Crossing the River Humber by Ferry and Other Means


People have been crossing the river Humber by ferry for a long time. In Roman times a ferry service ran from Winteringham to Brough, in the 12th century ferry services ran from Barton to Brough, Barton to Hessle and South Ferriby to North Ferriby. In 1316 a ferry service was established between Barton and Hull when Edward II granted a charter. This became the most important crossing point as it was on the main road from Lincoln to Barton Waterside and then on to Hessle northwards. This ferry service was much used by Royal Passengers travelling to Cottingham and York. The Barton to Hull ferry continued to be the main crossing point for many years but a 'ferry war' may have proved costly. The official ferry 'The Royal Charter' came up against stiff competition in 'Public Opinion' in a fight against the high cost of crossing the Humber. These two battled it out (almost literally with a few bumps and scrapes along the way) until 'Public Opinion' could no longer afford to run. During this time it could be argued that the official ferry owners took their eye off the ball as by now the ferry service at New Holland had become established.
In 1803 Tommy Dent started a small ferry service from a creek opposite Hull which was a front for smuggling goods, especially Holland's gin (where New Holland gets its name from). This was the start of what was to become a very successful ferry crossing point. In 1826 the New Holland to Hull ferry service started. This was in direct competition to the Barton ferry service but New Holland started to become the superior crossing point when, in 1836, the London Mail coach transferred from Barton to New Holland. In 1845 the railways took control of the ferries, namely the Great Grimsby and Sheffield Junction Railway and by 1851 the competition was too great and the Barton ferry ceased to run. New Holland then grew into a major link between Lincolnshire and Yorkshire carrying passengers and cattle and goods for Hull Market. In 1968 there was a brief ferry service from Grimsby to Hull using hovercrafts. This did not last long as the hovercrafts could not cope with the demands of the river Humber.
There have been many ferries running between points along the Humber and especially between New Holland and Hull since 1820 only to be ended on June 24th 1981 by the opening of the Humber Bridge, and the continuation of public transport across the Humber took the shape of the 350 bus service which started its first run from Scunthorpe at 11.15am on the same day. It will probably not go unnoticed that the Humber Bridge in Barton effectively ended the ferry service in New Holland which had originally ended the ferry service in Barton, in short, the main crossing point in modern times on the river Humber returned to where it first began.  For more details of the history of the Humber bridge click here.

There have been many other suggestions of how to cross the river Humber. In 1872 the local Chamber of Commerce suggested a train link under the river Humber. This was to run from Hull to Hessle, tunnel under the river Humber to Barton and then continue on to the Ancholme Valley where it would meet up with the existing line. This was eventually dismissed but the tunnel idea did not go away, being suggested again in 1908 and once more in 1914. The idea of a bridge is not a new one either, being suggested in 1929, 1932 and 1937. The most unusual suggestion must have been the one in 1944 to dam the river just past Hessle so the upper part could be used for industry and making a crossing point at the dam.

Over the years there have been some successful and not so successful ideas of how to cross the river Humber, but by far the most successful (up to the opening of the Humber Bridge) must be the ferry. The details of the main ferries are below.

