A Brief History of Hessle

The town of Hessle lies on the north bank of the river Humber about four miles west of Kingston Upon Hull. Nowadays Hessle is all but consumed by the urban sprawl of its larger neighbour but once it was the larger settlement and much more important than Hull.

Hessle is an 'ancient town’, as its welcoming signs proudly proclaim, dating back probably to the sixth, or seventh, century. In Saxon times Hessle or Hoesellea (as it was called) was the meeting place of the Hundred, where matters of political and legal importance were discussed and settled. The settlement was situated between the wooded slopes of the Wolds, known as Hesslewood, and the low lying salt marshes stretching along the Humber on either side of the Fleet or Haven. The gently sloping foreshore and convenient haven made it the ideal landing place for the vessels of Angle, Saxon and, later Viking invaders, who used it as a base to foray inland.

The Domesday Book records Hessle as having a church and a priest. It also had a ferry linking it to Barton on the south bank. Holderness was given to Drogo de Beverere, after the Norman Conquest, and Hessle was under the control of Gislebert de Tison Ralph de Mortemor. Gislebert had the larger landholding and the ferry enabled him to cross to his holdings in Lincolnshire. From the haven the King’s highway ran north to Beverley and Durham, and, via the ferry, south to Lincoln and London. This route was well travelled by pilgrims journeying to the shrine of St John at Beverley.

The Domesday church was rebuilt during the reign of King Stephen and again in the 1230s. In medieval times the parish of Hessle stretched to the river Hull and included part of the town of Hull. Until 1661 All Saints Church was the mother church of Holy Trinity, Hull. It was around the church that the main centre of Hessle developed. Hessle has been, primarily, an agricultural settlement until the growth of commuting, in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, turned it into a dormitory for Hull. However, at Hessle Foreshore an industrial area developed. The chalk quarries, whiting works, ship building and the ferry to Barton were all situated hereabouts and were essential elements of Hessle's economic development.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century Hessle was a small town with a population of a few hundred. By the time of the first census, in 1801, Hessle was a thriving and attractive community to which the merchants of Hull had begun to turn in their search for a peaceful, rural place to live away from their place of work. Many fine houses were built for these wealthy newcomers. Hesslewood Hall for J R Pease, Tranby House for John Barkworth, Hessle Mount for J K Watson and several others. These houses were built on land released through the Enclosure Act of 1796. The ordinary people of Hessle lived in small compact houses such as the cottages that can still be seen along Northgate.

During the nineteenth century the population grew from almost seven hundred to over three thousand. This growth in population was accounted for by the close proximity of Hessle to the city of Hull and the improvement in communications during the nineteenth century: first with the building of the Hull to Hessle Turnpike road (1825) and secondly with the coming of the Hull and Selby Railway in 1840. All Saints Church was restored by Cuthbert Broderick in the 1850s and further extended in 1868-72 by R G Smith.

Throughout the twentieth century Hessle continued to grow in population though a large part of its land was given over to Hull for housing.

Hessle is nowadays dominated by the Humber Bridge, which, when it was opened, was the longest single span suspension bridge in the world. The bridge stands almost directly over the area from where the Barton ferry left, towards the end of its life in the late nineteenth century. Beneath the massive north tower of the bridge lies the Country Park, providing ample opportunity for a pleasant stroll and endless opportunities for children to play, and the old whiting mill. Here was once the former chalk quarries, and fascinating traces of the old industry can still be found. Along the foreshore traces of the old shipbuilding yards can also be seen.

Today Hessle is a thriving community with a population of around 15,000.

Prestongate, Hessle, around a hundred years ago.