History of Hull: Max Lock and the Hull Regional Survey

Anybody who has lived or worked in Hull will almost certainly be familiar with the claim that Hull was forgotten about after the Second World War, despite its exceptionally heavy bomb damage for a city of its size. Against a national memory of the Home Front that has a great deal to say about the Blitz on London and in certain emblematic towns like Coventry, Hull tends to receive little attention. This is an omission exemplified by contemporary references to Hull simply as ‘a North East Coast Town’, something that Tom Geraghty used as the title of his popular book about the Blitz on Hull. In another blog post in this series, we are going to tackle the persistence of that phrase and how we might understand it today, but here we are going to hark back to a time during the war when Hull, for a brief period, didn’t seem quite so forgotten.

Lock’s Map of Housing Blight

In July of 1943 Max Lock’s survey of Hull titled Civic Diagnosis: A Blitzed City Analysed was published, accompanied by an exhibition on replanning the city (and cities in a more general sense) in London, and later, Hull itself. Lock’s survey was funded by, amongst others, the Leverhulme Trust and local businesses in the form of RG Tarran and the James Reckitt Trust, showing just how important the redevelopment of cities was to both national and local concerns in the period. The survey was not itself especially prescriptive in its recommendations for Hull; rather, its innovative nature lay in its use of data and maps to visualise the issues that plagued the city. Lock, who had recently been the acting head of the Hull School of Architecture, used staff and students as well as existing surveys of the local economy to produce layered maps covering everything from urban blight to the location of pubs to road accidents. This way of examining and producing maps of the large data sets promised to diagnose the civic ills that hundreds of years of unplanned expansion had produced, especially in northern industrial cities like Hull. It was an approach that echoed trends in American planning from the interwar and captured the imaginations of town planners producing post-war planning literature. Yet, in producing the survey Lock also hinted at a much brighter, post-war future, which appeared especially tantalising in the dark days of 1943.

Lock’s Map of Road Accidents in Hull, shows the approach to mapping data and improving the functioning of the city

Lock argued that the Blitz presented an opportunity to view and remake cities that had not occurred before:

Hitler, at least has brought us to our senses. We, the British public, have suddenly seen our cities as they are! After experiencing the shock of familiar buildings disembowelled before our eyes … we find that the cleared and cleaned up space is a relief. In them we have hope for the future, opportunities to be taken or lost. These open spaces begin to ventilate the congestion of our cities and maybe also of our imaginations.[1]

 The Hull Daily Mail, covering the exhibition, also excitedly told its readers that Hull represented an unparalleled opportunity for redevelopment. It reported with enthusiasm on the success of the exhibition, detailing vists and complimentary noises from Ministers like Home Secretary Herbert Morrison and even a delegation from Poland.[2] The attention paid to the survey and exhibition was not merely coming from planners and politicians either. The initial exhibition in London was extended by two weeks to make the most of public attention and was also reprogrammed to be shown in Birmingham and Manchester at the request of the Town Planning Institution. This enthusiasm for the project led the Hull Daily Mail to comment that the exhibition had ‘drawn a great deal of attention to Hull among people who have little knowledge of the size and importance of our city’.[3] The exhibition was also popular in Hull, where, as in London it was further extended to accommodate larger than expected interest from the citizens. Patrick Abercrombie, recently engaged by the city with Edward Lutyens to produce their famously-unfulfilled plan for post-war Hull, echoed the optimism that must have been felt by those viewing the exhibition, arguing that he knew of:

…no town where the damage had been more ubiquitous it was everywhere the damage had been brought home to everyone and that meant that their possibilities of rebuilding were very wide. Nobody would think of going on with small local improvements such as were contemplated before the war.[4]

 Abercrombie would make great use of the data collected by Lock, and one of the most ambitious elements of his final plan was to completely redesign the road and rail issues that Lock identified through analysis of traffic and accidents.

The problem was, of course, that the optimism of the war was short lived and resources limited. Optimism forged in the heat of the Blitz, cooled as the challenges of the post-war world emerged. As a number of historians have shown, though many encouraging noises were made about replanning Hull, post-war supplies of building materials, a lack of co-ordination of local interests, and general dearth of funds meant that Hull, alongside many other cities was unable to extensively redevelop its city centre in the immediate post-war and the initial optimism produced by Lock’s survey was forgotten against decades of little development and persistent bomb sites.[5]


Imports to Hull

[1] Max Lock, ‘Civic Diagnosis’, World Review, July 1943.

[2] Hull Daily Mail, ‘Hull Survey’, 29 Jul 1943, p.1

[3] Hull Daily Mail, ‘National Interest in Hull Exhibition’, 28 July 1943, p.3.

[4] Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, ‘Prof. Abercrombie on Hull’s Defects and Virtues’, 4 Sept 1943, p.8.

[5] See for example: Catherine Flinn, Rebuilding Britain’s Blitzed Cities: Hopeful Dreams, Stark Realities (Bloomsbury, 2018); James Greenhalgh Reconstructing Modernity (Manchester, 2018).

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