alien merchants

The Story So Far

Not such a long time ago in a North Eastern Town far, far away...

‘If you know your history, then you would know where you coming from. Then you wouldn’t have to ask me, who the heck do I think I am.’ 

Robert Nesta Marley

          The story of Alien Merchants really doesn’t have a beginning. It emerges rather, in a singular place and at a particular time. Evolving in a city balancing on the shimmering brim of where the sea meets the sky, nurtured in the edge lands for over 800 years. Far enough away to have its own resonance, indeed. Far enough away to have its own rare soul.

Alien Merchants is located in the city of Hull, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, EnglandThis is the actual place we’re talking about here.

          ‘Hull’ is in fact an abbreviation of the official name of the city, ‘Kingston – upon – Hull’ , a title proclaimed, decreed, and bestowed upon the irate locals, by pain of something horrific and despicable happening if you didn’t take heed, by none other than His High Maliciousness. King Edward 1st, King Of England, and bits of France. 

          It was also at this time that Big Ed implemented a series of Royal Regulations, Later to be written into law as the ‘Alien Merchants Charter’ intended to ‘protect’ and control trade through singular, strategically important ports in the realm. Hull was one such place back then. These ‘special’ ports had different rules….more on this later.

          This really hard bastard ordered that henceforth this place shall be known as ‘The King’s Town Upon The River Hull’ . He was a mean, lean, medieval warmongering machine man, a seemingly hereditary trait of many of today’s leaders, so you did what he said. Affectionately nicknamed by some as ‘Edward The Longshanks’ on account of him being really tall. He was a big lad was Eddy Big Legs. Said to be at least 6 foot 2 at a time when being 5 foot 8 meant you had to duck to use the front door. He was a blood-thirsty giant who was good at swords! 

          Known by others as ‘The Hammer Of The Scots’. But that’s another story. ‘The King’s Town’ thing has imparted to locals in the area with what’s known, in polite circles, as an ‘Attitude’.

          400 odd years later the citizens of ‘Kingstown’ declared for Parliament and told King Charles 1st of England and Scotland, who was at the city gates with an army of 4000 men, to ‘Get back to your own end’ which began the very first live-fire hostilities of The English Civil War. ‘People round here are a bit obstreperous’ as MiMam used to say.

Have a skeg at the video below, ‘This City Belongs To Everyone’, It’s got Sir Tom Courtney in it. He’s from Hull and he’s a movie star. And a Knight!

The second video is by two Itinerant YouTube stars who visited Hull in 2016. It’s an objective and honest view of the City. The culture and people of Hull really touched these guys!


And then, from out of the blue, as if from nowhere. Far beyond rational discourse and empirical analysis, this happened!

The UK City Of Culture 2017

There's No Business Like Show Business

UK City of Culture is an event, once every four years, highlighting one location in the UK and promoting arts and culture as a means of celebration and regeneration. The aim of the initiative, which is administered by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, is to “build on the success of Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture 2008, which had significant social and economic benefits for the area”. The inaugural holder of the award was Derry~Londonderry in 2013–2017.

          The UK City of culture 2017 celebrations began with the proverbial bang. The first event was a spectacular light and film projection show. See the video below. This heralded a series of events throughout the year. Looking back on it now it is easy to see that in many ways the year did in fact change perceptions of Hull as a city and community for the better. As for the city being ‘regenerated’, the evidence is a bit thin on the ground. Bars, Clubs and the hospitality industry in general seem to be the biggest winners at the end of the day  In the second video below an alternative view is presented of the perceptions of many local folks who were, to say the least, sceptical about the whole idea. All in all, it was a lot of fun at the time and it has raised the aspirations of some people enormously.

The Hull Fringe 2017

A more wretched hive of scum and villainy...

Snap edit to the early 21st century. The winter of 2016-2017.

          It was really mild for the time of year, not dark and stormy, or wild and tempestuous. There were no dark foreboding portents of doom in the skies. Dint even need yeh big coat. The gas burners kept the smokers cosy on the outside. Folk were being cool on the inside. It was nearly Hull Fair. Pomegranates, Brandy Snap, and Bob Carvers in the air. Optimism. Business as usual for our intrepid band of Artists, Photographers, musicians, events organisers, and media types of all stripes. It was just Another Saturday Night. Hulcha Culcha Keepin on. 

          It came to light in the October of 2016 that Hull, City of Culture 2017 Company had 15 million quid to fund activities in the arts and culture sectors of the city. 650 local groups, organisations and individuals bid for funding. Most of these groups etc had a long history of arts and cultural activities and most were and still are, well known in the area and beyond. From Venue owners to artists groups to musicians…you get the idea. These are the people who gave Hull the thriving and vibrant culture that got Hull the UK City of Culture Award in the first place! 650 bids for funding were made by Native practitioners in Hull and only 60 local bids were accepted. Some of the ‘Local’ Bids were made by organisations or groups that didn’t exist before 2016. It transpired that these groups were set up by mystery  people who appeared as if by magic. 

