Humberside Geologist no 8

A Geological Walk in the City of Hull

by Ron Harrison and Mike Horne

[ Editor's note - since this was published in 1991 some of the premises may have changed their names and use.] 

In most cities and towns there is usually a lot of local building stone used, particularly on older buildings. This is not the case in Hull, because there is no suitable building stone nearby. Although local stone has been used in some parts of East Yorkshire, such as the Cave Oolite in the Newbald / South Cave area and hard Chalk in the Flamborough and Foxholes area, they are not brilliant building stones and were never used in Hull. In Medieval times some stone was brought into Hull perhaps from North Yorkshire or the Lincoln area, but it was expensive and only used for Churches and monastic buildings, and swiftly recycled when the buildings were no longer in use.

There is, though, a lot of clay in the area around Hull - the Humber Warp and the Boulder Clay. This clay has been used from an early date for brickmaking. The older bricks which can be seen in the old Town are flatter and wider than the modern bricks we use today, and have noticeable imperfections and a rough texture.

In the 19th. Century good quality building stones were brought into Hull for use in some Civic Buildings. And in this Century ornamental stones have been used for shop fronts, some of these have come from Scandinavia and Italy. These are mainly just facings and the thickness of these veneers has decreased as they become more expensive.

So, in spite of the lack of a good local building stone, a wide variety of rocks can be seen in Hull. Bricks are the main material; some old ones can still be seen, there are some Victorian glazed bricks and modern ones in a variety of colours and textures. There are traditional British building stones used on Victorian civic buildings. And there is a wide variety of exotic rocks used for shop facings, curbstones and cobblestones.

Below we shall describe a walk around the city to examine these various stones. We do not claim that we have described everything that there is to see and some descriptions may not be totally accurate (to attack shop fronts with a bottle of acid and a 2 lb. geological hammer in the name of Science may be regarded as a little antisocial by the Police !). The other problem with the description of the walk is that the names of the shops seem to change regularly, so the names we use may soon become out of date, but there is not really any way around that.

The walk will take shout 2 hours if you stop and study everything mentioned. It is a good idea to take a hand lens or magnifying glass to get a closer look at some of the rocks. It is also a good idea to do the walk when the town is not too busy, such as a Sunday morning, especially if you don't want strangers asking why you are peering closely at a shop wall with a magnifying glass and not through the window at the bargains in the Sale!

We begin our walk on the steps of the Town Docks Museum, in Queen Victoria Square. The steps are marble. Most of the building is Ancaster Stone, a Jurassic limestone, mostly free of fossils (fossils in a limestone mean that it tends to weather unevenly). Walk around the building and on a sunny day you will see crystals of Calcite in the limestone sparkling on the pillars of sparry oolite. The base of the building is Millstone Grit, Carboniferous in age, which is quite pebbly in places. Modern bricks have been used to pave Queen Victoria Square.

Next to the museum is the Yorkshire Bank still with its old 'Yorkshire Penny Bank' name above it. A red granite and ceramic moldings have been used to decorate the bank.

Across the Square is the City Hall. This has pillars of shelly limestone, which have granite bases. The steps of City Hall are white marble, a true marble. The limestone contains burrow trace fossils and a grit stone is used on the side of the Hall. The statues beside the entrance are carved from an oolitic limestone, which contain bivalve fossils.

The Punch Hotel is similar in style and decoration to the Yorkshire Bank. It has a base of red granite, known as 'Balmoral Red' and which comes from Finland. Old bricks can be seen on the side of the building; they are flatter than modern bricks.

The Ferens Art Gallery has white granite at the base, with glittering Muscovite crystals. Above this is dressed Portland Stone, from the Isle of Portland, which is a limestone containing a variety of Jurassic fossils. The steps at the entrance are sandstone and a fossil horsetail can be seen, indicating a Carboniferous age.

Monument Buildings has solid red granite pillars which contain xenoliths of a darker rock.

The Princes Quay shopping development uses plenty of glass -- a man-made metamorphic rock.

