The story of how Hessle Road went from being the spiritual heart of Hull's fishing industry to long-term decline

For generations, Hull's fishing families lived, shopped and socialised on and near Hessle Road.

The Bethel boards on Hessle Road commemorate fishing crews lost in tragedies at sea
The Bethel boards on Hessle Road commemorate fishing crews lost in tragedies at sea

The road and the area surrounding it has long been associated with the trawling and docking industries which drew in workers who built a life and community there.

The legacy of those industries still lives on in the memorial plaques to fishermen lost at sea and in various murals celebrating seafaring.

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But their decline and the shifting realities of life in post-industrial Hull are also evident.

Some of the shops and pubs which would once have been bustling now carry For Sale or To Let signs, or stand empty all together.

And for some residents and traders the future seems uncertain as opportunities for locals dwindle.

The decline in the local economy and its consequences also shows itself in statistics.

The Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) recent mapping of deprivation across England put Hessle Road among those struggling the most.

Index data from 2019 but mapped last month scores areas by measuring incomes, employment, education, health, housing, crime and the living environment.

ONS figures for Hull overall showed 85 of its 166 neighbourhoods were among the 20 most income deprived in England. That compares to the 10 which were among the 20 least income deprived.

For some residents the figures did not come as a surprise and many had seen or experienced the effects of deprivation firsthand. Yet they spoke of an unbreakable community spirit and pride in an area even through hard times.

‘You can’t walk down Hessle Road without seeing people begging’

A handful of regulars of Hessle Road’s The Rayners pub had already arrived by the late afternoon.

One of them, 86-year-old Minnie Speed, remembered Hessle Road fondly in its glory days. But she said the area had only grown quieter as the years passed.

“It used to be brilliant here, we had a lot of fishermen and dockworkers in the area. I think now there isn’t as much work around here, a lot of the people around don’t have much to do.

“And people don’t go out as much as they used to, they don’t talk to their neighbours as much. You used to come here and if you could hardly open the door it was so packed, now it’s a lot quieter.”

Another regular, a resident living off Hessle Road who did not want to be named, said a lack of opportunities had left many to their own devices.

They added that included joy riding on quad bikes through the local park while others had turned to street selling to make ends meet.

The resident said: “So many of the shops are closing now and most of the ones left are takeaways and hairdressers.

“There’s no work for people down on Hessle Road apart from cleaning jobs, packing jobs, picking this, picking that.

“People are worried about the future, you can’t walk down Hessle Road without seeing people begging, you get people coming up to you trying to sell you things and they won’t leave you alone.

“I go to work at quarter to seven in the morning and there’s already prostitutes standing on some of the street corners.

“There’s another street corner with piles of rubbish on it that haven’t moved and we’ve got kids going round on quad bikes tearing up Semi Park.”

‘It’s a lot harder for us now’

Further down Hessle Road lies another pub, the Halfway Hotel.

The side of the pub sports a mural depicting a fisherman hard at work in his overalls, a reminder of the industry which helped to build the area.

Inside plaques and pictures of old trawler boats and their crews line the walls as patrons gather enjoying their drinks.

But for pub manager Sophie Dunn, a decade of happy times is set to end next year when she plans to give up the lease and move on to something new.

Mrs Dunn said times had only become harder over the years, but the recent shock of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns had sent the business into a “nose dive”.

The manager said: “We’ve had a good 10 years here but we’ve decided to leave once our lease comes up for renewal next year.

“It’s a lot harder for us now, especially with the coronavirus restrictions, our capacity’s lower and it’s difficult dealing with some of the customers that don’t adhere to the rules.

“After the first lockdown ended it wasn’t so bad, but this time people don’t seem as bothered about sticking to the rules.

“I think they feel frustrated and they’re taking it out on us, but I tell them it’s not us who makes the rules it’s the government and who isn’t frustrated with things?

“I’ve worked in pubs all over Hull, this is probably one of the best. In one of the others you couldn’t have kids in after seven which was hard for families but our licence means they can bring their children here.

“We’ve also had reunions where people coming back from America and Australia have come in to see their families.

“There’s some investment coming for the road, it’s been a mess for 10 years but they’re cleaning it up now, it’s been a long time coming.

“This is a nice community to be in, it feels like a small town but you’ll always get a few bad apples. We get a lot of workers coming in from the factories and lorry drivers who’re stopping over in Hull for the night.

“There used to be a lot of dockworkers and trawler men here but there’s not as many now, a lot of them have moved away. The area is deprived, with some of the old buildings we have you can see there’s room for improvement that’s for sure.

“It wasn’t too bad after we first reopened outside, we have the seating area which was good for us.

“But we’ve taken a nose dive since we reopened inside, more people are going back to work and others don’t have as much money to spend on going out.”

‘This used to be the place to be’

Back on Hessle Road itself, grandmother Julie Hodson was waiting for a taxi, her usual way of getting around after disabilities made reaching nearby shops and buses tougher.

The 58-year-old, who lives on nearby Woodcock Street, said a mood of pessimism hung over the area and struggles finding work were close to home.

She said: “All my family are from Hessle Road. It’s gone right down over the years and it’s not like it used to be, I think people feel pessimistic.

“It’s been happening for a long time, slowly at first, but in the last 10 years it’s gotten even worse.

“Before you’d see a lot of fishermen walking up and down the road, my dad was a fisherman, a lot of my family were. Now there’s homeless people all over begging for money.

“Some people feel intimidated by the problems on the street with people harassing them to try and sell things and following them around, some are scared to go out.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of opportunities for young people here. I’ve got two grandchildren living with me, my eldest granddaughter is still looking for a job.

“There’s been a lot of businesses that have had to close, mainly the ones that sell second hand appliances and that type of thing, people are struggling.

“They weren’t making a lot of money before, but now they’re making nothing.

“At one time there was enough to just pop out if you ran out of milk, but now with my disabilities I have to get taxis everywhere so it’s not worth it just for that.

“There used to be more bus stops all over too but it’s too far for me to walk to them now.

“When I lived here in my 30s it was the place to be, but so many of the pubs and clubs have closed now or are under new management, there’s one that’s closed and reopened I don’t know how many times.

“But the people are friendly here, I’ve got good neighbours and when I do go out people on the road are easy to talk to.

“They say crime’s really bad here but I’ve never really experienced it, I don’t think it’s any worse than anywhere else.”

Closing time

Many of Hessle Road’s shops are still in business and the area continues to attract buyers looking for the odd essentials or to treat themselves to something new.

But between them protrude stores with shutters their down, some appearing untouched since their owners decided to call time on their businesses.

Trader Irinel Robert, owner of the Story Ink Tattoo parlour, is one of those still in business but not for much longer.

He said he had no choice but to close the following week.

The trader said: “This is my last week here, I’m closing after this. I spend more money on the shop than I make, I have to close because it’s just not enough.

“It’s been like this for six months, we’ve been closed most of the time, things are going badly. I think the city centre is much better than here.

“When it gets to 5.30pm on Hessle Road the place is empty, but the centre is full.”