King empire

The story of “King Billy”, his statue of Hull and how he brought gin to Britain

On November 5, 1688, the story that ultimately led to the immortality of “King Billy” in a golden statue on horseback in Hull began in earnest.

That day, William of Orange’s invading army had just landed in Brixham, Devon, as part of a coup against King James II. It took some time for the news to reach the monarch, and the next day it was reported that he was expected in Yarmouth, Colchester or Bridlington. What happened next became known as the ‘Glorious Revolution’ and shaped the future of Britain for years to come.

Everyone in Hull has seen the King Billy statue in the market square, as it has become one of the area’s most distinctive landmarks.

You can read more Hull nostalgia stories on our dedicated page, here.

But many may not be familiar with the story behind it, which included failed invasions and a bloodless coup.

Installed in 1734, the sculpture features what appears to be a Roman Emperor seated on his horse. Below the statue reads: “This statue was erected in 1734 in memory of King William III our great liberator”.

It’s easy to forget why something is there in the first place when you see it everyday, or why it has been dubbed “our great liberator”. The story includes a near invasion of Hull and a forgotten day of local celebration that has taken place for over 100 years.

The statue of King Billy has been part of Hull since the 1700s

The story begins as tensions began to mount at the end of 1688 over the future of King James II. His support weakened due to his desire to convert the country to its Catholic religion. Being without son, the heir apparent was his son-in-law, Prince William of Orange, who was Protestant.

By the time James had a son, the anti-Catholic movement had swept the nation. Quietly, a group of nobles urged William to intervene to prevent the king from encroaching parliament and the armed forces.

Prince William set sail with an invasion plan with around 100 ships on October 19, but was fired due to a storm that had struck. The fleet tried again two weeks later. Although they had no idea which part of the British coast they were aiming for.

The port of Hull was a likely landing point for Prince William and his army, so preparations were made and England was ready to fight. They even devised a plan to willfully flood the surrounding countryside by destroying the drainage systems.

A military fortress at the mouth of the Hull River, near where The Deep is today, included a garrison led by Lord Langdale, then governor of Hull and the king’s main Catholic supporter. He and his men were ready to fight.

The surrounding lights and the golden statue contrast with the deep blue sky above at dawn.
The statue of Hull’s Lowgate is lit by the sky at dawn.

We all know how unpredictable the UK weather can be, but Prince William didn’t. The weather again stepped in and strong winds carried him and his fleet to the Devonshire coast where his 15,000 troops landed at Brixham.

Hull, where the Protestant population supported William of Orange’s invasion, remained under Catholic control until December 3, when a plot by Langdale and his supporters to lock up all Protestant officers in the garrison took hold. been discovered.

Secretly backed by Hull magistrates and other local figures, the rebel Protestant officers staged a counter-coup and arrested Langdale and his friends. This became known as Town Taking Day which has been celebrated in Hull for over 100 years.

The events of Hull ultimately dashed any hope James had for his cause and he fled the throne on December 11, leading to the proclamation and coronation of King William III in 1689.

The toilets are marble and have rich green and dark brown tiling.
The toilets under the statue of King William are still there and classified Grade II.

One of the lasting legacies of King Billy’s reign is his role in popularizing gin in Britain, which is still the case to this day.

The king’s hometown of Holland is the home of the juniper drink. Juniper, its predecessor, was used to treat illnesses but was not tasty without the addition of juniper.

When William came to power, gin consumption exploded as drinking was seen as an act of loyalty.

Fast forward to 2021, and the King Billy statue is still there. It has become slightly dull with wear and tear over the years, while the famous Grade II listed toilet below it remains closed. His legacy will probably live on for many years to come.

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