Over Monument Bridge, the old Beverley Gate, found by an archaeological dig, has been preserved with the old city wall built of brick. The bricks were probably made on the site using the silt and clay which was excavated when the moat was dug. The moat around the old town was later enlarged to make the docks. Here you have good opportunity to examine the shape and texture of these medieval bricks.

Walk a short distance down Dockside. Here you can see Trinity House School, where painted stonework is flaking badly. The road is made of granite cobblestones and some of the old dockside railway track can still be seen set into the cobbles. The side of Princes Dock is made of large blocks of Millstone Grit. Old hand-made bricks can be see in the walls of Roland House.

In Whitefriargate the shops are faced with a wide-variety of ornamental stones, most of these are thin veneers on older buildings; if you look above the modern shop fronts you can see some rather fine architecture of earlier days and on some buildings you can still make out the names of previous traders. Burtons shop is faced with Larvikite from Norway, known to masons as 'Blue Pearl'. The large feldspar crystals glisten blue in the sunlight, in this attractive rock. Our Price record store is faced with variety of coloured modern bricks. Marks and Spencer has a freestone front with Larvikite facing, and Evans also has a Larvikite facing. In the short passageway beside H M V records slabs of greenish Tilberthwaite Tuff can be seen. This is a waterlain tuff from the Borrowdale Volcanics of the Lake District. Graded bedding, slump structures and lapilli can be seen on these slabs. The front of Ratners jewelry shop has a nice mixture of Larvikite, red granite and ceramic tiles. Millets is faced with a green serpentinite. A fine example of reddish coloured orbicular granite can be seen at Littlewoods. This rock is called 'Baltic Brown' by stone masons; it comes from Finland and is about 1500 million years old. Rumbellows, on the corner of Parliament Street is faced with Carrara Marble from Italy.

Turn left into Parliament Street and you will find the old Police Station at No. 20 with a mixture of rough cut granite, freestone and brick. At the end of the Street there is a wide variety of rocks used as cobblestones. No. 4 has red granite, used with freestone and at No. 2 you can see modern 'old fashioned' bricks replacing the original ones.

Return to Whitefriargate and continue walking east. The Midland Bank has current bedded gritstone at its base, with freestone above. The carved shelly oolite may have been cast from reconstituted rock. Trueform has marble at its base. Poundstretcher has a front of contrasting red granite with dark xenoliths and a black gabbro. The Abbey National building is faced with a gabbro, know as 'Bon Accord' which comes from Southern Africa. The Britannic Building Society on the corner has above its frontage what appears to be some more of he greenish Timberthwaite Tuffs though it has not been polished, or it may be a man-made imitation.

Walk a little way up Silver Street; the first building of interest is the National Westminster Bank, with pale granite at the base and shelly oolite above. Suffolk House has black basalt at its base with serpentinite and grey granite containing xenoliths above. The Newcastle Building Society has a rough chiselled granite base, which is pale grey and contains muscovite and a freestone above.

Cross over the road and examine the Bank of Scotland building, where you will find mixture of Larvikite and marble. Walk back towards Whitefriargate and you will see on the corner of Silver Street the Barclays Bank building. This has a red granite base with carved freestone above.

Turn left and walk towards the Market Place. You will pass the entrance to the covered market which is a mixture of grit shone and freestone. At the base are blocks of harder granite, probably put there to fend off cart wheels.

If you have time, have a quick wander down Princes Street, now nicely restored. There are granite cobblestones on this narrow road and if you look closely you will notice how the ones at the edges have been worn await by the metal tires of old cart wheels. There are old paving stones of Pennant Sandstone, some displaying current lineation structures.

On the south side of the street, at the back of 'Merchants Warehouse' and in a small car park beside it, a variety of erratic boulders can be seen, including Carboniferous Limestone, Granite with Pyrite, Gneiss, black flint, basalt and sandstone.

In King Street, new grey granite sets can be seen in the road; if you look closely you can see crystals of muscovite and twinned crystals of Orthoclase Feldspar.

Back in the Market Place, the old Grammar School building, now a museum, is built of brick; beside it is the old Woolen Warehouse built of a red sandstone, which is weathering badly. The Kings Market is built of a gritstone.

