Monday, 26 June 2017

King George Dock, Hull Port

On 26th June 1914, King George Dock was officially opened to much fanfare by King George V and Queen Mary.

Invitation to Mr & Mrs G. H. Smith for the opening ceremony
The Dock was funded by two former rivals – the North Eastern and Hull and Barnsley Railway Companies – using powers obtained under the Hull Joint Dock Act (1899). It was built by S. Pearson and Sons over the course of eight years, and was the first dock in the UK which utilised electric motive power throughout. This included modern coaling appliances (capable of loading up to six vessels simultaneously), electric belts and hoists for handling grain, fifty-three electric cranes of between one and a half and ten tons capacity, and a floating crane capable of lifting eighty tons. 

In terms of storage the new Dock included six ferro-concrete warehouses, and 200 acres was set aside outdoors for the storage of durable goods such as timber. A grain silo of 40,000 tons capacity was under construction at the time of opening (completed in 1919), and a site had been set aside for the provision of cold storage.

Plan of the opening ceremony
The new Dock was large having a capacity of fifty-three acres and an entrance lock eighty-five feet wide and 750 feet long. The lock was positioned so as to reduce the risk to vessels entering from the Humber during a strong tide. It included two gravelling docks (or dry docks) for maintenance and repairs. When opened the King George Dock was the largest dock on the East Coast north of London, and could handle some of the largest vessels of the day.


Detail from illustration of the King George Dock showing the gravelling docks

Originally the Dock was dominated by coal exports. However, as these declined the northern quays were increasingly used for wool, meat, fruit, and vegetables. The southern quays were generally used for metals, ores, machinery, and timber.

The King George Dock operated successfully, largely in its original form for forty-five years. However, in 1959 expenditure of £4,750,000 was authorised by the British Transport Commission for an improvement programme. This would herald dramatic changes for the Dock: all the coaling facilities were removed, its quays were adapted for general and bulk shipping, six transit sheds were constructed, and the capacity of the grain silo was increased by fifty percent. Investment was also made in new cranes and grain handling equipment.


Illustration showing coaling appliances
The 1960s onwards would see the opening of a number of new ferry terminals. These terminals were established to accommodate increasing roll-on roll-off ferry traffic between the UK, Scandinavia, and the European mainland. This was facilitated by the opening of the Queen Elizabeth Dock Extension in 1969, which enabled the establishment of facilities for container traffic. An all-weather terminal was established over one of the gravelling docks in 1997, and a new biomass storage facility was opened in 2014.

The King George Dock, and its extension the Queen Elizabeth Dock, remains in use today and is operated by Associated British Ports.

Robert Astin, Project Archivist

Friday, 23 June 2017

Our Criminal Ancestors

New Project to Shed Light on Hull’s Historic Criminal Culture

Skeleton in your closet? Black sheep in the family? Sinister secret hiding in your family tree?

An exciting new project in Hull will help local people find the answers and explore the criminal past of their own families, through a series of free workshops at the Hull History Centre. 

The project, led by Dr Helen Johnston (University of Hull) and Dr Heather Shore (Leeds Beckett University), will for the first time bring world-renowned experts to Hull to help the public gain greater understanding not only of their own family history, but also the history of the communities, the city and the East Yorkshire region in which they live and work.

“Our criminal ancestors were often just ordinary people, and it’s their stories from the past that can change who we think we are in the present”, said Dr Johnston. “Not only that, they can change the way we think about the history of our streets, our city and our region.

“Children often fell into crime as a dire consequence of being born into poverty, such as twelve-year-old John Hines, of Cleveland Street, who in 1891 stole a 4lb bag of almonds to feed himself and his widowed mother, receiving a five year reformatory sentence.

“For those who believe their ancestors may have encountered the criminal justice system, whether they’re the accused, victims, witnesses, prisoners, police and prison officers, these workshops will help them to  use historical crime, policing and punishment records in searching for their relatives.”


Dr Heather Shore is eager to see what the people of Hull can uncover.
“We’re really looking forward to helping people dig into the past to find their black sheep ancestors,” she said. “Hull and East Yorkshire has a rich history when it comes to criminal justice, and people’s untold family stories can help us throw light into the shadowy corners of Hull’s criminal past.”

The three public workshops will run at the Hull History Centre during 2017 on:
Saturday 15th July - Introduction to Crime and Criminal Records
Saturday 23rd September - Prosecution and Policing
Saturday 21st October - Punishment

The project has been funded by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which means that all workshops are free to the public, who can attend any or all workshops.  The aim is to develop a website and a set of resources that will help others, both nationally and internationally, discover their criminal ancestry.

For more information or to sign up to one or all of the events please book online, contact the Hull History Centre on 01482 317500 or email Victoria Dawson victoria.dawson@hull.ac.uk

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Roots and Routes: Whaling - From Hull to the Arctic

Whaling has a long and important place in the history of Hull. Beginning around the 16th century, the trade involved hazardous journeys up to the Arctic regions where the whales were to be found. These journeys had to be undertaken in the summer when there was less ice around. In the early years ships only went as far as Greenland, but slowly as the Arctic regions were explored whaling crews ventured further and further north where they encountered more and more hazards. The majority of ships were not built for the whaling trade but were converted from other uses. The ships had to be specially adapted for the icy conditions and this was done by ‘planking’. Extra layers of wood had to be attached to the inside of the hold to strengthen them.

