William Clowes – Primitive Methodism in Hull


The community of Clowes Memorial Methodist Church, Greenwood Ave, Hull, and Hull Civic Society, put together a calendar of events to celebrate the life and work of a charismatic missionary and preacher, who was based in Hull and from there walked many miles to deliver passionate sermons across the country.

William Clowes is one of 47 influential Primitive Methodists, who are buried in Prims Corner at the now disused, Hull General Cemetery.

William and Eleanor Clowes headstone in HGC

Historical points.

  • For a century, until the Methodist Union (1932), Hull had a higher proportion of residents following Primitive Methodism than elsewhere in the country.
  • Women preachers always worked alongside men. In fact, William Clowes was invited by women to come to Hull. One of the strengths of the Prims was their acceptance of women as equals at a time when the mainstream churches resisted this.
  • Primitive Methodists set up Sunday schools and generally promoted education among the poorer population, looked after the sick and were instrumental in encouraging workers’ representation.
  • Prims’ Corner has fine monuments to wealthy businessmen such as Henry Hodge, who were determined to create a better life for the poorest and needy.
  • Their generosity and their achievements in all areas of city life left their legacy in countless and remarkable ways.
Henry Hodge memorial (HGC)

The time line below tries to give an impression of what daily life was like for the inhabitants of rapidly changing urban areas in the North of England, during the 19th century.

Progress of Primitive Methodism in Hull – William Clowes Bi-centenary
(Prims Corner at Hull General Cemetery)
Important Dates and Facts  in Hull’s History
1780 –  William Clowes born 12th March in Burslam, Staffordshire son of a local potter from the Wedgewood family.  1720 – Daniel Defoe commented that Hull was ‘exceedingly close built’.  
1800 – William Clowes marries Eleanor (Hannah?) Rogers.End of 18th cent. population 22,000
1778 – The docks were growing and the safe haven dock-extension to the river Hull, was the largest in England.
1804 – Clowes begins work in a new Hull pottery .1799 – poor relief committee was set up. It was estimated that 1 in 20 were receiving poor relief.
1804 to 07 – The American evangelist, Lorenzo Dow (1777 – 1834) preached in Cheshire. Hugh Bourne and Clowes attended meetings.Non-conformism grew – Methodism became firmly established.
1805 – 20th January. Clowes was converted. He and his wife decided to put their lives in order.Severe overcrowding in Hull – in many residences up to 12 people from 3 families said to occupy one single room.
1807 – First Camp meeting in England on Mow Cop. Clowes assisted  Bourne at the event. Some view this as the beginning of the movement.1809 – Humber Dock opened for business. ‘The Hull Dock Company’ was established to  create an entrance to the Humber.
1808 – Clowes appointed as local preacher by the Wesleyan Methodists.1829 – Princes Dock connected the rivers Hull and Humber. Built with five million bricks from town wall.
1810 – Clowes’ name was omitted from the Methodist preachers’ plan because of his association with the Bournes.1832 – Cholera outbreak in Hull, 270 deaths recorded largely in the North West of the City.
See Cholera Monument at HGC.  
1819 – 1839 For 2 decades preachers from the Hull Circuit covered more ground and secured more converts than anywhere else. (‘Fruitful Mother’)1835 – Introduction of the New Poor Law. Policy to transfer unemployed rural workers to urban areas where there was work.
1829 – Decision made for a mission to America.1832 – 1849  ‘heightened awareness of fragility of life’.
1830 – Total number of Prims in England estimated at 35,535, of which a third were in the Hull circuit.1850 – Victoria Dock opened. The first on the east side at the site of the citadel.
1830 – Prims establish a ‘Sick Visiting Association,’ funded by 330 subscribers.‘Ragged persons, starving crying children, smoking houses… the depth of human misery and degradation’ (Primitive Methodist Magazine 1827).
1844 – 46  William Clowes president of three Primitive Methodist Conferences.  1850s – ca 500 illiterate residents in Mill Street, Hull, alone.
1844 – Clowes’ Journal is published.1849 – cholera outbreak in Hull is said to have killed 1,860 inhabitants with 500 recorded in one week alone.
1851 – William Clowes dies from paralysis in Hull and is buried at Prims Corner Hull General Cemetery. Described as a ‘Burning and Shining  Light’ (George Lamb).1851 – Hull’s population 85,000.
About 30 Wesleyan and 20 Primitive chapels were built.
1850 – 1881 The number of people attending  Anglican services in Hull increased  only by 12%, whereas Wesleyan  Methodist numbers rose by 54% and Primitive Methodists by 75%.1856 – The Mission to Seamen was founded as a denominated society with Anglican outlook. Ministers went on board and cared for spiritual as well as physical wellbeing of crew members.
 1852 – Hugh Bourne dies.1854 – ‘North and South’ by E. Gaskell is published.
1851 – Nearly 30 Wesleyan and about 20 Primitive chapels were either built or taken over.
1881 – The fourteen Prim chapels in Hull can accommodate 12,650.1871 – Hull’s population 130,426.
George Lamb (1809 – 1886, buried at Prims Corner HGC) sets up Hull School Board.1885 – Alexandra Dock built in 24/7 shifts; (5000 navvies live as lodgers in Hull).
An early Siemens lighting system enabled an unprecedented 24-hour working approach.
1889 Henry Hodge dies (b 1813).
– Seed crusher and oil miller.
– Builder of chapels.
– Buried in Prims Corner.
The ‘Friends of HGC’ are in regular contact with his descendent.
 
