Ravenscar to Hull Coast


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Ravenscar to Hull

Neil Oliver is in Hull to retrace the footsteps of 19th-century immigrants who passed through the port on their way to a new life in the New World.


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We're in Yorkshire now, with well-known holiday destinations like Whitby,

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and Scarborough, which has been attracting visitors for over 350 years.

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Nestled between these two holiday hotspots is Ravenscar.

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Ravenscar is a resort like no other.

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It's known as the town that never was.

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The question is, where is it?

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I've programmed my sat nav for the main street of Ravenscar,

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the wonderfully named Marine Esplanade.

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'Turn left, then take the second right.'

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Whoopsy, we're going straight into a rutted road.

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There's some sort of curb running up the middle of the road here.

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'After 200 yards, turn right.

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'You have reached your destination.'

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That's it. Marine Esplanade.

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That's the strangest Marine Esplanade I've ever seen.

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According to sat nav, there should be roads here,

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and Marine Esplanade IS here, it's just covered in years of vegetation.

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But if you look hard enough there are clues left.

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Look, drains, for no apparent reason.

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Look, it's some kind of base, a sort of octagonal concrete thing.

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The further afield you look, the more of Ravenscar you find.

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There's even an old railway platform.

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These are all that remain of a grand scheme hatched by Victorian entrepreneurs.

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They drew up detailed plans for a new resort on the Yorkshire coast, Ravenscar.

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Hundreds of workmen laid roads and sank drains.

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They even constructed a brickworks ready to build the new town.

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Ravenscar was to be an elegant seaside resort to rival its neighbours Whitby and Scarborough.

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A hundred years ago champagne-fuelled auctions were held at the Ravenhall Hotel.

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The estate company sold Ravenscar, plot by plot.

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The plan was for the new owners

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to build their own houses, so a new seaside town would be born.

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But, in spite of roads being laid out, Ravenscar was never built.

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Why?

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On the platform of the old station I'm meeting the grand-daughter of one of the original investors.

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So, Monica, your grandmother bought a plot here in this town, but WHAT town?

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My grand-mother bought a building plot here.

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-And this is the proof.

-Indeed, this is the conveyance.

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-Does it give us the address? Because I've got a map here.

-It does.

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It's in Loring Road, and Loring Road is just over there.

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Can we find your grandmother's plot?

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Let's have a try.

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-Presumably these gates must represent the old roads.

-Indeed, yes.

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-So this gate must be St Hilda's Road.

-Yes, it is.

-There we go.

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-So where are we on your plot?

-Right, we're on Loring Road,

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and the plot was the second one along, and it was 25 feet from here.

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Which is what? That's going to be about six metres, so off we go.

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One, two, three, four, five, six.

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-So that is your plot, just a field.

-Just a field.

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'Monica's grandparents paid £18 for their plot,

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'and then waited for the town to grow around it.

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'And waited.'

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In fact, I have a letter here dated in 1937,

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after his wife's death, when he tried to sell it.

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"Unfortunately, sites on this estate have not turned out as happily as was first anticipated."

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-That's a wonderful lawyer's understatement, isn't it?

-Indeed, yes.

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So just why didn't Ravenscar turn out quite as "happily as anticipated"?

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Well, one thing every resort needs is a beach,

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but the beach here looks a long way down.

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I've enlisted Mel Cunningham as my guide.

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So how high are we above sea level here?

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We're nearly 500 feet above sea level here.

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A completely mad place to build a resort.

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Yeah, on a day like today it would be super, but this is quite unusual,

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normally the weather is much more inclement.

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'The going gets tougher from here, but I'm hoping after the scramble the beach will be worth it.'

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The last leg.

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Mel, now we've got all the way down, where's the sandy beach?!

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I'm afraid there isn't any sand as such, it's all rock and shale.

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The most inhospitable place ever, and we've come from all the way up there.

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But how did all those Victorian and Edwardian ladies expect to come down to the beach?

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There were some stone steps constructed which did take them

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right down to the beach, but they've since slipped away.

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The steps never did draw crowds down to the beach.

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Many prospective buyers were put off by Ravenscar's wind-swept location,

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and those who did buy were reluctant to build.

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Today this villa on Marine Esplanade stands alone, but could Ravenscar ever have worked?

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Well, the same entrepreneurs successfully established Lee-on-Solent on the South coast,

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and on a day like this you wonder whether a little bit more commitment

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was all it would have taken here in Yorkshire.

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But the chance has gone.

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The National Trust bought the land in 1977,

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so now Ravenscar, the town that never was, will never be.

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Spurn Point reaches out into the North Sea and marks our entrance to the Humber Estuary.

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We've arrived at our final destination, the port of Hull.

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Because this seafaring city faces east, Hull has been a vital link

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in a chain connecting Europe with the rest of the world.

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In the 19th century,

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millions of people were desperate to escape Eastern Europe and make a fresh start.

