Further exploration works on an ancient blockhouse in Hull, commissioned by Henry VIII, are set to take place thanks to a successful funding bid.
Hull City Council has been awarded the first phase of £1m of funding from Highways England to deliver a programme of archaeological works to conserve and tell the story of a 16th century fortress – a key part of the city’s maritime history as one of the most important ports on the east coast of England.
Located on the east bank of the River Hull, near to The Deep, the construction of the South Blockhouse was ordered by Henry VIII in 1541 to support his military campaigns and to protect the vitally important port and town of Hull from internal and external threats. The South Blockhouse was one element of a larger scheme of state-of-the art defences, inspired by the most modern examples in Europe.
The South Blockhouse is a scheduled ancient monument of national importance due to its unique cloverleaf design and its rare layout as a self-contained fort, which was later converted to defensive ‘citadel’ in the seventeenth century, and only demolished in the mid-nineteenth century when it was superseded by Fort Paull to the east of Hull. Henry VIII commissioned many new defences, but apart from changes to the existing defences at Berwick, Henry’s new defences at Hull are the only ones outside of the south of England.
Community archaeology works funded by Highways England in 2017 and 2019 revealed the full potential for the site, and proposals to sensitively develop the South Blockhouse as part of Hull’s visitor offer were put forward.
The project will build upon previous community archaeological investigations, the latest of which not only revealed the monument’s cloverleaf walls and accompanying gun emplacements, but also saw archaeologists uncover a large section of an ancient cast iron cannon.
The significant funding will conserve and enhance the 1,100sqm site as well as improving public access, unearthing more of the history of the area with physical and digital interpretation.
Work on the South Blockhouse site is scheduled to align with the neighbouring A63 improvement programme. The ongoing highways works will also deliver benefits to the South Blockhouse site with improved pedestrian connectivity between the ancient monument and the city centre.
Councillor Daren Hale, Leader of Hull City Council and responsible for Economic Investment and Regeneration, said: “The ancient monument was a key component of Hull’s historic town defences and as such is a nationally important heritage site that reflects Hull’s rich maritime history.
“Thanks to support from Highways England this underdeveloped, yet important point of interest will be conserved to raise awareness and reveal more about its past and its role to protect the city.
“It will become a visitor attraction in its own right.”
Frances Oliver, Assistant Project Manager for Highways England’s A63 Castle Street project in the city, said: “At Highways England, our work goes beyond operating, maintaining and improving roads. Although we are always looking ahead to ensure the needs of road users are met, it’s important that we also look to the past to preserve our cultural heritage for future generations.
“We are delighted to be able to award Hull City Council funding to further explore and tell the story of this amazing Tudor blockhouse to the local community and visitors.”
Keith Emerick, Inspector of Ancient Monuments at Historic England, said: “This is an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Hull and the South Blockhouse. The community excavations revealed the quality of Henry’s fortification and we look forward to working with all the partners to make this world class heritage site a must-see attraction for Hull.”
The history of the South Blockhouse is part of Hull’s deep maritime heritage and complements the Hull: Yorkshire’s Maritime City project, a key cultural regeneration scheme in the heart of Hull’s city centre that will protect and celebrate 800 years of Hull’s maritime heritage.