          As you may no doubt imagine, these Natives were not best pleased. A small group decided to take all this on and do something about it. It’s what we do in Hull. We are so used to having the rug pulled from under us that we don’t moan about things we just get up and do something about it. Hull is a state of mind. After an evenings discussion and debate on the Facebook group page ‘One Hull Of A City’ and after a brilliantly attended public meeting just before Christmas 2016. The Hull Fringe was born.

‘The City of Culture team are putting together the big spectacular stuff, but there’s a void beneath it – our role is to fill that void by building the infrastructure to bring together venues, promoters, and performers. The Hull Fringe running throughout 2017, and there onwards into the future, to become the legacy that is THE Hull Fringe.’  

          From this disconnect and apparent shunning of the creatives in the area, one of our founders was reminded of the Alien Merchants Charter of old. Its intention was to protect the rights and benefits due to the native traders in the city. The native creatives felt very much that they had been unfairly and shabbily treated by the whole process and they now felt like The Aliens. Put out beyond the city gates. 

          Alien Merchants emerged from the ashes of this situation. A loose group of artists and entrepreneurs bent on making a sustainable mark. Earthlettes in control of their own prosperity without the interference of meddling ‘Aliens’. Today the fashion business. Tomorrow? Who Knows? If you want to be an alien too, check out our social media links.

The Hull Fringe Launch Night at O’Rileys, Beverley Road, Hull.

Interviews, performances, and special guests. It’s got a ‘Deatheater’ in it. Enjoy. x 


Here come more grown-up history extracts Earthlettes!

          A couple of extracts from ‘Medieval Hull’ a wonderful paper on the subject of Alien Merchants in Hull and The East Riding of Yorkshire. It’s a little dry but it has some really entertaining and somewhat comedic episodes throughout.

Not much has really changed round here.

‘Medieval Hull’, in A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 1, the City of Kingston Upon Hull, ed. K J Allison (London, 1969), pp. 11-85.

The History of Alien Merchants can be traced back to the late 12th century during the growth of `new towns` required to garner the growing international trade of the early middle ages. First mentioned in 1193, when the wool contributed by various monasteries for the ransom of Richard I was collected at ‘the port of Hull’. The property of nearby Meaux Abbey, who developed it as a port, which prospered through the export wool trade over the next century.

The accounts for the ten months 1275-76 show that trade was dominated by `Alien Merchants` with a hundred and eighty shipments, while the English had only twenty or so. However, It became so successful, Hull was acquired by Edward 1st who developed it further as a source of revenue and as a strategic port, giving it the name and title of `Kingston upon Hull` and granted it the status of a Free Borough on 1 April 1299.

Around this time Royal Mandates were mentioning the exports of wool, the detention of alien merchants, the discovery of clipped money and the piracy of ships and goods.

From 1312-1319 the King granted, that no native or alien merchant in the town or haven could be arrested or have goods seized, for a trespass committed by another person, or unless they were the principle surety or debtor in a grievance. It was also granted that if goods were seized he could still sell them and make a profit.

Such was the value of the privileges, the grant was published in several Hanseatic towns to further encourage Alien Merchants to travel to Hull for trade and profit.

Alien Merchants felt the brunt of the local customs and duties of the town. When in port, their stay was closely supervised by `Aliens` Hosts` first mentioned in 1379, and probably common practice before 1439`s Act of Parliament. After which the Alien Merchants duly presented themselves to be appointed a host in the form of a reputable townsmen at the mayor`s court. Thereafter, living in the Hosts house and acquainting the host with all their transactions. Hosts then sent a copy of the transactions to the exchequer and gave a further check to the exchequer looking for any shortages to the kings coffers.

Eleven of the hosts accounts still survive today and show the prominent standing of the hosts, in local society. The accounts also show that the `common purchase` of Aliens` goods was not always used. Hosting alien merchants continued for the rest of the century, as shown at work in 1449-50. In 1452, the sheriff and mayor were disqualified from hosting and in 1457 the disqualification included the brogger, catchmen, keelman, and other Alien Merchants who resided in the city boundaries. The purpose of hosting Alien Merchants was designed to organise the supervision of trade and keep good behaviour. The demeanour of some of the Aliens must have warranted the reaffirmation of an old ordinance that `Dutchman`, Scots, Orcadians, and Icelanders were not to carry weapons in the town.


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