1892 Parkinson Milson (b. 1825) dies and is buried in HGC. He was a renowned Prim minister.
1891 – Hull’s population 199,135.
– Over 1700 men listed as either shipbuilders or shipwrights.
– The newly formed Hull Brewery Company owned 160 licensed premises.
1900 – James Charlesworth (b.1847) died and buried in HGC.
1920 – ‘100 years of Primitive Methodism’ conference in Hull (see cover sheet in Englesea museum).

1932 – Methodist Union takes place in London – Albert Hall. The Wesleyan, Primitive and United Methodists adopted the Deed of Union.

Parkinson Milson headstone (HGC)

What this time line does not show, is the industrial pollution and smoke, the squalor and the cramped conditions breeding disease.

Many agricultural workers arrived in towns and cities to find work and brought their farm animals with them.

Hull was also overcrowded with –

  • Irish building workers, who lived as lodgers among the local community.
  • Sailors from across the world, who had to wait 3 weeks while their ship unloaded, due to lack of mooring space.
  • Large numbers of migrants come from the European continent. Famines and political turmoil drove 2.5 million German speakers alone, to find a better life elsewhere. Most travelled via Hull to America, but a significant number stayed (e.g. Hohenreins).

In 1809, waits of 17 days for a berth were possible. Dock capacity increased during the 19th century, but this meant many months of huge building sites in the centre of the city.

2019 was the bicentenary of William Clowes and his compatriots beginning two decades of preaching across the country. The records of the men and women buried in Prims Corner should remind us that in Hull and in other Primitive Methodist communities around the world there is a history, which cannot be found in textbooks, but would bring us closer to the real past.

Charlesworth headstones (HGC)

As Hilary Mantel says: ‘History is not the past, it is the method we have evolved of organising the past’ (1st Reith lecture 2018).

Eva La Pensée – Edited May 2021

The Merchants of Beverley and the Tudor Age


This sounds a very parochial title, but Renaissance Beverley was anything but parochial. Beverley merchants traded (and thus were influencers) across Europe – as far East as present-day Russia and south to Italy and beyond. Of course, it was two-way traffic and ideas on trade, religion and art found their way back to the north of England. We are unaware of this dialogue, because then as now, London was the hub. If you arrived by boat in London in the 16th century, you were aware of an extensive building complex with a tower, a large crane and steps down to the Thames waterfront – a complex covering 0.6 ha (1.3 acres).

Contemporary drawing of the Steelyard

Called the ‘Steelyard’, it provided living quarters, common rooms, a
garden, and spacious warehouses and was inhabited by around 80 young, unmarried German merchants, who had to abide by almost monastic rules while residing there.
So, this wasn’t about kings and queens or nobility, but about adventurous savvy traders and merchants.
Facing the street was the ‘Rhenish Wine House,’ which was largely a
courtyard and open to visitors. Nowadays this is the site of Cannon Street Tube
Station in Cheapside and next door was the quarter occupied by German traders
and artisans with their families. It included a ropewalk, the usual workshops and
of course breweries. Cheapside comes from Old English – ceapan, to buy, itself
related to the Dutch, German and Scandanavian – kopen, kaufen, köpa.

The popular ‘Rhenish Wine House’ was frequented by the important and
influential residents of Tudor London including Thomas Cromwell and Thomas
More. The wine was very good and the latest news from the continent were
hotly debated. The Hanse merchants residing in the Steelyard were part of an
influential, international and very wealthy elite, who maintained their contacts
across Europe through extensive correspondence.

These letters were a vital part of the business and contained information important to Tudor politicians. They had every reason to keep up-to-date with events across the water.

Another notable visitor to the Wine House was the painter Hans Holbein the Younger. He had returned to London in 1526 from his home in Basle, because there was no work for him in Switzerland. The strict Swiss protestants rather destroyed religious images, so he set up house next door to the Steelyard in Dowgate and began to paint portraits of merchants. He also completed a mural for the main hall of the Steelyard.

Derek Born

This portrait of Derek Born hangs in the King’s Closet in Windsor Castle. A Cologne citizen and only 24 years of age, he supplied the King with weaponry and other military equipment from the Rhineland and exported lead from England in return. Such trade became even more important after the Northern revolt, ‘The Pilgrimage of Grace’. Henry VIII realised that he had to build an armed force, which would be under his royal command. He also feared the threat of a foreign invasion, after his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, the Holy Roman Emperor’s niece.

