10 of the most daring Hull prison escapes

A scene from the Buster Keaton film Convict 13 (1920).

Harry Ogle cut his throat while breaking out of a Humber Street jail but ran as far as river bank before he died.

From that day, according to an old legend, the prison – part of the town walls – was known as Harry Ogle’s Tower.

It is hardly surprising he would want to escape: For centuries, Hull’s jails were notorious places, helping to inspire the famous line, From Hell, Hull and Halifax, May God Preserve Us.

The main town gaol has occupied several sites since the 18th century, in Fetter Lane (now the site of the magistrates’ court), Castle Street (1785), Kingston Street (1829) and, finally, in Hedon Road (1870). Not one has been escape proof.

Some prisoners had little to lose. In December 1789, four men made a break for it while awaiting transportation. They included mariner William Gill, about 22 years old; a “good-looking fellow” called William Muschamp, about 26; Joseph Kershaw, commonly called York Joe, and William Townes, about 35, who had a scar on his right cheek. In the days before an organised police force, a bounty of 10 guineas per man was offered for their return.

As security and the professionalism of prison guards improved, escapes became harder to pull off, but this only led to inmates becoming more ingenious, whether fashioning homemade keys, ropes and ladders, planning elaborate distractions, or wearing convincing disguises. Continue reading “10 of the most daring Hull prison escapes”

This flying car was invented in Hull

The flying car invented by Thomas Walker, from Hull. His plans were published in 1810.

A century before the Wright Brothers achieved the first powered flight, a Hull man invented a flying car.

Thomas Walker was so confident that his mechanical plane would work, he envisaged building a fleet of thousands.

He hoped that his machines would one day criss-cross the United Kingdom and beyond, delivering letters and mail at the speed of 40 to 50 mph, rescuing mariners in distress and exploring newly discovered lands. Continue reading “This flying car was invented in Hull”

The meaning of From Hell, Hull and Halifax and why you would have feared all three

Jack Sparrow is sentenced to hang in a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. In Hull, the harsh treatment handed out to felons was legendary.

From Hell, Hull and Halifax, May The Good Lord Deliver Us.

The famous line originates in the Beggars’ Litany, an old saying popular in the 17th century.

It is best-known from a poem by John Taylor, who visited Hull in 1622 and wrote a description of the town in verse. However, it may already have been well known in Taylor’s time.

James Joseph Sheahan, in his history of Hull (1864), suggested the line was of “ancient date”.

He wrote: “In it he (Taylor) alludes to the well known line in the beggar and vagrants’ litany – ‘From Hell, Hull, and Halifax, good Lord deliver us;” and also to the “Hull cheese … the mightiest ale in England.”

The proverb had taken its origin “from the severe measures adopted by the magistrates of Hull and Halifax, at various times, to suppress vice,” Sheahan said. Continue reading “The meaning of From Hell, Hull and Halifax and why you would have feared all three”

Witches and black magic died hard in superstitious East Yorkshire

Vincent Price as Matthew Hopkins in the 1968 film, Witchfinder General.

Some time in the middle years of the 19th century, an East Yorkshireman had grown sick and his horse had died. One night, when the afflicted fellow and his wife were sat by the fire, the kitchen clock began to moan.

Terrified, and convinced they had been bewitched, they called a wise man, ‘J.S.’, who was brought to the house by a coachman.

At midnight, J.S. began a ritual to defeat the witch; he read the Lord’s Prayer backwards, tore the heart from a still-living black hen, punctured it with pins and buried it. Then, as he chanted to evil spirits, he performed a conjuring trick with some “fizzing stuff” that made water boil furiously, an effect so impressive that when he offered to summon the prince of darkness himself, the coachman begged him to stop.

It may read like a scene from a Hammer Horror film, but there is reason to believe the tale is at least partly true. The events, which happened in the ancient village of Kirkburn, were recorded a few years later by a Dr Wood, of Driffield, who had heard it from the coachman. The mysterious ‘J.S.’, from Haisthorpe, was renowned as a faith healer with magical powers. On one occasion he “healed” a woman at Speeton who had been bedridden for years. The grateful woman, gripped by a religious frenzy, led her friends singing and dancing through Bridlington. Continue reading “Witches and black magic died hard in superstitious East Yorkshire”

A cannibal werewolf ‘lived on Read’s Island in the River Humber’

Le Werwolf, by Félicien Rops.

Look out Old Stinker: an obscure legend suggests Hull’s infamous werewolf may have a rival.

The story goes that, many moons ago, a vagabond set up home on lonely Read’s Island, in the Humber Estuary, and scraped a living as a ferryman.

At that time, scores of people from the district went missing in mysterious circumstances.

The vagabond came under suspicion and, acting on information from his passengers, the authorities raided his pitiful shack and discovered piles of skeletons and bones.

He was arrested and accused of cannibalism, but at his trial he transformed into a howling werewolf. Continue reading “A cannibal werewolf ‘lived on Read’s Island in the River Humber’”

The Bible in East Yorkshire dialect – God meead heaven an’ ath oot o’ nowt

The Creation, by Lawrence W Ladd, 1880.

If the Bible had been written in the East Riding, how would it read? In The Folk Speech of East Yorkshire, published in 1889, Hull author John Nicholson has a go at finding out by rewriting Genesis in the North Holderness Dialect.

1. I’ beginnin’ God meead heaven an’ ath oot o’ nowt.

2. An’ ath was wi’oot shap, an’ emty: and dahkness was uppa feeace o’ deep. An’ sperit o’ God storred uppa feeace o’ watthers.

3. An’ God sed, Let ther’ be leet: an’ ther’ was leet. Continue reading “The Bible in East Yorkshire dialect – God meead heaven an’ ath oot o’ nowt”

The Hull man killed by his shaving brush

An advert for shaving cream from the Saturday Evening Post magazine in 1839.

Hull man Joseph Taylor was enjoying a holiday in Scarborough when he cut himself while shaving. A few days later, he was dead … from anthrax.

An inquest into his death, held in September 1924, heard how a shaving brush was the likely cause of death.

Taylor, a clerk at Reckitt’s, who lived in Thoresby Street, had been in perfect health when he left for the seaside with his wife.

He bought the brush in Scarborough, for one shilling and sixpence, and used it while shaving every day for a week, before cutting a spot which bled profusely. After a few days the cut got worse and Taylor became sick, but a chemist told him he had “barber’s rash” and suggested an ointment. Continue reading “The Hull man killed by his shaving brush”