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This great port of Hull became the unlikely gateway

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to a new life of freedom and opportunity in America.

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Howard Wolinsky's grandfather Henry was one of those migrants, en-route from Lithuania to Boston.

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Though he never met his grandfather, Howard has arrived in Hull to retrace his footsteps.

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-So is that a photograph of your grandfather?

-That's right.

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And what age is he there?

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He's almost 70 years old, in Boston.

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What do you hope to find here in Hull?

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Well, more answers. I'd like to know more

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about what his life was like the brief time he was in Hull.

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My sister and one of my sons and my wife are here now, and the four of us went to Lithuania last year

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and actually went to the town he was from, and walked where he walked,

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and now we're sailing where he sailed.

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Like many people migrating to the New World, Howard's grandfather

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was an Eastern European Jew, escaping Tsarist Russia.

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The Jews were confined to a region along Russia's Western border,

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which included much of present-day Lithuania.

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Conditions were poor,

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and brutal repression set in motion a mass exodus.

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Between 1870 and 1914, for over two million European refugees, Hull was a lifeline.

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To get to America, Howard's grandfather brought a one-way ticket.

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The first stage was a train to Hamburg, and then on to Hull,

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a 32-hour voyage across the North Sea.

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We're meeting local historian, Nick Evans to retrace the next stage of Howard's grandfather's journey.

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Having navigated a series of locks and docks,

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this is where on the 1st of August 1892 your ancestor would have landed.

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The vessel would have moored alongside this dockside here,

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and your ancestor would have disembarked here and then gone...

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-Right here?

-This very spot.

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So this is where your grandfather would have taken his first steps on British soil.

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So I am walking the walk.

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You are walking the walk, and we know from documentation in the local archives

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that he arrived on Monday the 1st of August.

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You can see here the Sprite, a steamship from Hamburg,

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which actually arrived on the 1st of August at Prince's Dock.

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Alongside the passengers there were all different commodities,

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including fruit, a piano and a variety of other commodities.

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These are some of the images he would have seen upon arrival.

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-So this is 19th-century Hull?

-This is from 1890.

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-This is the sights he would have seen.

-Is that that building there?

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Yes, this is the docks office at the time.

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Was the port of Hull the equivalent then of an airport transit lounge,

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just for people passing through?

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It was a major transport artery,

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just like Heathrow or Schiphol or JFK Airport are now.

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That was the real hub of this transport movement, on which millions of migrants would come along.

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It must have been exciting to know you were on this journey to America.

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Even though you put up with the seasickness and everything,

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I think you have to keep your eye on the prize.

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21-year-old Henry Wolinsky wasn't alone.

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Along with oranges and pianos,

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millions of names record the people who, for a few brief hours,

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passed through the port of Hull en route west.

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Immediately after disembarkation they would have walked along streets

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such as this, where they would have gone to nearby lodging houses...

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Just like being in transit in an airport today,

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people passing through Hull over 100 years ago on their way to the New World

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had time on their hands, and needs to be met.

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This was where most of the migrants would have enjoyed a much-needed meal.

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Howard's grandfather would certainly have come in here,

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because it was the only one which was run by a Jewish housekeeper

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and provided kosher food.

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Are there any records of what they ate, what was on the menu?

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Dry bread, herring, familiar foods for these migrants.

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-No bagels?

-No bagels, unfortunately, no.

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Once fed, Howard's grandfather was moved to the railway station to start his onward journey to America.

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The migrants were moved through Hull under escort, and kept increasingly apart from the locals.

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Cholera was the big fear.

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There'd been outbreaks of the disease in ports across Europe, and cholera was a killer.

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Public concern over disease resulted in a purpose-built platform being added to the train station,

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along with a special waiting room for migrants.

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These days it's a pub.

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I wonder what your grandfather would have thought, if he'd known that in 120 years' time

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one of his grandsons would be in the same building that he waited in before he went to the New World.

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Well, I would hope he would find it ironic, and satisfying,

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that the generations continued.

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Many of his other descendants...

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of his brothers were killed in the Holocaust, so we're survivors.

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After a rest, Howard's grandfather made his way to the platform.

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Here he joined a long roll call of names who continued their journey westward.

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The train took them to Liverpool,

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where they boarded a steam ship bound for America.

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'Howard's family are joining him where his ancestor stood on the brink of this new beginning.

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'A successful American family,

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'here today thanks to one young man's journey from the Old World to the New.'

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This platform is completely overgrown, and this story is overlooked by history,

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but it's no surprise, because for the millions of people who passed through here

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this was just a stepping stone.

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The real story was going to happen somewhere else, somewhere far away.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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Mark Horton travels to Ravenscar to investigate the resort that never was, and Neil Oliver is in Hull to retrace the footsteps of 19th-century immigrants who passed through the port on their way to a new life in the New World.