Article supplied by Dr. ALEC GILL MBE.

Generally, Hull-born people tend not to pronounce the letter ‘H’. I am certainly guilty of this omission.

Why is this? It seems ironic because Hull is over-run by the letter ‘H’ – it is here, there and everywhere. The name of the city itself begins with that letter; but many of us just call it ’ull (and this is echoed within the title of this website

Every so often someone will protest that we must start calling the port by its official name of Kingston-upon-Hull (with the posh ‘H’, of course). Such attempts usually fall upon deaf ears and fizzle out within a few weeks. It is soon forgotten and we slip back into our ‘ull ways.

In addition to the name of the place itself beginning with ‘H’, three of the major highways leading into the city begin with this dreaded and shunned letter. These are Hedon, Holderness and Hessle Roads (the last one being my particular patch) which can end up being referred to as ‘edon, ‘olderness, and ‘essle Road respectively. Then there is Haltemprice to the west of the city – or shall I say ‘altemprice?

Back in 1974, when I first began my dedicated, long-term research into Hull’s Hessle Road Fishing Community, I was keen to establish the origin of the name of this byway. It is obviously the main road to the nearby village of Hessle; which locals tend to call ‘ezzle Road (or just ‘on road’).

This is interesting because deeper research into the etymology of how Hessle village itself acquired its name revealed an illuminating element. Smith (1937) [1] suggested that this settlement was initially established or named by Viking Pagans who worshipped the hazel tree – possibly for its magical properties (but that is another story). In the light of this view, the fishing families are perhaps correct to give an emphasis to the ‘z’ aspect when they pronounce it as ‘ezzle Road.

Another twist of fate concerns the port’s trawling fleets. Paradoxically, many of the fishing firms’ names begin with the letter ‘H’. Thus we have (or had): Hellyer’s, Hamling’s, Henriksen’s, Hudson’s, and Hull Northern Fishing. Inevitably, Hull trawlermen used the shortened versions for each company and called them ‘ellyer’s, etc.

What about my original question: Why do we lack the letter ‘H’ in Hull? Where have they all gone? Like Pete Seeger’s (1961) song “Where Have all the Flowers Gone?” we might ask: Where have all the ‘Hs’ gone?

The answer, I believe (tongue-in-cheek) also lies within Hull’s deepsea trawling industry. And I have included some pictures below to ‘prove’ my point. Each image shows a Hull-registered trawler. Every vessel had the letter ‘H’ boldly painted all over it – on the portside, starboard side, funnel, lifeboats and, sometimes, on the lifebelts.

AMETHYST H455 leaving SAFD

DUNSBY H306 Dovedale

This, I would suggest, is the primary reason why Hull people do not pronounce their ‘Hs’ – they have all been taken away by Hull trawlers to the distant Arctic fishing grounds and lost over the side when trawling for ‘addock!

[1] SMITH, Albert Hugh. 1937. Book. The Place-Names of the East Riding of Yorkshire and York. Cambridge. University Press for the English Place-Name Society. XIV. 215-16.


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