Derek Born and Hans Holbein were also frequent guests at Thomas Cromwell’s house in Austin Friars. Holbein’s portrait of his host depicts a profoundly serious, hard-working man, an image that is undoubtedly correct. However, Cromwell was also a generous host and a lover of the arts, who provided sumptuous feasts for his friends and contacts. There were imported spices and marzipan from Lübeck. If you go to Lakeland in Toll Gavel during Christmas time, you can still enjoy fine Lübeck marzipan from Niederegger.

Thomas Cromwell

The Lübeckers also presented him with a live elk and the merchants from Danzig (Gdansk), not to be outdone, gave him four bears, which were kept in his garden. Thomas Cromwell and aristocratic ladies enjoyed hawking. Birds for hunting were raised in Norway and imported, sitting on purpose-built poles in Hanse ships.

Hans Holbein the Younger produced many portraits of merchants at the Steelyard. He lived for a while in the More household on the recommendation of Erasmus, so he was well connected.

Portraits were fashionable in English art and Cromwell saw the painter’s potential. He suggested to the king he should employ him as one of his court painters. Holbein remained a sought after artist in London until his sudden death in 1543.

The wealthy gentlemen of the Steelyard were instrumental in negotiating the trade privileges with the monarchy, but they were by no means the only Hansards trading in England. In fact, the League’s influence extended across Northern Europe and was a major player in the economic and political development of the 13th to the 17th centuries.

Their ships, called ‘Kogges,’ sailed to most ports on the English East coast and when challenged, claimed the same advantageous conditions as their partners in London. They owned warehouses and living quarters in Hull and York and certainly were guests at Beverley Guild Hall.

By the time of Henry VIII, England produced and exported more woollen cloth than raw wool and this trade spread from Lübeck eastwards. It was conducted by Hanse merchants, known as the ‘Easterlings,’ among their English contemporaries.

Hanse trade was organised in small networks, based on family and personal relationships. Over time, this enabled their English business partners to infiltrate the Hanseatic network. Increasingly, English merchants claimed their share of this lucrative and expanding business. The Northern ports had cornered the Baltic market and since the middle of 14th century Beverley merchants travelled extensively and lived in the state of the Teutonic Order. They were initially very welcome, because many English knights fought alongside the Order during the Northern Crusades.

These burgesses were away from home for many months during the summer and some decided to live permanently abroad with their families. Like their Hanse partners, they had to stay in touch through correspondence. Their letters contained business and private news. In a medieval household, there was no separation between work and family life. A merchant’s wife was very much involved in the business, especially when the master of the house was abroad and might never come back!

Beverlonians were familiar with life in the Baltic and stayed in thriving and wealthy cities like Stralsund, Elbing (Elblag) and Danzig (Gdansk). They knew about the beautiful large houses built of stone and the splendid guild and town halls. They also must have stopped over in the large and forbidding fortresses of the Teutonic Order.

Castillo de Malbork

These Beverley traders received news from home and so knew that in 1520 the tower of St. Mary’s collapsed. Doubtless, the letters they sent back contained news of Martin Luther’s pamphlet titled ‘The Freedom of a Christian Man’. It was short, easy to print and to smuggle. The distribution became a lucrative business for the Hansards, many of whom had converted to Lutheranism.

Tyndale’s bible translation had already arrived from Antwerp in the same way and nobody could stop this tide of new readable material rolling off the printing presses. Inspired by their German drinking companions in the Steelyard, Luther’s words convinced several young London lawyers to convert. Amongst them was a man named William Roper, who was also a member of parliament.

William Roper

He married Margaret More, Thomas More’s favourite daughter. She was one of the most learned women of her age and assisted her eminent father in his work. She was the only family member to visit him in prison after his arrest by Henry VIII.

Holbein depicts her reading a book, and in that moment, looking up at her father. If you study the painting of the Mores, it is as if she says: “I haven’t got time to sit here for hours. I have work to do!”

After their wedding, the couple lived in the More household, which meant William had to convert back to the Catholicism.

More news of upheaval came in 1525 from the Baltic. The Teutonic Order’s 37th Grand Master, Albert of Prussia, had left the Order and converted to Protestantism. It was on Luther’s advice that he secularised the former Monastic State, which emerged as the Duchy of Prussia. So, when the reconstruction of St. Mary’s began, the wealthy burgesses of Beverley had to cope with more news of tumultuous events overseas.

One place of worship for merchants was St Nicolai church in Stralsund. Nicolai is the patron saint of sailors and merchants. This building served as a church, town council chamber, as well as a reception hall for trade delegations. In its heyday, Stralsund was second only to Lübeck in the Baltic, in terms of wealth and importance. The columns in St. Nicolai still have the original paintings beneath the heads of merchants and knights. Merchant marks on the side identified the individual portrayed.

