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From cod to culture

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Once thriving and prosperous, Hull spent years in the doldrums. Now it is buzzing  again, says its former MP Alan Johnson, with its status as UK City of Culture bearing witness to its spirit

J B Priestley visited Hull in 1933 while writing one of his most famous books, English Journey, published the following year. He found a prosperous city, largely insulated from the effects of the Great Depression, which had so ravaged the other places he’d visited in the North. Some of this insulation was provided by Hull’s geographical location. ‘Not really in Yorkshire,’ the great man remarked, ‘but by itself, somewhere in the remote east where England is nearly turning into Holland.’ As Philip Larkin was to remark about his adopted home town 25 years later, Hull’s isolation had given the city ‘the air of having its face half-turned towards distance and silence and what lies beyond them’. Back in the 1930s, its seven miles of docks and quays were separated by the River Hull into two distinct sectors. In the east of the city, they traded with Scandinavia and the Baltic states...

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