This section of the journey visits places that were at the heart of Larkin’s life in Hull. From the ‘lucent comb’ of Hull Royal Infirmary, where he stayed as an inpatient, the trail guides you on up to the old General Cemetery of which he was so fond, then to Pearson Park, where Larkin lived in an attic flat for 18 years. Entering the long, leafy boulevards of ‘The Avenues,’ the trail pauses for reflection at the place where he went ‘to the inevitable’ and died.

The journey continues along the busy thoroughfare where Larkin liked to shop, past the large house and garden he reluctantly bought, and guides you across to the University of Hull, where Larkin worked in its ‘lifted study-storehouse’ as the University Librarian for 30 years. The trail then takes a suburban direction and visitors can drive, cycle or take a bus to Cottingham, the large village where Philip Larkin is buried.
 
No.1/8
Hull Royal Infirmary
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No.2/8
The General Cemetery
Spring Bank West
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No.3/8
Pearson Park
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Rather than words comes the thought of high windows: / The sun-comprehending glass / And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows / Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless
Images by Larkin, showing aspects of Pearson Park, overlooked by his attic flat.

It was to this park that Larkin moved in 1956. Following a succession of short stays
in Cottingham during his first year as University Librarian, he eventually moved
into an attic flat at no.32 … and here he lived for the next 18 years.

Number 32, then owned by the University, was divided into three storeys of flats, intended as temporary accommodation for staff who were new to the city, until
such time as they had settled in, grown familiar with the area and become owner-occupiers elsewhere. Larkin, however, at ease behind the ‘sun-comprehending
glass’
, felt no such pull, explaining in his later years: ‘It was the top flat of a house
that was reputedly the American Consulate during the war, and though it might
not have suited everybody, it suited me’.


The park itself was the first free park in the city and opened in 1860 on land
donated by the Mayor, Zachariah Charles Pearson. Like the rest of The Avenues
area, these substantial houses were designed with affluent families in mind and
soon became very fashionable.

Most of these houses survive today, although they are mainly flats or residential homes. Pearson Park itself, however, is much the same and continues to draw people of all ages, who come to enjoy its lake, the humid Victorian conservatory, its floral displays, statues, the ever-popular playground and the wide expanses of grass for sun-bathing and playing ball-games. Some simply enjoy sitting a while on one of the park’s many benches, including the blue metal one dedicated to Larkin, tucked away near the conservatory.

Writing to his mother two years after he had moved into no.32, Larkin said: ‘Pearson Park exercises a fascination over me and I always enjoy an hour in it’. Much of the footage for the BBC’s Monitor programme, in which John Betjeman interviewed Larkin, was filmed in the ‘temporary’ flat.

As Jean Hartley recalls: ‘He said that he had always lived at the top of buildings and that it pleased him to do so. It was the perfect place for a man of his temperament, one who loved to look out at the world but who wanted complete control over who could look back at him. His green-fringed eyrie provided the ideal ambience for writing and was obviously the starting point for poems such as ‘Toads Revisited’, ‘The Trees’, ‘High Windows’, ‘Sad Steps’, ‘Broadcast’ and ‘Vers de Société’. The poems that comprise The Whitsun Weddings and High Windows volumes were written here, as were many poems that would have been included in a last collection had there been one’.

When the University decided to sell the entire house in 1974, Larkin was obliged to
find somewhere else to live and reluctantly became an owner-occupier in Newland
Park [trail ref.no. 17].

To Anthony Thwaite in December 1973

“The University has decided to sell its ‘worst properties’, which naturally includes the house I live in”

Images by Joe Johnson, including a rare view
from the attic windows, from which Larkin looked out.

Toads Revisited


Walking around in the park
Should feel better than work:
The lake, the sunshine,
The grass to lie on,

Blurred playground noises
Beyond black-stockinged nurses –
Not a bad place to be.
Yet it doesn’t suit me.

Being one of the men
You meet of an afternoon:
Palsied old step-takers,
Hare-eyed clerks with the jitters,

Waxed-fleshed out-patients
Still vague from accidents,
And characters in long coats
Deep in the litter-baskets -

All dodging the toad work
By being stupid or weak.
Think of being them!
Hearing the hours chime,

Watching the bread delivered,
The sun by clouds covered,
The children going home;
Think of being them,

Turning over their failures
By some bed of lobelias,
Nowhere to go but indoors,
No friends but empty chairs -

No, give me my in-tray,
My loaf-haired secretary,
My shall-I-keep-the-call-in-Sir:
What else can I answer,

When the lights come on at four
At the end of another year?
Give me your arm, old toad;
Help me down Cemetery Road.
Toads Revisited and Trees were amongst many of the poems Larkin wrote whilst living at Pearson Park. His collection, High Windows, includes many poems that were clearly in part inspired by the view from Larkin’s lodgings overlooking the park.
No.4/8
Nuffield Hospital
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No.5/8
Newland Avenue
Sharp Street
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No.6/8
105 Newland Park
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No.7/8
University of Hull
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No.8/8
Larkin's
Cottingham
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