St Nicolai columns in Stralsund

We know that during a dispute, the English merchant colony moved for a time from Gdansk to Stralsund. It is tempting to wonder if the heads of the merchants, who helped to finance the restoration after the collapse of the central tower in St. Mary’s, were inspired by what they had seen on pillars in Stralsund. Despite some original remnants of polychromy, we don’t know how the columns in St Mary’s were painted. What is clear, is that Tudor merchants proudly had their full names chiselled in stone underneath the head, not just merchant marks such as the much earlier medieval examples in Stralsund. The 600 unique wooden ceiling bosses in the church are another sign of a new age. It seems as if the carvers’ images have come out of hiding from under the medieval misericord seats and are now visible for us all to enjoy. Tudor Renaissance! A Tudor bust of Mr and Mrs Crossley (a Beverley merchant family) look down at the Holbein portraits. We might wonder if we, too, are not living through times of great change. This year the town of Beverley has joined the modern Hanseatic League!

See website: www.hanse.org

This article was published in the Christmas edition of the parish newsletter ‘White Rabbit’. Inspired by the exhibition(1st Oct. to 31st Dec. 2020) of Tudor paintings from the National Portrait Gallery, London, it marked the 500th anniversary of the collapse of the central tower. (Reform, Rebellion, Restoration – St. Mary’s, Beverley & the Tudors).

Eva La Pensée.

Beverley and District Civic Society Beverley, January 2021

Friends of Hull General Cemetery


Philip Larkin on his walk with John Betjeman through the disused Hull General Cemetery, (1964) declared it to be a natural cathedral. Over the years, it declined into an overgrown fly-tipping and drug abuse centre.

Enter a group of local residents in 2015. In the beginning they litter picked and disposed of the used syringes, but upon request, and with the support of local councillors, Hull City Council came to the rescue and now supplies litter bins, collects rubbish bags filled by the volunteers, and clears fly-tipped material. The City Council is responsible for disused cemeteries and recognises the vital work of the volunteers in keeping the area safe for users. In times of stressed finances, local community groups are a godsend, and the fact that residents do the work makes litter bugs think twice. It is more effective than litter picking by council workers, which would be seen as part of local services. It has worked! Over the years, the litter problem has dwindled from a disaster to an inconvenience.

Not the Larkin/Betjeman Cathedral. They were referring to the remarkable tree canopy

And then this loose group of volunteers formed themselves into a name – Friends of Hull General Cemetery, with a mission statement.

‘For the benefit of all and in remembrance and respect, to maintain and to preserve Hull General Cemetery as a place of historical importance and natural beauty.’

This means the site is part of a designated conservation area and several monuments are listed including the gate designed by Cuthbert Brodrick. Furthermore, the cemetery has become a city wildlife site, enhanced by tree planting with help of the Woodland Trust. This also involves preservation of existing stock and so contributes to Hull’s outcomes for the membership of the Tree Cities Of The World network.

Headstones deteriorate so historical research is essential.

The Friends are a subcommittee of Hull Civic Society and have been caring for the Cemetery for the last 5 years in partnership with the landlord, Hull City Council. Their activities are documented and friends and supporters from all over the world communicate via a private Facebook page – Friends of Hull General Cemetery. Last count there were 1100 members, two of whom have produced sell-out publications. Other members stun the city with wildlife photos of birds, plants and butterflies and they have begun to archive quality photographs of wildlife and vegetation.

This work can be accessed via their website, which is updated with newsletters and articles.

Around 10 core volunteers maintain the cemetery and improve diversity to attract wildlife. They are the front line in the battle against fly tipping and alert Hull City Council. They also meet homelessness and drug abusers and involve support organisations such as Emmaus

But it isn’t only about maintenance. Research has become a major part of the activities. In addition to the 100 hours/week volunteers spend in the Cemetery, they put in a further 30 hours on research and admin etc. Apart from publications they are cataloguing the burials via a database in Access with an attached Excel index. This lists 1000 headstones with ca 4000 family names. It also contains images, which are cross referenced. Inclusion of details of Monumental Inscriptions are a pressing need before the headstones decay beyond recognition. And there are some remarkable burials there that need to be preserved.

Important Hull Families can be researched among the 4000 burials.

Hull History Centre and the East Yorkshire Family History Society have stated how valuable a resource this is, and further work will include the burial registers being digitalised. Details of the 50,000 burials can be used for medical and social history research.

The Friends are not on their own. Apart from Hull City Council, they liaise with and receive advice from relevant national organisations and networks such as Caring for God’s Acre, Wildlife Trust, English Heritage, and National Federation of Cemetery Friends.

The common aim of caring for this unique site has created new levels of cooperation and trust amongst residents, organisations, and systems, which is of much wider community benefit. During lockdown, local people have documented how work within the cemetery and recreational use of the area, has protected against mental health problems. One volunteer attributes his success at quitting substance abuse to the work within the cemetery and the comradeship provided by the Friends. This is documented on the Facebook site demonstrating how involvement with the Cemetery and its care has positively impacted people’s physical and mental wellbeing. This of course translates into real economic benefit (see Community Social Capital).

      One way to access the work of the Friends is to take part in guided tours during Heritage Open Days.

A thrilling walk to school.

