day and fine dining in the evenings and it's popular but you can get in without a reservation.

"People like our maritime theme with a mural of Wilson Line ships in the dock and the displays of cruise posters and registers of vessels."