Subject: Your grandfather, the Market Trader
From: Alex Kemp
Date: Thursday, 17 June 2010 00:54:30 +0100
To: Micaela Kemp, Liisa Kemp, Davin Kemp
Entrance to Prince St., Hull, seen from the Market Square

When I was living with your Dad’s mum, but before he was born, we used to sell clothes & trinkets in Hull Market Square. In between each Market day, the clothes & things were kept in a box on wheels, and were stored in a big shed. We rented the space from an old chap that lived near the market. If you look at the picture above, you will see a little arrow that points to the house that he lived in. That lane is called Prince Street. It stretches away until it meets Dagger Lane, not too far from Princes Dock & the Marina.

The lane opens on to the Market square - those posts mark the separation. Hull Holy Trinity Church is behind the photographer, and the Market square is between the photographer & the church. Our stall was on the photographer’s left on the back wall, in line with the Church, at the beginning of the old Grammar School (if you have the internet, you can see it here) (the link is a 2016 link at the same crossing as the photo below, but facing the other way, so that you can see the church; the old Grammar School is on the right of the screen).

Here is a photo:

The place in Hull Market Square where our pitch was

We were just where the crossing is, against the wall on the left (there were no barriers then).

The chap that rented us space for our stock was an ’Ull geezer (I cannot recall his name). He owned his house, but it was almost empty, and he had never decorated or improved it. He showed us the first floor front room, which was almost empty & derelict, but which had the most marvellous eggshell-blue paint on the plaster, with delicate patterns & drawings. The whole room was exactly the same as it would have been 100 years before (150 years now), and would have been very beautiful when new.

The market itself is on top of the old graveyard. Those houses that you can see in the top picture are all built directly on top of the same graveyard. The man said that when he needed to have some work done in his basement – no-one in Hull can use their basement, as they are all soaking wet (hardly surprising in the old town as every street was flooded twice a year by the Humber) – the noises from the workmen suddenly stopped. He went down to see what was going on, and the workmen were all stood still & silent, and staring at these skel’tons in the ground (my father always called ‘skeletons’ “skel’tons”). The old chap just told them to get on with it.

When my father was as old as your father is now, he worked for Yorkshire Electricity digging trenches. He helped to lay the electricity cables under the road that you can see above. As the gang of men--with my father one of them--started digging that trench, they came upon the skel’tons that were in the ground. All the skel’tons had their feet facing the Church (which is on the right of the photo above), and their skulls were sticking out into the trench. They called the Gang foreman, and asked him what to do. The foreman was just as callous as the men that built the houses:- he told them to cut each skull off with their spade. Someone told the vicar of Holy Trinity what was happening, and he came to collect all the skulls, and placed them on the altar within the Church, and conducted a Blessing.

Further down, my father & the other men came upon a solid lead coffin - they could not cut that off! They dug around & exposed the whole coffin. One of the men used his spade, and was able to prise the lid off. The whole Gang stood around the coffin and stared in amazement - the man inside was entirely intact. My father said that the corpse had very long, white hair. It was in such a good state of preservation that someone reached out. As soon as that person touched it’s hair, the whole corpse crumbled into dust, and there was nothing left except the coffin itself.

One final story about the old chap that rented us space... One of the other stall-keepers told us that the old man used to also work the market, many years before. He used to dock dogs’ tails (‘docking’ means to cut the tail short, perhaps because it had got damaged in a dog fight). The way that he did it, was to bite the tail off with his teeth! Eventually, the local health authorities stopped him from doing that.

I hope that you are all well, and that I can hear from you soon.


Alex Kemp