Over the last few months, a counter initiative has established itself, also made up from residents. They wish the cemetery to remain untouched. This is a point of view, but untouched will quickly revert to neglect and the loss of the resource. No one wants to see fly tipping and needles, which are a hazard to local children, dog walkers and parents using the newly laid-out paths as access to the local Thoresby Primary School.

This work by the Friends, is an exemplary grassroots initiative, which should inspire communities on an international scale – a remarkable symbiosis of ideas and talents.

April 2021

Eva La Pensée – former employee of Hull City Council, historian and secretary of Friends of Hull General Cemetery and executive member of Beverley & District Civic Society.

Beverley and its Medieval Hanse Trade


The Hanse and Beverley

Beverley Town Council (East Riding of Yorkshire) has been informed by the virtual International Hanse Day in Brilon/Germany, that its application for membership of the Modern Hanseatic League was successful. The announcement was made at the conference of delegates on 6th June 2020.

Hull represents the English contingent of Hanse Towns – currently King’s Lynn, Boston and Ipswich. Now Beverley joins 194 cities in 16 countries across Northern Europe. It is without doubt, the largest network of its kind in the world.

Despite the mention of a hanse huis in Beverley’s ancient charter from 1120, by which the Archbishop of York granted civic privileges and market rights to the town, Beverley has never been a member of the medieval Hanseatic League. Nevertheless, the town was certainly connected to it through regular trade links and its burgesses did extensive business with Hanse merchants for hundreds of years.

The original meaning of the word ‘hanse’ is shrouded in mystery. The first mention in a written text occurs in a bible translation into the Gothic language by Bishop Wulfila in the 4th cent. A.D. There it was used to describe the unit of Roman soldiers, who came to the Garden of Gethsemane to arrest Jesus. Consequently, it describes a group of men who have come together for a common purpose in order to support and protect each other.

During the Middle Ages its meaning expanded to mean guilds of North European merchants trading across the sea, and became the name for the historic Hanseatic League, which dominated Baltic and North Sea trade for over 400 years.

The League was never a centrally organised institution and although the common language of its members was Low German, not all members were German traders. The 12th   and 13th century were a time of expanding populations and economic development in Europe. In the territory of the Teutonic Order alone, 1000 villages and ca 100 towns were established.  Artisans and traders from overpopulated areas of the upper Rhineland, Flanders and Westphalia moved into these new settlements along the southern edge of the Baltic Sea, and northwards into parts, which are now in Russia and Poland. They mixed with the Christian native Slavic people, who survived the Northern Crusades.

The first Hanse merchants carried out their trade in the most unfavourable conditions imaginable and set up their business practices accordingly. They operated in lawless territories, covering vast distances, and were regarded with suspicion as usurers by the clergy. The absence of banks and regulated maritime waters made trade unsafe, and this was exacerbated by various forms of piracy and privateering.

 Hanse cog – backbone of maritime trade.

  All the same, they had vital and highly desirable bulky raw materials and manufactured goods from Germany to sell, which were exchanged against English wool, cloth and lead.  The trade started with individual merchants buying small shares of shipping space in several ships and equally distributing their goods over several ships. These vessels sailed in convoys, often with armed protection, to trade fairs. Their destinations remained the same for several years. Scarborough, York, Hull and Beverley fairs were among those visited. They didn’t pay agents to sell their goods, but instead used kinship ties and family members to represent them. These provided a reciprocal service for their partners. This business practice is almost unique. Only the north African Maghribi are known to have used a similar form of trading.

Although hazardous and risky, trade expanded and flourished and many merchants and their home towns became very wealthy. Naturally, they began to form an elite and controlled their local councils. They used their sheer economic power to form cartels and monopolies.

There were regular merchant meetings in Lübeck. The first such Hanse Day took place in 1361. Policy issues were dealt with by the towns, but individual merchants acted purely in their economic interest. However, control was maintained. Just as you could exclude your fraudulent business partner, a town could also be excluded from the membership of the League which meant you were excluded from the guild and the business community. Wealthy cities such as Cologne could ignore expulsion, at least for a few years, but normally, the reciprocal arrangement meant merchants didn’t dare ruin a partner’s trust. After all, he possessed the local knowledge, was familiar with the local market and maintained extensive business and personal contacts.

Whereas Cologne and Westphalian cities traded via the Steelyard, (the mighty ‘Hansekontor’ in London), the so called ‘Easterlings’ of the Hanse towns of the Baltic, such as Lübeck, Elblag (Elbing) and Gdansk (Danzig) to name but a few, went every year to Lincolnshire and the ‘Great Port of Hull’.

House of the merchant guild and the adjacent town hall – Gdansk.

    The main export from our coast was of course wool, lead and leather. During the early days of the Hanseatic League it managed to jealously guard its privileges and monopoly of overseas trade, but when Edward III. encouraged Flemish weavers to set up their manufacture of English cloth in towns such as Beverley, things began to change. Up until then, all English wool went to the Continent to the great cloth producing centres via the Hanse. The finest ware was produced in Flanders and was of course expensive.

