A map showing the site and fortification of Hull

Hull continued to flourish and again caught the eye of the monarch in the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1536 came the Pilgrimage of Grace. Many people were angry about Henry VIII’s religious changes and they rose in rebellion. At first the town council resisted the rebels but eventually they surrendered and allowed the rebels to enter Hull. However the king dispersed the rebels by making promises (which he did not keep!).

Henry VIII

In 1539 Henry VIII closed the monasteries. The friaries in Hull were closed. So was the Carthusian priory. However the ‘hospital’ run by the Carthusian monks was taken over by the town council.

In 1541 Henry ordered that there should be improvements to the towns defences. On the other side of the river Hull, opposite the town Henry built blockhouses or small forts. One was nearly opposite the North Gate. The other stood near the confluence of the Hull and the Humber. Between them stood a larger fort, a castle. A wall joined all three of them. In 1552 the town council was given custody of these forts. In the Middle Ages there was a ferry across the Hull. A bridge was built near the North Gate in 1541.


Exports of cloth continued in the 16th and 17th centuries. The export of grain also flourished. Lead was also exported from Hull. Timber, hemp (for rope making) and pitch were still imported from Scandinavia. Flax was also imported. It was used to make sails. Wine was still imported from France.

As well as trading with other countries Hull also carried on a coastal trade. Coal was brought from Newcastle and some of it was ‘re-exported’ to other parts of Britain. There was also still a large fishing fleet, but fishermen now sailed to Norway and Russia rather than to Iceland. Ships from Hull also went whaling in the Arctic. From the early 17th century there was a ship building industry in Hull.


Like all towns in the 16th and 17th centuries Hull suffered from outbreaks of plague. There were outbreaks in 1537, 1575-76, 1602-4 and 1637. In the last outbreak perhaps 10% of the population of Hull died including the mayor.

Civil War

In 1642 the country was moving towards civil war. In April 1642 the king attempted to enter Hull. However the governor of Hull, a man named Sir John Hotham held a meeting with some parliamentarians in a room in his house known as the ‘plotting room’. He decided to refuse the King entry to Hull.

Actual warfare between king Charles the first (the house of Stuart) and parliament began in August 1642. The king was determined to take Hull but the navy supported parliament and the town could be reinforced and supplied by sea. A royalist army occupied the rest of the north of England but Hull remained a parliamentary outpost. In July a royalist army laid siege to Hull. However at the end of that month the defenders marched out and routed the royalists. The siege was then lifted.

A second siege began in September 1643. This second siege ended in October when, again, the defenders went out and defeated the royalists in battle. The civil war ended in 1646.

17th Century

In the late 17th century trade boomed in Hull. Exports of grain and wool continued to flourish, as did imports from Scandinavia. Shipbuilding also boomed.

In the late 17th century a travel writer called Celia Fiennes described Hull thus: ‘the buildings of Hull are very neat (it has) good streets. It’s a good trading town by means of the great river Humber that ebbs and flows like the sea. We entered the town of Hull from the South over 2 drawbridges and gates. In the town there is a hospital that is called Trinity House for seamen’s widows. There is a good, large church in Hull’.

In the late 17th century the fortifications around Hull were modernised. From the mid 16th century there had been a castle on the East bank of the Humber with 2 forts or blockhouses North and South of it. The castle was rebuilt and the Southern blockhouse was rebuilt. A new triangular fort was built which included the citadel and the southern fort within its walls.

Hull in the 16th and 17th Century

By Gary

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