You could say that we had a whale of a time when we returned to Hull for a weekend in June. Which would give us something in common with Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick.
Hull is a great place for a weekend break: easily accessible by train, very walkable and lots to see. I have written before about the Larkin and fish trails. What I haven’t done before is explore beyond the city itself.
This time, we took a bus out to the nearby village of Sproatley to visit Burton Constable Hall. It’s a pleasant walk from the village through the holiday park to the estate. On arrival at the Visitor Centre we were faced with a choice: Stables, Tea Room, House or Whale?
Yes, that’s right. Whale. As Lord of the Seignory of Holderness, the then owner of Burton Constable Hall, Sir Thomas Aston Clifford Constable had claim to anything washed up on the Holderness shore. In April 1825, that included 60 foot long bull sperm whale. Eventually, the skeleton was brought to Burton Constable, where it was articulated on a wrought iron framework in the grounds. It was described in detail by Thomas Beale (d.1849) in his Natural History of the Sperm Whale, and inspired Herman Melville who wrote about it in Moby Dick.
“…at a place in Yorkshire, England, Burton Constable by name, a certain Sir Clifford Constable has in his possession the skeleton of a Sperm Whale…Sir Clifford’s whale has been articulated throughout, so that, like a great chest of drawers, you can open and shut him, in all his bony cavities – spread out his ribs like a gigantic fan – and swing all day on his lower jaw.”
Sadly, over the course of the next 160 years, the iron frame rusted and eventually collapsed, the site was trampled by cattle and the bones began to crumble. Very little remained visible. But in 1996, the surviving remains were excavated and recovered from the parkland. The skeleton was displayed in the Great Hall of Burton Constable for an exhibition in 2007, and has now been reassembled in the Great Barn. A sculpture now marks the spot on the park where the skeleton used to stand.
The whale is not the only natural history exhibit at Burton Constable. Some years earlier, William Constable, who was fascinated by Georgian advances in science and technology collected natural history specimens as well as electrical equipment and scientific instruments. His collection can be seen in the Museum room in the hall. I was intrigued by the portable camera obscura disguised as a book.
Of course there is more be seem within the Hall than scientific specimens, from costumes for amateur theatricals to the more usual paintings and furniture. There is even a Chinese Room (inspired by Brighton Pavilion) with dragons everywhere.
Back in Hull, I was able to reacquaint myself with Streetlife Museum and the excellent Ferens Art Gallery. However, the Maritime Museum was closed as part of the Hull: Yorkshire’s Maritime City project also involving the Arctic Corsair and the Spurn Lightship. I look forward to returning one day to see the results.
I visited Hull in June 2021
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Reblogged this on Heritage Weekends.