Map showing areas traversed by whaling crews sailing out of Hull [L WHA.639]

From the 18th century, the whaling trade had become a significant part of the country’s economy. In 1733 the British Government was offering a bounty of £1 per ton per ship to English merchants involved in whaling. By 1754 this had risen to £2 and, in that same year, four Hull whaling ships sailed to the Arctic. With the increase in profits to be made, so came an increase in the numbers of ships involved in the trade and by 1799 there were 34 whaling ships sailing out of Hull. Arguably though, the heyday of the trade came in the early decades of the 19th century, and by 1820 more than 60 of our city’s ships were involved in whaling. Hull became the largest whaling port in the country and the trade was an important part of the town’s economy. From catching the whales, to creating and using the by-products of the trade, Hull’s merchants and tradesmen became rich from the proceeds. Whalebone had a huge variety of uses and there were manufacturers at Hull who made ribs for umbrellas, hoops for crinolines, corsets and buttons amongst other things; the oil was also a valuable commodity.

Extract from the Neptune's log book, 1821 [L DMWH]

The Local Studies collection holds a number of journals kept by the crews of Hull based whaling ships, and these are available to read on microfilm. Reading the entries in the journals, you are made aware of problems faced by the men involved in the trade: From ships not being able to leave port because there was no wind; to them being blown off course because of too much wind. The biggest difficulties were encountered as the ships explored the territories further beyond the Arctic Circle, with the immense cold, snow and ice.  Melville Bay appears to have been notorious for bad weather and gales. The only means of navigation was by the sun and the stars and many of the journals include the comment ‘sun obscured’ instead of a latitude reading. If the ship drifted into the pack ice (known as being beset), it could only be a matter of time before the ship was squeezed so much it would break. 

Extract from the Neptune's log book, 1821 [L DMWH]

As conditions became more dangerous there were huge losses, including 9 ships lost in 1821. With these and similar disasters, added to the fact that whale oil was becoming less of a necessity, the trade began to decline. However the trade did carry on, and even witnessed a revival in the 1850s and 1860s. However, the revival was short lived and the last whaling ship, the Diana, sailed out of Hull in 1866. She was to spend the winter in the Arctic, unable to get home and when she finally arrived in Hull on 26 April 1867, she had lost her captain and 13 members of the crew.

If you want to find out more about Hull’s whaling heritage, why not come and look at the whaling log books? Just ask us in the library to point you in the right direction!


Elaine Moll, Librarian and Archivist

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Spurn Lifeboat Station 1908-1911: Three turbulent years

Today I would like to share a number of architectural plans – found amongst the un-catalogued Conservancy records in C DPD – illustrating the Victorian cottages, school, and lifeboat house built for the Humber Lifeboat Station at Spurn Point. Why are these plans among the records of the Humber Conservancy Board (HCB)?

The HCB was formed by an Act of Parliament in 1907. The Act replaced the Humber Conservancy Commissioners, and also transferred all responsibilities connected with navigation on the River Humber from Hull Trinity House to the new Board. This inheritance included the Lifeboat Station at Spurn Point, which had been established in 1810. This transfer would lead to three years of uncertainty and difficulty for the Lifeboat Station and its crew.
Detail from plan no.2 of proposed cottages at Spurn Point
The chief difficulty was the fact that the Humber Station was manned by a paid full time crew, a situation which was unique at the time and remains so to this day; the isolated nature of Spurn Point makes a full-time crew a necessity. The Conservancy Board members saw themselves as primarily running a commercial operation, and were unhappy about expending a large sum of money on what they considered to be a philanthropic concern. They therefore decided that they would either close the Station, or pass responsibility for it on to another body. The 1907 Conservancy Act had made the HCB responsible for the Humber Lifeboat Station, but had not included any legal compulsion for the Board to maintain it. Thus its future was placed in jeopardy!

The Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) was approached by the HCB as the appropriate body to operate the Station. However, the RNLI was reluctant to assume responsibility for a full-time paid lifeboat crew. Many bitter arguments would follow with the Conservancy often threatening to abandon the station!


Detail from plan no.3 of proposed cottages for Spurn Point
In May 1910 the situation reached a critical point when Constable Settled Estates issued Trinity House with one year’s notice to quit Spurn Point. Trinity House leased the land for the Lifeboat Station at a nominal rent for lifesaving purposes on a yearly rolling basis, but had permitted the Admiralty and Lloyd’s to utilise some of this land for other purposes. Constable Settle Estates had not been informed of this arrangement, and once made aware of the fact issued notice to quit. Following the 1907 Act the HCB was effectively sub-letting from Trinity House. If the HCB desired to continue to operate the Station a new lease would need to be negotiated.  This development provided the pretext for the HCB to announce its intention to close the station; the Board could now claim legitimately to have no choice in the matter.

Plan of proposed Lifeboat House, 23 October 1854

The potential loss of the Lifeboat Station, and the impact this could have on shipping in the Humber was a serious concern to shipping interests. The Board of Trade, which had for some time been attempting to mediate between the HCB and the RNLI, stepped up its efforts to find a solution.

Finally, after three difficult years it was agreed that the RNLI would take over the station on 1 May 1911. The future of the Humber Lifeboat Station was assured, and the HCB’s brief involvement with lifeboat operations came to a close. Over one-hundred years later, the RNLI continues to operate this Station for the purpose of saving lives at sea.


Detail from plan for proposed school at Spurn, October 1890
Further reading:
Roy Benfell Spurn Lifeboat Station–The First Hundred Years (Hull, 1994)
Barry Herbert Lifeboats of the Humber (Hutton Press, 1991)
Nicholas Leach Lifeboats of the Humber: Two centuries of gallantry (Amberley Publishing, 2010)

All of these titles can be consulted here at the History Centre, and are available to be borrowed by library members - see details on how to apply for library membership.

Robert Astin, Project Archivist