However, as Baltic populations grew, English cloth became a much sought-after commodity. Soon, instead of exporting raw wool, the finished item was sent. The cloth trade expanded quickly and English merchants building on their long-standing partnerships with Hanse merchants began to develop their maritime trade in the Baltic. We know of an English wool staple in Elblag (Elbing) and of ca 150 English merchants trading in Gdansk (Danzig) asking to bring their families and settle permanently there. Many of them came from York, Beverley and Hull.

The East Company of the Merchant Adventurers was the English response to Hanseatic domination in maritime trade.

There are so many stories to tell of how these enterprising local traders and merchants conducted their daily lives and interacted with the culture of their partners and competitors from abroad.

Published by Eva La Pensée        September 2020

Joseph Green and Robert Motherby – Hull Merchants and Kant’s Philosophy



This is an intriguing account about how Yorkshire’s medieval trade links with the Baltic created a lasting network, not only for businesses and trade, but also for cross-cultural cooperation.
The story begins in former German city of Königsberg now called Kaliningrad and is part of the Russian Federation.

Historical Summary

  • The town was granted a charter in 1255 by the Teutonic Order, who conquered a fortified castle, hitherto occupied by the indigenous Prussians.
  • From 1312 it was the most important military base of the Order. From 1331 – 1394 English knights fought alongside the Order in the Northern Crusades.
  • After the treaty of Krakow in 1525, Königsberg became the capital city of the secular dukedom of Prussia (later called East-Prussia – a province of the Kingdom of Prussia).
  • It was an important port and member of the Hanseatic League with a large diverse merchant community, which included English wholesalers as well as Scottish retail traders.

There is frequent mention of English citizens from the East coast including King’s Lynn, Norwich, Hull, York and Beverley among others. Many merchants brought their families and settled in towns within the territory governed by the Order. Trading had its origins in the large-scale production of English cloth in the middle of the 14th century. It continued after the Hanseatic League lost its Baltic hegemony to Dutch and English merchants in the 17th and 18th century.

Albertina, the university of Königsberg (now called Kant University) was founded in 1544 by Duke Albert of Brandenburg, who left his position as grandmaster of the Teutonic Order and converted to Lutheranism. As the first Protestant university, it quickly became a focus for liberal and forward-thinking academics. During the 18th century, its most famous professor was the philosopher Immanuel Kant.

Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) was born in Königsberg, son of a harness maker. He never married and rarely left his hometown. As a professor of philosophy, he became one of the central Enlightenment thinkers. His ground-breaking work and writings have made him one of the most influential figures in modern Western philosophy. Kant published many important works on ethics, religion, law aesthetics, astronomy.
As a man, he was sociable and likeable and chose his friends from people, who could increase his knowledge of the world and improve his awareness of current thinking. He particularly enjoyed the company of wealthy merchants including English and French business people. One of them was the very wealthy grain merchant Jean Claude Toussaint, (married to Catherine Fraissinet from Königsberg) a Huguenot from Magdeburg.


Joseph Green (1727-27th June 1786), Was born in Hull and settled in Königsberg. He traded in grains, coal, herring and manufactured goods. He never married.

Around 1764 Green met Kant and became a close member of his circle and his closest friend. Kant often went to Green’s house, which was built in English style in a leafy suburb. Green and Kant shared a deep appreciation of the ideas of David Hume and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In addition, Green could provide a perspective on the outside world that was helpful to Kant.

Meeting on a regular basis, Kant discussed his work with Green, including every sentence of his most famous work ‘Critique of Pure Reason’. Kant also entrusted Green with his money. As a professor and later director of the university, his salary was rather modest. Green invested Kant’s savings wisely and made him a wealthy man.

Kant and Friends at Table, by Emil Doerstling

Green’s sense of order and resulting pedantic punctuality inspired one of the friends, Theodor Gottlieb von Hippel, to write the comedy: ‘Der Mann nach der Uhr’. (The Pedantic Timekeeper).

Green was highly educated and an excellent scholar of the works of David Hume. After Green’s death in 1786, Kant was so deeply affected, that he gave up his evening dinners with friends.

Robert Motherby was a long-time friend of Immanuel Kant. Motherby was born on 23rd December, 1736 in Hull. He had four brothers and three sisters. His father George (b. 20th December, 1688) married Anne Hotham (died 1748). Their son Robert probably arrived in Königsberg around 1751 when he was 18 years of age. Through a joint contact in Hull, he was recruited as a young man by Joseph Green, initially as an assistant.

Although he spoke little German, he settled easily and became a business partner and eventually took over the firm Green, Motherby & Co. In 1762 he married Charlotte Toussaint. They had 11 children. Their first-born, William Motherby, became a famous physician in Berlin. Kant always joined the family for Sunday lunch and played and joked with the children.

Marriage certificate of Robert Motherby and Charlotte Toussaint, from the Huguenot Church, which clearly states he was from Hull.
Added by Bill Longbone, Friends of Hull General Cemetery.
Christening certificate of William Motherby, Robert’s first born son.
Added by Bill Longbone, Friends of Hull General Cemetery.
A postcard with the image of the Calvinist church, where these ceremonies took place. It was destroyed in WWII. The British Air Force carried out two bombing raids in Aug 26th/27th and 29th/30th 1944.
Courtesy Bill Longbone.

