Barton-on-Humber is not Hull.
If King Edward I had not taken over the port of Wyke, where the River Hull drains into the northern shore of the Humber, in 1293 and turned it into Kingston-upon-Hull, Barton might be better known.
Nevertheless, the haven on the south bank of the Humber prospered gently through the centuries on the strength of its rich agricultural hinterland, alongside its downstream neighbour Grimsby, the great fishing port. Maritime industries such as shipbuilding and rope-making continued well into the twentieth century, alongside other industries based on local products, such as brick-making and malting.
Following the excellent Barton-on-Humber Civic Society Town Guide reveals an attractive mix of prosperous eighteenth-century housing and dignified nineteenth-century public buildings.
But the real evidence of this town’s considerable antiquity is that, like Hull, it has two parish churches close together. Indeed, until the early 1970s, both served the same parish.
St Mary’s, which remains the parish church, has fabric dating back to Norman times. St Peter’s, however, has a tower that is unmistakably Saxon in style – with enormously thick walls and narrow internal arches, and exterior walls decorated with stripwork and triangular-headed windows – though its builders were more likely of Viking descent. Two-thirds of the original church still stands, with a slightly later upper stage to the tower and a spacious medieval church repeatedly extended over the centuries.
Thomas Rickman (1776-1841), the architect who originated the terms ‘Norman’, ‘Early English’ and ‘Decorated’ to describe phases of gothic architecture, determined the chronological sequence of late Saxon and early Norman architecture on the principle of “structural stratification” visible in the tower of St Peter’s: simply, the lower walls must be older than the upper stages, so if the top of the tower is recognisably Norman, the base must be earlier.
Since St Peter’s was deconsecrated it has been thoroughly investigated by English Heritage archaeologists, and now houses a fascinating exhibition of based on the examination of some 2,800 skeletons, most of which now rest in an ossuary on site while some, with intact coffins and grave goods, are shown as part of an unparalleled chronological account of the lives and deaths of Barton’s inhabitants entitled ‘Buried Lives‘.
Details of opening-times at St Peter’s Church, Barton-on-Humber, can be found at http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/st-peters-church-barton-upon-humber.
In addition to their updated Town Guide (2009), price £3.00, the Barton Civic Society offers a series of free downloadable walks at http://www.bartoncivicsociety.co.uk.