I LAST visited Hull five years ago.

Visiting again, a week ago, it felt like a different place.

The city I saw in 2014 was, if I am honest, down-at-heel with an air of neglect and despondency about it. Now into its third year as the UK City of Culture, Hull - abbreviated from its proper name of Kingston upon Hull - feels vibrant and lively, brimming with optimism and hope.

It surprised me to say the least.

After parking the car in the Fruit Market redevelopment area, where disused warehouses and cobbled streets have been transformed into Hull’s cultural quarter, we strolled towards the majestic Hull Minster, passing the King Billy statue, an impressive gilded memorial, erected in 1734 in honour of William of Orange, who became William III.

Two minutes later we were outside the minster in a stunning stone-flagged piazza, home to a statue of the metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell, who grew up in the town and was later its MP.

The minster is not just a place of worship, but a community hub. On the day we visited a vintage record fair was taking place. There was all sorts going on and a wonderful tea shop selling refreshments with mouthwatering homemade cakes. This month it accommodates a real ale and cider festival.

In his distinctive blue outfit, Ranjit Denetto, one of an army of friendly City of Culture volunteers, and whose father was, in the 1960s, the first Indian doctor in Hull, gave us a map and pinpointed the main attractions.

We headed to Hull’s Old Town with its cobbled streets and grand buildings. Here, in the Museums Quarter, lay the main reason for our visit - Wilberforce House, the birthplace of William Wilberforce, the British politician, social reformer and leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade.

The grand 17th century house is a museum telling the story of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and its abolition, as well as dealing with contemporary slavery.

Various galleries in its splendid wood-panelled interior offer a shocking glimpse into the slave trade. It tells of how men, women and children were captured from West Africa, and taken across the Atlantic via the notorious ‘middle passage’, to the Caribbean and southern states of America to work in sugar plantations.

Most unforgettable are the images of the slave ships, with people crammed in like sardines in a giant can. Wilberforce said of it: “Never can so much misery be found condensed in so small a place as in a ship doing the middle passage.”

Ships carried up to 600 Africans, and on each voyage 15 per cent died from dysentery, malaria, smallpox and malnutrition.

There’s a wooden model of a slave ship on display, which Wilberforce took into parliament to strengthen his attempt to ban the practice.

Punishments routinely doled out to slaves included flogging, whipping, tarring and burning, the well-researched information boards told. One exhibit, a brutal-looking iron collar, was placed on Africans soon after capture to prevent escape.

We learned about the efforts of ordinary people to abolish the horrific trade, in particular the Sugar Boycott, one of the most successful campaigns for the Abolitionist Movement. British people, especially women, were encouraged not to buy or use goods produced by slaves in the West Indies, particularly sugar. Around 300,000 people boycotted it and sales dropped dramatically.

This fascinating museum tells the story of Wilberforce’s association with Hull. It contains items owned by Wilberforce - who was MP for Hull before becoming MP for Yorkshire - including clothing, books and crockery.

Short films recount slaves’ tales, taken from actual accounts, as well as that of a plantation owner who documented his relationships with female slaves, including one with whom he had a son.

‘The Abolition of Slavery Bill was read for a second time on August 1833. Wilberforce died three days later, knowing that it would be passed.

On our walk back we popped into Hepworth’s Arcade, a Victorian gem, with a great joke shop. We strolled along the buzzing Humber Dock Street beside Hull Marina, where some swanky-looking yachts were moored. The street, along with its neighbouring streets, is lined with restaurants and bars. People were sitting outside enjoying the sunshine.

We bought ice creams from a quirky cafe with the intriguing name Oss Wash - standing near a spot where horses (‘osses’ as they say in these parts) were once washed.

With the Humber sparkling in the setting sun we walked along the river path and admired the striking profile of The Deep before heading home. Hull has so much to offer and is now firmly on our agenda for days out in future.

l humbermuseums.com/museum-hull/wilberforce-house-museum; visithullandeastyorkshire.com