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Wilberforce House Museum and Attached Garden Wall

A Grade I Listed Building in Kingston upon Hull, City of Kingston upon Hull

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Latitude: 53.7442 / 53°44'39"N

Longitude: -0.3299 / 0°19'47"W

OS Eastings: 510239

OS Northings: 428835

OS Grid: TA102288

Mapcode National: GBR GPP.Y6

Mapcode Global: WHGFR.X42X

Entry Name: Wilberforce House Museum and Attached Garden Wall

Listing Date: 13 October 1952

Last Amended: 22 August 2008

Grade: I

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1209831

English Heritage Legacy ID: 387615

Location: Kingston upon Hull, HU1

County: City of Kingston upon Hull

Electoral Ward/Division: Myton

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Kingston upon Hull

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): East Riding of Yorkshire

Church of England Parish: Hull (Lowgate) St Mary the Virgin

Church of England Diocese: York

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Kingston upon Hull

Listing Text


680-1/23/178 HIGH STREET
13-OCT-52 (Southeast side)
Wilberforce House Museum and Attached
Garden Wall

(Formerly listed as:
(Formerly listed as:

This list entry has been amended as part of the Bicentenary commemorations of the 1807 Abolition Act.

Substantial town house built c1656, probably by William Catyln for the Lister family. There was a phase of alterations c1730 and the house was refenestrated and internally remodelled c1755-60. Bought by Hull City Corporation in 1903, and opened as a museum in 1906. Since that time only minor alterations, and the addition of a single-storey extension to the north-east wing.

EXTERIOR: Red brick with moulded brick and ashlar dressings and hipped and gabled pantile roofs, three gable and two ridge stacks. Moulded ground-floor sill band, ground-floor cornice, string course, moulded coped parapet, rusticated front and angle pilasters, two storeys plus three-storey tower porch; nine-window range of 12-pane sashes with brick and ashlar ornaments below them. Eighth window is a wooden framed cross casement with leaded glazing. Between the outer pairs of windows is a bossed-out Corinthian pilaster on a bracket. The ground floor has similar fenestration with brick flat arches and keystones. The central tower porch has the upper floors flanked by bossed-out Corinthian pilasters on pedestals, and is topped with a coped parapet. On the first floor there is a 12-pane sash to the front and on either side. Above is a similar window. Below there is a round-arched moulded brick doorway with keystone, imposts and decorated spandrels. On either side is a round-arched niche under a pediment. At the rear, flanking a courtyard are two long wings, single-storey and two storeys with 7 windows.

INTERIOR: To south a noteworthy cantilevered wooden dogleg stair with ornamented vase and stem balusters and ramped scrolled handrail. Stairwell has an elaborate dentillated cornice and ceiling with vine trail plasterwork framing a modelled eagle, the Wilberforce crest. Landing has a Venetian window with an eagle crest above it with a vine trail festoon. First floor banqueting room, mid-C17, has full height panelling with pilasters and wooden chimneypiece with overmantel flanked by clustered columns and with the Lister coat of arms in relief. Adjoining bedroom has framed panelling and overmantel flanked by pilasters. Ground floor has to right a restored C17-style panelled room with reeded frieze and pilasters, with chamfered brick Tudor arched fireplace and strapwork overmantel flanked by pilasters. Room to left has moulded wooden wall panelling and modillion cornice. Re-sited marble fireplace with central relief panel and eared and shouldered overmantel with floral swags and portrait of Wilberforce, flanked by fluted Ionic pilasters. Moulded doorcases with fielded 6-panel doors. Central rear room has matchboard dado to two walls, moulded cornice and span beam. Adjoining room has similar moulded span beam and cornice and late C18 marble fireplace with fluted columns and dentillated cornice. Former saddle room, at rear, has re-sited eared wall panelling and dentillated cornice. Corniced marble fireplace with eared surround and panelled overmantel with broken scroll pediment. Two enriched doorcases with swagged panels above, and fielded 6-panel doors.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: To front, attached brick garden wall with string course, rusticated panels and moulded brick coping, approximately 20m x 10m. Central pair of brick gatepiers with bossed-out pilasters, moulded ashlar cornices and ball finials. Renewed round-arched wrought-iron gates. In the garden at the front a listed C19 statue of Wilberforce, erected in 1884 (q.v.).

The Wilberforce House Museum is the only remaining C17 house in the High Street, but the street contains a large number of listed buildings, including Georgian merchants' houses and warehouses. A pair of Georgian houses directly to the north of Wilberforce House (nos 23 and 24 (q.v.)) were incorporated in the Museum in 1957.

HISTORY: The house which is now the Wilberforce House Museum is built on the site of a house of c.1590. The present house was built c1656 for Hugh Lister, on land bought by his father, Sir John Lister. Hugh Lister was a merchant, probably exporting Derbyshire lead to Holland, as his father had done; he was also principal shareholder in the Hull waterworks. The house in the High Street remained in the Lister family until 1709, but it appears to have been rented from c1682. In that year the house became available for use by the Governor of Hull, Thomas Windsor, Earl of Plymouth, and the Deputy Governor, Captain Lionel Copley. The former supported James II; the latter, William of Orange. From c1688-1700 it was the home of Alderman William Mowld, a merchant, who was mayor of Hull in 1698. By 1701 the tenant was John Thornton, a leading exporter of lead and cloth; Thornton bought the house in 1709.