The town Council named a street in Königsberg, Motherby Strasse. The name was changed by the Soviet government after 1945.


Society of Kant’s Friends
Immediately after Kant’s death, his friends began to commemorate his birthday on 22nd April with a meal. In 1844, this annual event led to the formation of the ‘Society of Kant’s Friends”. After each meal, they took it in turns to give a talk.
Traditional has it that cake is eaten for dessert. Whoever finds a bean in their piece, takes the role of ‘Bean King’ (an honorary title) for a year. In 2016 Marianne Motherby became Bean Queen. She and her brother John Motherby organise the Kant meals on the 22nd April, to this day in Kaliningrad.

Eva La Pensée. January 2021
Email: elapensee@gmx.com

Beverley and its Medieval Hanse Trade


The Hanse and Beverley

Beverley Town Council (East Riding of Yorkshire) has been informed by the virtual International Hanse Day in Brilon/Germany, that its application for membership of the Modern Hanseatic League was successful. The announcement was made at the conference of delegates on 6th June 2020.

Hull represents the English contingent of Hanse Towns – currently King’s Lynn, Boston and Ipswich. Now Beverley joins 194 cities in 16 countries across Northern Europe. It is without doubt, the largest network of its kind in the world.

Despite the mention of a hanse huis in Beverley’s ancient charter from 1120, by which the Archbishop of York granted civic privileges and market rights to the town, Beverley has never been a member of the medieval Hanseatic League. Nevertheless, the town was certainly connected to it through regular trade links and its burgesses did extensive business with Hanse merchants for hundreds of years.

The original meaning of the word ‘hanse’ is shrouded in mystery. The first mention in a written text occurs in a bible translation into the Gothic language by Bishop Wulfila in the 4th cent. A.D. There it was used to describe the unit of Roman soldiers, who came to the Garden of Gethsemane to arrest Jesus. Consequently, it describes a group of men who have come together for a common purpose in order to support and protect each other.

During the Middle Ages its meaning expanded to mean guilds of North European merchants trading across the sea, and became the name for the historic Hanseatic League, which dominated Baltic and North Sea trade for over 400 years.

The League was never a centrally organised institution and although the common language of its members was Low German, not all members were German traders. The 12th   and 13th century were a time of expanding populations and economic development in Europe. In the territory of the Teutonic Order alone, 1000 villages and ca 100 towns were established.  Artisans and traders from overpopulated areas of the upper Rhineland, Flanders and Westphalia moved into these new settlements along the southern edge of the Baltic Sea, and northwards into parts, which are now in Russia and Poland. They mixed with the Christian native Slavic people, who survived the Northern Crusades.

The first Hanse merchants carried out their trade in the most unfavourable conditions imaginable and set up their business practices accordingly. They operated in lawless territories, covering vast distances, and were regarded with suspicion as usurers by the clergy. The absence of banks and regulated maritime waters made trade unsafe, and this was exacerbated by various forms of piracy and privateering.

 Hanse cog – backbone of maritime trade.

  All the same, they had vital and highly desirable bulky raw materials and manufactured goods from Germany to sell, which were exchanged against English wool, cloth and lead.  The trade started with individual merchants buying small shares of shipping space in several ships and equally distributing their goods over several ships. These vessels sailed in convoys, often with armed protection, to trade fairs. Their destinations remained the same for several years. Scarborough, York, Hull and Beverley fairs were among those visited. They didn’t pay agents to sell their goods, but instead used kinship ties and family members to represent them. These provided a reciprocal service for their partners. This business practice is almost unique. Only the north African Maghribi are known to have used a similar form of trading.

Although hazardous and risky, trade expanded and flourished and many merchants and their home towns became very wealthy. Naturally, they began to form an elite and controlled their local councils. They used their sheer economic power to form cartels and monopolies.

There were regular merchant meetings in Lübeck. The first such Hanse Day took place in 1361. Policy issues were dealt with by the towns, but individual merchants acted purely in their economic interest. However, control was maintained. Just as you could exclude your fraudulent business partner, a town could also be excluded from the membership of the League which meant you were excluded from the guild and the business community. Wealthy cities such as Cologne could ignore expulsion, at least for a few years, but normally, the reciprocal arrangement meant merchants didn’t dare ruin a partner’s trust. After all, he possessed the local knowledge, was familiar with the local market and maintained extensive business and personal contacts.

Whereas Cologne and Westphalian cities traded via the Steelyard, (the mighty ‘Hansekontor’ in London), the so called ‘Easterlings’ of the Hanse towns of the Baltic, such as Lübeck, Elblag (Elbing) and Gdansk (Danzig) to name but a few, went every year to Lincolnshire and the ‘Great Port of Hull’.

House of the merchant guild and the adjacent town hall – Gdansk.

