Hull & East Riding Branch History

Branch History

Published: 26th January 2011

The origins of the Hull branch of the HA go back to 1921. However the branch really came to life when Dr Fred Brooks arrived as Reader in Medieval History at the new University College of Hull. From 1930 to 1977 he was the mainspring of the activities and growth of the branch. People with long memories say he and his wife Dorothy inspired, instructed and supported people to develop a passion for history.

The branch's story is inter-twined with the University, both the History department and the Adult Education department, which played a very active part in the region. Richard Hoggart and other Adult Education tutors pioneered new methods of outreach to people in rural East Yorkshire and deprived Hull. Their activities were complemented by those of the W.E.A. The Hull HA made a further contribution to the same effort, which was entirely in accord with the founding aims of the national Historical Association. Until 1980 the branch benefited from the University's hospitality with free use of a lecture room for meetings. Hiring a room since then has led to using different venues, and for almost 20 years we have met in the Danish church: a modern building, comfortable, hospitable and central.

The post war years until the late 1970s saw the branch at its most vigorous in terms of membership and activities. There was a winter programme of lectures, films, and members' evenings and an enjoyable annual dinner; and a summer programme of visits in which members combed the history of many parts of Yorkshire. Fred Brooks was the unrivalled guide.  Historical Association conferences were held here, and study weekends were organised with the University Adult Education or the WEA tutors. Attractive venues enhanced the appeal of these events: Scarborough was a favourite, and the Friary in Beverley after its restoration was another. One former committee member remembers branch membership including virtually all the history teachers in the Hull area and those on PGCE courses. Numbers were around 65 national members and about 20 associate members. In the past decade associate membership has been similar in numbers, but national membership has halved. The most notable factor is that fewer history teachers now join the HA, possibly because of teaching pressures, and website support has reduced demand for other, more social modes of disseminating ideas for teaching.

The branch has benefited from the leadership of Professor Howell Lloyd, president in the early 1980s, and then in the past decade. Julia Walsh, an experienced history teacher, brought great energy and awareness of changes in teaching to revitalising some of the branch's activities in the late 1980s and 1990s. With the new curriculum for history in primary schools this branch developed an outreach network, ‘History in Humberside', and with the LEA adviser ran sessions on methodology and activities for involving younger children. Social activities were enjoyed, for example by the committee, being Vikings at the village built by children in the Yorkshire Museum of Farming, where we repaired wattle and daub walls, and by members and friends who, in a more elegant fashion, sampled appropriate wines and enjoyed talks on Renaissance Art.   These social events served to raise funds for the branch. The committee are grateful to John Watson, branch treasurer from 1964-2006, who looked after our finances meticulously.

Although now a smaller branch we have seen opportunities for extra activities: thus in 1986 the branch hosted a Domesday discovery evening, working with the University to present results from the history department's pioneering computerisation of Domesday Book, and with Michael Wood as the guest speaker. Local history is a strong interest: the 2002 special local history HA activity here was a day conference, The Routes into your Past, where we again worked with the University and used their Maritime History Studies building, the 18th century Blaydes House. The branch contributed to Hull's 2007 commemoration on Wilberforce and the slave trade abolition by sponsoring a local CD production: Songs of Slavery. We hope to contribute to Hull churches' 400th anniversary celebration of the King James Version of the Bible.

Cooperation with the local Classical Association for a joint annual lecture broadens opportunities for our members. We appreciate the links developed with the York HA, and we now have one or two shared exploratory visits each year. In 2000 we felt Hull and East Riding Branch was a more appropriate name to reflect membership and interests.

The evidence from our branch's history reveals how important were the links with the University history and Adult Education departments. None of us can foresee the outcomes of current changes being forced on universities. Adult education structures have been cut back, but community education and family history show the demand for history. This branch continues to ask questions about the most effective ways of engaging people's interest in their past, local, national and global. We will be glad to learn from others too!