History of the church

Welcome to the history of Holy Trinity Hull. It is more than 700 years since King Edward I began the ambitious task of erecting this majestic church, making it one of the greatest of the great churches of the English medieval period. This remarkable structure is the only building to survive from the original “King’s Town” and has been described nationally as the significant pattern for all subsequent parish church buildings in the Perpendicular Period (Professor Christopher Wilson: Courtauld Institute). 

Founded by Edward I

When Edward I discovered the strategic importance of the Humber estuary and the river Hull he purchased the settlement ofWyke from Meaux Abbey to form Kings Town upon Hull. Extending westwards, Edward continued the grid plan commenced by the monks and in his town plan he directed his royal masons to build a new church, replacing an earlier chapel.

The work progressed with practices previously carried out by Edward I’s royal stonemasons, for example, the transept tracery in the style of Michael of Canterbury (architect for St Stephen’s chapel, Westminster). The chancel pillars display the same style used in Greyfriars Church in Newgate, London, which was begun in 1306 for Edward I’s Queen, Margaret of France (C Wilson).

Local bricks were used in the first structure, making Holy Trinity the oldest brick built building in Hull still used for its original purpose since the departure of the Romans.

Merchant patronage

By the mid 1300s, increasingly wealthy merchants, including the de la Pole family, added a substantial Perpendicular nave to the building and widened the chancel. The lightweight structure, with its tall, thin columns and well-lit clerestory and main windows, was finally consecrated in 1425. Pesvsner would come to describe the building as coming close to an “English late medieval ideal of the glass-house”. Throughout the 1400s the merchant families established 12 different chantry chapels within and as additions to the building. These all disappeared in the reign of Edward VI except for one – John Rotenhering’s chapel (later the de la Pole chapel, and now dedicated to Miss Broadley, a Victorian benefactor). 

Marvell and Wilberforce

During the Commonwealth the building was divided with a wall into two worship spaces. The townsfolk worshipped in the nave and the Citadel soldiers in the Chancel. At times, the maintenance of Holy Trinity became a problem, especially when non-conformity was an increasing influence in Hull. In the 1700s two influential people had early associations with the church – the Restoration poet Andrew Marvell, when his father was lecturer at Holy Trinity, and the abolitionist William Wilberforce, whose 1759 baptism is recorded in the parish records. Both attended the nearby Hull Grammar School and would know Holy Trinity well.

Victorian restoration

By the 1830s a committee was established to raise funds for a nave restoration led by Henry Francis Lockwood. The 1840s Victorian pews with their elaborate poppyheads, replaced the earlier pews. Further work was needed in the 1860s, and George Gilbert Scott (later Sir) was called upon to lead a huge Gothic revival in the Chancel. This work can be seen today in the screens and realigned Chancel.

Further enhancements followed, with the insertion of beautiful stained glass windows, including the work of J Silvester Sparrow and Walter Crane, both recognised members of the Arts and Craft movement. The population of Hull increased considerably in the 1800s and the parish of Holy Trinity became an area of crowded court buildings, but the church was always at its heart with huge numbers of baptisms and marriages. These are reflected in the extensive parish records.

During the wars

In June 1915 when the Zeppelins flew overhead and dropped a bomb nearby, Holy Trinity was saved by a change in wind direction and the fire services. Unfortunately, in March 1916, windows were damaged during another raid. The East and West windows were renewed with the help of insurance money, but one window retains a reminder of that evening with a mosaic of glass taken from the damaged windows.

Surviving the German bombardment of Hull in the Second World War, Holy Trinity acted for a short time as an air raid shelter but was also a flight marker for the German planes. Recently, the North Choir aisle has become a memorial space for a number of military organisations and for Hull’s trawlermen lost at sea.

Also in the Second World War an active team of 'fire watches' kept the church safe. Read an account of their work HERE

Today the building continues to serve the people of Hull as a worship space, history resource and cultural venue, standing proudly on the city skyline for all to see as they enter Hull.