Queen Victoria and Hull – Alfred Gelder, Joseph Hepworth and Hepworth’s Arcade.

Posted: 4th January 2023

Humber Museums Partnership - Queen Victoria and Hull – Alfred Gelder, Joseph Hepworth and Hepworth’s Arcade.

As part of the Ferens Art Gallery winter exhibition, Queen Victoria and Hull, Hull and District Local History Research Group have been researching Victorian Hull. This blog is the latest in a series revealing the hidden stories of Victorian Hull.


Alfred Gelder, Joseph Hepworth and Hepworth’s Arcade. Silver Street to Market Place, Hull.

Hepworth’s Shopping Arcade is a Grade II listed building which was designed in 1894 for Joseph Hepworth who had taken the first steps towards building his dream arcade in 1888. He purchased a number of plots along Market Place, which now runs along the east of his covered thoroughfare. During the next few years, Hepworth struck bargains with various shop owners and snapped up other plots which were home to chemists, milliners, confectioners and even a “tallyman” which would all make way for his grand edifice by the architects Gelder and Kitchen.

Sir Alfred Gelder (1855-1941) was born in the village of North Cave in the East Riding of Yorkshire, the son of William Gelder, a joiner and wheelwright who later became a timber merchant. Although christened William after his father, Gelder was known by his middle name, Alfred. It is not clear how much formal schooling Gelder received but at the age of 15 he was apprenticed to his father; however he changed his mind about following his father’s trade and formed an ambition to be an architect, moving to Hull to seek out opportunities. He acquired the appropriate qualifications and in the year after his marriage to Elizabeth Parker in 1877 he established an architectural practice. He obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree and later became a Fellow of the Royal Society as well as being a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Alfred Gelder formed a partnership with Llewellyn Kitchen in 1892 and the name of the company became Gelder and Kitchen. Kitchen had previously worked for several different companies before becoming Alfred Gelder’s chief assistant. The company’s premises was at the historic Maister House in Hull’s High Street, a building whose staircase is the only National Trust property in the East Riding.

During Gelder’s time the city centre was reconstructed and a new bridge, the Drypool Bridge, was built across the River Hull. In recognition of Gelder’s contributions the new road built through the city centre to link with this bridge was named Alfred Gelder Street. In the 1930s Gelder was associated with the project to transform Queen’s Dock into Queen’s Gardens. One of Gelder and Kitchen’s specialities was the design of flour mills and oilseed crushing mills, at a time when Hull was a major European centre for the industry. One of the firm’s most famous clients for its revolutionary roller mill included Joseph Rank who, like Gelder, was a noted  Methodist. Gelder also did architectural work for Joseph Rank’s son, the industrialist and film producer, J Arthur Rank. His devout attachment to Methodism caused Gelder to design numerous chapels, including the Brunswick Chapel on Holderness Road in 1890 and the Princes Avenue Chapel in 1904. As well as in Hull, there were commissions for chapels and flour mills, from all over the country. Alfred Gelder was also a prominent member of the Freemasons.

Joseph Hepworth (1834–1911) was the clothing manufacturer who founded Joseph Hepworth & Son, a company which grew to become the United Kingdom’s largest clothing manufacturer. Born at Lindley in Huddersfield, Joseph Hepworth left school aged ten in 1844 to join George Walker’s Mill in Leeds, In 1864 Joseph went into business with James Rhodes, his wife’s brother, as a tailor in Leeds. By 1881 their factory in Wellington Street employed 500 people and, unusually, made all three pieces of a gentlemen’s three-piece suit. In the 1880s they innovated further, establishing shops to sell their suits direct to the public. By 1890 they employed 2,000 operatives who sold their stock through 107 shops. An original painted advertisement proclaiming Hepworth’s to be great tailors and clothiers can still be seen towards the end of the arcade near to Market Place. Joseph Hepworth died in Harrogate in 1911.

Hepworth’s Arcade was designed in the Flemish Renaissance style as an L-plan shopping arcade terminated with street-frontage buildings, and it occupies a prominent site between Market Place (east) and Silver Street (north), with elevations on to both streets. Each elevation is of three storeys, plus an attic and basement, and built in brick with a dressed ashlar front. To the rear is an L-shaped iron and glass barrel-vaulted arcade roof joined at the junction by an octagonal glazed dome topped with a small glazed cupola. A row of pitched slate shop roofs are attached to either side of the arcade roof. If you look up you can marvel at the glass roof and stunning architecture and you will be looking at the only Victorian L shaped arcade which has survived the passage of time in the Country.

It is necessary to look up to appreciate the fine detail that went into the making of Hepworth’s Arcade.  According to the Kingston upon Hull Illustrated it is likely that the arcade was completed by 1897. The original intention to name it Victoria Arcade in honour of the reigning monarch had, by then been dropped by Hepworth in favour of naming it after himself

Many will have wandered through the covered passageway that is Hull’s Hepworth Arcade but few will realise that it’s where Mr Marks and Mr Spencer opened one of their first penny bazaars in 1897.

At the present time, Hepworth Arcade is home to local landmark Dinsdales Joke Shop, a fancy dress, pranks, novelties and joke emporium passed down through the family for over 90 years. Equally legendary is Fanthorpes Hi Fi, the longest established electrical retailer in Hull. Trading since 1948, Fanthorpes sold army surplus radio equipment in its early days, and now deals in everything from radios to complete home cinema sound systems. Beasley’s clothing store, meanwhile, has been resident at the arcade for over 30 years, importing vintage and retro wares from America to the heart of Hull.

Relative newcomers include occult shop Brambles, where you’ll find wicca, witchcraft and crystal balls alongside incense sticks, salt lamps and tarot cards, as well as collectibles and figurines and Roisin Dubh (Black Rose) which sells shabby chic, kitchenalia and boudoir vintage.

Hepworth’s Arcade remains an interesting and innovative place to visit.

Written by Roger Justice

You can visit the Queen Victoria and Hull exhibition at Ferens Art Gallery from 20 October 2022 until 19 February 2023.

Image is of Sir Alfred Gelder by artist John H F Bacon (1904). A three-quarter length seated portrait of Sir Alfred Gelder, wearing mayoral ceremonial attire and sat at a desk, on a high-backed armchair, with his left hand resting on a document. From the Guildhall collection.