In 1732 Thornton's son Godfrey sold the house to his brother-in-law, William Wilberforce, grandfather of the abolitionist of the same name. William Wilberforce senior had been apprenticed to John Thornton, and had married Thornton's daughter Sarah in 1711. The house in the High Street was already the headquarters for his business, as well as the home of his family, when he bought it. Alterations to the house of c1730 were probably made under his direction. It was this William Wilberforce that established the family fortune, mainly through the Baltic trade; he acquired land in Yorkshire, and was twice mayor of Hull. Alderman Wilberforce, as he was known, retired to his country house at Ferriby c.1755, when the Hull house was taken over by his son, Robert, father of the great William Wilberforce. It was during Robert Wilberforce's occupation that the house was remodelled.

William Wilberforce (1759-1833) was born in the Wilberforce house (according to tradition, in the small room to the north of the banqueting room) and baptised at Holy Trinity Church. His early years were spent in Hull, and he attended the grammar school, but on his father's death in 1768 he was sent to live with his uncle and aunt in London and Wimbledon. His aunt's enthusiasm for Methodism caused his mother to bring him back to Hull after about two years, and thereafter, Wilberforce's home was the house in the High Street. Hull was the centre of his family and social life; as a member of one of Hull's most prominent families his days were filled with music and other diversions.

In 1776 Wilberforce entered St John's College, Cambridge; whilst there, he resolved to follow a political career. Elected MP for Hull in 1780, and for Yorkshire in 1784, his political stance was independent from the first. In 1785 he experienced a conversion to evangelical Christianity, and resolved to devote his life to God. He was counselled by the evangelical minister, John Newton, and by his friend, the prime minister William Pitt, that he could best serve God by remaining in politics. In 1787 he was persuaded by prominent abolitionists to represent their cause in Parliament. Whilst Thomas Clarkson and others gathered evidence against the slave trade and sought to mobilize public opinion, Wilberforce worked ceaselessly in Parliament, introducing bills calling for an end to the slave trade and speaking in their support; in 1788 he secured a select committee to examine the trade. The campaign met with fierce opposition and frequent set-backs before the Foreign Slave Trade Abolition Bill at last received royal assent on 25 March 1807. Slavery continued to exist in Britain's colonies, and Wilberforce continued to strive for the abolition of the institution itself, joining with others to form in 1807 the African Institution (its purpose being to ensure that the new law was adhered to, as well as ameliorating conditions for slaves) and in 1823 the Anti-Slavery Society. He remained in the House of Commons until 1825, by which time Thomas Fowell Buxton had taken on leadership of the parliamentary campaign. On 26 July 1833 Wilberforce heard that the bill for the emancipation of all slaves in British colonies had passed its final reading, and on 29 July he died. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, where a monument by Samuel Joseph was erected in 1840. In 1834-5 a monument honouring Wilberforce was erected in Queen Victoria Square, Hull; this was moved to Wilberforce Drive in 1935 (q.v.).

William Wilberforce had inherited the house in the High Street when he reached the age of 21, but his mother continued to live in it until her death in 1798. From 1787 she shared the premises with the bankers Abel Smith & Sons, and the merchants Wilberforce & Smith; both firms were connected with the family. Following Mrs Wilberforce's death in 1798, Thomas Thompson, the senior partner in both the bank and the merchant company, took over the living accommodation of the house. In addition to his business interests, Thompson became the first Methodist MP when he was elected to represent Midhurst in 1816. Thompson died in 1828, and in 1830 Wilberforce sold the house. From that time it was owned, often in partnership, by a succession of merchants and tradesmen, and fell into a state of dilapidation.

In the 1890s Councillor (later Alderman) John Brown, campaigned for the preservation of the house in the High Street, arguing that Wilberforce's birthplace could claim 'a degree of veneration... not merely local, or even national, but worldwide'. Brown cited the example of other house-museums: 'Stratford-on-Avon shows the house of Shakespeare, Edinburgh shows the house of Knox, Chelsea shows the house of Carlyle. Why should not Hull show the house of Wilberforce?' In 1903 the house was bought by Hull Corporation, which undertook essential repair work. The Museum opened to the public in 1906, with exhibits relating to the social history of Hull, as well as the life and work of William Wilberforce. In 2007 the Museum reopened after a major refurbishment, and is now devoted to Wilberforce, abolition, and the history of slavery to the present day.

N. Pevsner and D. Neave, The Buildings of England: Yorkshire, York, and the East Riding (1972, 1995)
S. and D. Neave on behalf of Hull City Council, 'Wilberforce House, 25 High Street, Hull'. Report on its History and Architecture
I Rutherford, 'History of Wilberforce House'
Dictionary of National Biography
J. Oldfield, 'Chords of Freedom', (2007), 70-1
William Hague, 'William Wilberforce' (2007)

The Wilberforce House Museum is designated at Grade I for the following principal reasons:
* A substantial C17 town house with C18 alterations displaying the prosperity and taste of several families of Hull merchants
* Handsome embellished facade with contemporaneous garden wall of corresponding inventiveness
* Strong connection with William Wilberforce, England's most celebrated abolitionist. As an early example of a house-museum, dedicated to William Wilberforce from 1906, and the first museum in Britain to explore the subject of slavery and abolition, the building is of particular historical interest.

This text is from the original listing, and may not necessarily reflect the current setting of the building.

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