Kingston upon Hull  History Page 4

 Commercial Growth.

    Parallel to Hull's growth as a port was the growth of the whale "fishery" in the 18th century and the fishing industry "proper" in the 19th century. Hull had been quite prominent in whaling in the 17th century, but the industry had then declined, until a revival took place from the mid-18th century, one of its main entrepreneurs being Samuel Standidge, who sent three whalers to Greenland in 1768. However, the industry did not fully develop in Hull until the early 19th century, the really prosperous period being 1815 - 1825 when Hull had 2000 men employed in the trade. After this period the number of whales at Greenland diminished and hunting transferred to the Davis Strait. By l835 Hull Whaling was in severe decline and the demise of the "Diana" in the 1860's spelled out the end of the industry in the town. Between 1772 and 1857 about 4% of the whalers which went out never returned. During the good year of 1820, 50 vessels sailed from Hull to go whale hunting, but by 1832 they had declined to 28 in number.     The fishing industry was hardly existent in Hull during the 18th century, although the Corporation made very strong attempts to increase it by offering large bounties for the largest catches of fish. These were often claimed by boats from other towns, however. In 1821 the Corporation actually had to employ two boats from Plymouth to supply the town's fish. In the 1840's some trawlers migrated from Ramsgate in Kent, and Brixham in Devon. In the 1851 census returns 313 men were employed in fishing, and in nearly every case the birth places of the men, women and older children was given as Ramsgate or Brixham. The discovery of the fish shoals of the 'Silver Pits' in the North Sea, only 50 miles from Hull led to a great expansion. The number of Smacks, rose from 29 in 1845 to 270 in 1863. Those employed as fishermen rose from 4 in 1841 to 313 in l881, 924 in l871, 1,578 in 1881 and 1,299 in l891. In the late 1970's the circle was complete with the virtual demise of the local fishing industry, caused mainly by political decision rather than trade.

    Unlike other Yorkshire towns Hull's industries have always been well diversified, oil-milling, paint making, engineering and transport being other main traditional industries, with pharmaceuticals developing last century, so that the town has never had such depth of depression, nor heights of prosperity as other single industry places.

    From the beginning of Hull to the turn of the 19th century the town was dominated by its leading merchants and ship owners. Their civic swan song was undoubtedly in the 18th century. As we have seen, the port's trade was growing rapidly at that time and the merchant/ship owner families bccame increasingly rich. The clique of families such as Blaydes, Crowles, Wilberforces, Maisters and Sykes ran the town for around a hundred years, holding most of the town's major offices, mayor, sheriff etc., between them. Their homes and warehouses were down High Street. Some of them are still there, the best known being Wilberforce House, now a museum, but others such as Maister House, Blaydes House and Crowle House are also open to view to a lesser extent. The trade of the Hull merchants was with Europe and thus they never joined the slave trade, as did rivals in London, Bristol and Liverpool. Because of this Hull people were to the forefront of the campaign against the slave trade. Foremost among them was, of course, William Wilberforce, who steered the legislation ending the slave trade in the British Empire through Parliament. He, like many members of the merchant clique was one of the town's M.P's. But as the 18th century ended, the scene in Hull began to change. The riches acquired by the merchants were such that they left High Street, where merchant had succeeded merchant for 700 years, and bought houses and estates in the country. In time they became country gentlemen themselves - a good example being the Sykes of Sledmere.