    The main export from our coast was of course wool, lead and leather. During the early days of the Hanseatic League it managed to jealously guard its privileges and monopoly of overseas trade, but when Edward III. encouraged Flemish weavers to set up their manufacture of English cloth in towns such as Beverley, things began to change. Up until then, all English wool went to the Continent to the great cloth producing centres via the Hanse. The finest ware was produced in Flanders and was of course expensive.

However, as Baltic populations grew, English cloth became a much sought-after commodity. Soon, instead of exporting raw wool, the finished item was sent. The cloth trade expanded quickly and English merchants building on their long-standing partnerships with Hanse merchants began to develop their maritime trade in the Baltic. We know of an English wool staple in Elblag (Elbing) and of ca 150 English merchants trading in Gdansk (Danzig) asking to bring their families and settle permanently there. Many of them came from York, Beverley and Hull.

The East Company of the Merchant Adventurers was the English response to Hanseatic domination in maritime trade.

There are so many stories to tell of how these enterprising local traders and merchants conducted their daily lives and interacted with the culture of their partners and competitors from abroad.

Published by Eva La Pensée        September 2020

About Eva


Eva has lived in Beverley for forty years. She graduated from Münster University, Westphalia/Germany in medieval history. Now retired, her recent research has focussed on the economic, social and cultural history of Northern Europe. Engaging with all sectors of the local community was at the heart of Eva’s career in Adult Education and as local authority officer in Hull. She developed externally funded projects across the Y&H region, which was a great opportunity to get to know the area.

 Family connections and volunteering as chair of the Beverley-Lemgo Twinning Association for many years, inspired a long-standing fascination with the history and the modern network of the Hanseatic League. Eva is Talkfinder for the Beverley Civic Society and secretary of the ‘Friends of Hull General Cemetery’, a subcommittee of Hull Civic Society.

A native speaker of German, she enjoys being at home in two cultures.

Writing to cleanse your subconscious.


A revered childhood mentor, Mr Eveleigh, with the football team – a man who tried to get us to a guilt-free adolescence.

In my last blog I asked why authors continue to write, despite gaining so few readers. Am I sure that we have few readers? An internet search reveals that average US sales for a book, during its lifetime are around 200.

So why do we write?

Is it an ego trip, a wish to get rich, put over a point of view?

I suggested writing, along with some other art forms, is a way of working through some uncomfortable facts about oneself and shifting them to a more comfortable place in our subconscious.

A look inside my subconscious.

I further suggest, that most of these inconvenient areas stem from our childhood.

So, here I go with some examples. My first choice is a woman who made millions from her writing. Enid Blyton, is the most successful children’s writer of all time, but she might have disliked children.

Children behaving as we don’t wish them to, brings out the worst in adults. I suggest that, to assuage her bad conscience, Blyton created super-hero children who were beyond reproach. Had she had the mythical offspring she created, she would have had time for them. As it was, she treated her own children with indifference, which is the most hurtful of all parental responses.

And she added a dog. Dogs are the perfect children. When you don’t want them, they can be put in a corner, or in the garden or garden shed, and when needed, will provide a cuddle on demand.

By writing about super kids, pets, trolls and characters too politically incorrect for modern-day audiences, she moved her bad conscience to her bank account. She was able to provide the very best materially for her daughters and that made up, she hoped, for her overall rejection of the child-like state she couldn’t tolerate. She employed nannies, I am sure.

I checked my assumption about Enid after I had written the above.

Gyles Brandreth had the good fortune to interview Blyton’s daughters. The younger, Imogen, describes her mother as ‘arrogant, insecure, pretentious and very skilled in putting the unpleasant out of her mind, and without a trace of maternal instinct.’ (I have paraphrased).

So Imogen substantiates my theory. Not so her older sister, who has a more benign memory of her mother.

Being an awful person isn’t all bad! Has anyone not had a Blyton moment in their childhood? Her sales of books and translations are eye-watering.

I remember my Blyton moment, and remember my primary school teacher, for whom, 50 years after his early death I still have undiluted admiration. He told us, ‘If you have to read that awful woman, don’t bring the books to school.’

A bit harsh, but he was right.

The enduring childhood creator.

So why do authors bother?


Why do we write

We are exhibitionists, who want to be the centre of attention.

Really? There must be easier ways!

Am I an exhibitionist?

We want to put the world right.

Dream on.

The world isn’t waiting for us.

Save the world! Kill cars!

We want to get rich.

Stop laughing!

You can’t take it with you.

Here is the truth?

We have deep insecurities and writing about them helps us come to terms. That’s right – it’s cathartic.

So why write a fantasy fiction, a thriller, an erotic romance?

Same answer. We are wimps, who could never live the dream, so we imagine living the dream.

But don’t we do that anyway when we daydream?

Writing makes you sort out the detail that gets skipped in a daydream.

Our subconscious needs help in working up the things that happened in our youth, that we still haven’t got over.

That’s why we do it!

My descent into subconscious detail.

If you look at my list of publications, you will see that I still have a problem.

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