Saving the Three Ships

When I first joined the conversation about Brutalism it was largely focused on Welbeck Street Car Park and the failed attempts to preserve it. Plans had been approved and demolition had begun, at the time of writing the building is completely gone.

But since then there has been a new agenda on the table, the Hull Three Ships Mural by Alan Boyson.

When I first began to read about the fight to preserve the mural as the council made plans to develop the surrounding building it felt as if it were a million miles away. A place I was never going to visit.

But I would.

During a trip to Yorkshire the conversation was reaching a critical point and this felt like as good as time as any to go. Under two hours away I wouldn’t be any closer for a while and it looked like I might not get the chance.

It had already been decided by the council that the mural wouldn’t be able to be saved, as originally thought, due to high amounts of asbestos in the building. In their opinion there was little they could do to preserve Alan Boyson’s artwork and it would be demolished with the building as planned.

Saving the Three Ships

Simple in design but excruciatingly detailed in execution it towers over the pedestrian cross roads. The mural is made from millions of small tiles of glass and features three ships, representing Hull’s fishing industry, and the cities name spelled out in their masts. Also, across the centre of the mural a latin phrase can be read, res per industriam prosperae meaning the success of industry.

I stood there photographing the mural as people passed on their way through the high street, paying more attention to what I was doing than to what has become a symbol of their city.

The former BHS store was large and appeared to have been empty for quite some time. I walked around the exterior and you could understand why the local council were interested in redeveloping the area. Inside was another mural by Boyson depicting a shoal of fish, it had been lost behind a wall for a number of years, but there was very little chance of seeing it from street level.

Saving the Three Ships

Later that week news came that the Three Ships had been approved for Grade II listed status and would now be protected during any future development plans. 

Of course for Hull City council the news wasn’t ideal, with one referring to the decision as ‘ridiculous’.

Saving the Three Ships

I was glad to see a positive outcome, people had worked hard to keep something that was important to them and hopefully for others in the future. I had seen failure before with the Tricorn and a city that was unable to come to a solution that the only choice they were left with was to demolish it.

Further reading:

Photographer Simon Phipps has written an article for The Guardian that addresses the issue of this architecture style constantly under threat and being demolished.

Two buildings of unique design that weren’t as lucky to receive listed status and have been demolished, Welbeck Street Car Park and The Tricorn

6 thoughts on “Saving the Three Ships

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