Holy Trinity Church is mainly built of brick, with freestone on the corners; it was built on a raft of oak. The tower looks to have been built from Magnesian Limestone. The wall around the churchyard is made from a grit stone, and current bedding structures can be seen in places, notably at the eastern end. Here you can get a close look at the bricks and you can notice different degree of weathering of the limestone dependent on whether the blocks were laid with the bedding vertical or horizontal.

Gentlemen, wishing to make a 'comfort stop', can visit the toilets beneath the statue of King William ('King Billy' to locals) and see the shelly crinoidal Carboniferous Limestone used for the urinals and the old 'fish tank' cisterns. [note - this site was declared as a Regionally Important Geological Site in 2001, but has subsequently been closed.]

Walk along Lowgate and on the corner of Silver Street impressive pillars of granite can be seen, which contain xenoliths. The Alliance building on Lowgate has Devonian fossiliferous marble on its front. Corals, crinoids and Stromatoporoids can be seen; have close look at the ledge to the right of the door. This marble is not highly polished and is best seen when wet (we usually wipe it with a damp cloth). The Royal Insurance building has a mixture of grey granite and green serpentinite.

Cross over Lowgate and examine the building on the corner of Bishop Lane, which has a mix of freestone, red granite and brick. Walk down Bishop Lane, another old narrow Hull street, with red granite sets which have been worn away at the edges by the old cart wheels. Facing the end of Bishop Lane, on High Street, is Pacific House, built in 1899 from red bricks and ceramic moldings, with a grit stone base. Old staithes lead away from High Street down to the River Hull and the original dock side.

Walk along High Street to Wilberforce House. Here wooden sets replace the granite sets in the road; High Street was resurfaced a few years ago, before that there were wooden sets the whole length of the Street to reduce traffic noise. A granite horse trough can be seen opposite Wilberforce House.

Walk down Alfred Gelder Street, towards the Guildhall. The statue of Charles Wilson is on a traffic island, with Pennant Sandstone paving around it and Shap Granite curbstones. The City Hotel is a mixture of brick, ceramic moldings and granite. The Guildhall is made of pale grey granite, sandstone and an oolitic limestone, probably Ancaster Stone.

The Wilberforce statue in Queens Gardens, is on a tall Millstone Grit pillar. Cross bedding and graded bedding structures can be seen in the block at the base; you can try to work out if the blocks are the right 'way up'.

The police station from Queens Dock Avenue is faced with Tilberthwaite Tuff from the Lake District. Bedding structures can be seen in these greenish tuffs - slumping and dewatering structures. Volcanic bombs can be found also (we are always wary about pointing out these bombs just outside a police station when leading our public walks!). The dark grey shale/slate at the base of the building is weathering very badly.  [note - this site was designated as a Regionally Important Geological Site in 2001; the cladding was removed in 2019 without consultation.]

In George Street a wide variety of decorative stones can be seen. There is Larvikite on the Council's Housing Department and some impressive solid Larvikite pillars at Carmichaels. The Halifax Building Society has black basalt and the Abbey National grey granite. The T.S.B. has some orbicular granite ('Baltic Brown'), green Tuff and grey granite. A variety of erratic pebbles are set in concrete outside the bank. Romeo and Juliets (the old Co-op) is faced with dark green serpentinite and the British Home Stores has a pale marble front. The last stop on the walk is at MacDonald's, which is faced with Italian Travertine. This beautiful rock was originally very porous, but it has been filled before it was polished.

As you can see, even though there is no local 'Building Stone' used in Hull, wide variety of rocks, igneous, metamorphic, sedimentary and volcanoclastic can be seen, covering many geological ages. Also a large number of man-made metamorphic rocks are used in the city - bricks mud tiles made from local clays, ceramic tiles, glass made from silica sand, cement perhaps made locally from the Kimmeridge Clay and the Chalk, and refined lead, iron, copper and aluminium ores. Every time we lead people on this walk we find something new to look at or talk about - like a belemnite in a brick in the wall of the Department of Employment in the Market Place or Shap Granite curbstone on the corner of Liberty Lane. When we stop finding new rocks to look at we will change the route!

Hull Geology Walk




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