Ferries than have operated between New Holland and Hull

Name Notes  
P.S. Magna Charta (I) Started the New Holland to Hull ferry service in 1826  
P.S. Falcon Worked on the New Holland to Hull ferry service in 1845 and acquired by the New Holland Ferry company in mid 1849.  
P.S. Prince of Wales Bought from the Gravesend Steam Packet Company on 1 January 1848.  
P.S. Queen Built in 1842 by Ditchburn and Mare. She was only 9ft long. Bought from the Gravesend Steam Packet Company on 1 January 1848.  
P.S. Manchester (I) Launched on 12 May 1849 and replaced in 1855 with an ex-Clyde steamer given the same name. She was 150ft long. She was eventually renamed Old Manchester.  
P.S. Sheffield (I) Running in 1849 and replaced in 1855 with an ex-Clyde steamer given the same name. She was eventually renamed Old Sheffield.  
P.S. Petrel Worked on the New Holland to Hull ferry service in 1850 hired in from the Watermans Co.  
P.S. Royal Albion This was a general purpose tug boat that was brought into service as a stand in ferry from 1860 for a short time.  
P.S. Liverpool Built by M Samuelson of Hull, she was 159.6 feet long and worked the New Holland to Hull route mainly between 1864 and 1899. PS Liverpool courtesy of Alan Green
P.S. Doncaster Built by M Samuelson of Hull, she was 159.6 feet long and worked the New Holland to Hull route mainly between 1864 and 1899.  
P.S. Manchester (II) Used as a stand in until the arrival of 'Magna Charta (II)'. She ran aground in 1875 and broke her back.  
P.S. Grimsby (II) Built in Hull at Earle's Shipbuilding & Engineering Co Ltd. She was 180 foot long.
Used from 1888 to 1922, then it was sold for breaking in 1923.
P.S. Grimsby courtesy of Ted Gaytor
P.S. Cleethorpes Used from 1903 to 1934. It was built by Gourley Bros. Ltd and was 190.1 foot long. It became a seaplane tender in World War I, then it was sold to Redcliffe Shipping Co.  
P.S. Brocklesby Built in Hull at Earle's Shipbuilding & Engineering Co Ltd and was 195 foot long.
Used from 1912 to 1935, It became a seaplane tender in World War I, then it was sold for use on the Firth of Forth and renamed Highland Queen. It was sent for scrapping in Germany in 1936.
P.S. Brocklesby courtesy of Ted Gaytor
P.S. Killingholme Built in Hull at Earle's Shipbuilding & Engineering Co Ltd and was 195 foot long.
Used from 1912 to 1945. It was used to officially open King George Dock in Immingham. It became a seaplane tender in World War I and a seaplane carrier in World War II. It was used for excursion work from 1934 when the P.S. Wingfield Castle and Tattershall Castle was introduced.
P.S. Killingholme courtesy of Ted Gaytor
P.S. Frodingham Built by A and J Inglis, Glasgow in 1895 and was originally called the Dandy Dinmont.
Bought by the London and North Eastern Railway Company in 1928 to run between New Holland and Hull.
Sold in 1936 to breakers in Belgium.
 
P.S. Wingfield Castle Built by Wm Gray in Hartlepool for the London and North Eastern Railway Company in 1934 and was 199.9 foot long.
It was withdrawn in 1974 and eventually became an exhibit at the Hartlepool Museum where it still is today.
P.S. Wingfield Castle courtesy of Ted Gaytor
P.S. Tattershall Castle Built by Wm Gray in Hartlepool for the London and North Eastern Railway Company in 1934 and was 199.9 foot long. It was the first ever paddle driven ship to be equiped with radar.
It was withdrawn in 1972 and sent to the Thames embankment first as an art gallery and then as a pub. It is still there today.
P.S. Tattershall Castle courtesy of Ted Gaytor
P.S. Lincoln Castle Built by A and J Inglis, Glasgow in 1940 for the London and North Eastern Railway Company and was 199.7 foot long.
It could carry 20 cars and 914 passengers.
It was withdrawn in 1978 when it became a pub moored at Hessle. It was later moved to the Heritage Centre at Alexandra Dock in Grimsby where it stood until October 2010 when it was dismantled for scrap.
P.S. Lincoln Castle courtesy of Ted Gaytor
D.E.P.V. Farringford Built in 1947.
It was transferred from the Isle of Wight in 1974 for British Railways. It could carry 40 cars and 796 passengers.
It was withdrawn in 1981 when the Humber Bridge was opened.
D.E.P.V. Farringford courtesy of Ted Gaytor

Some other ferries that have operated on the Humber

Ferry Name Notes
P.S. Caledonia A paddle sloop used from 1814 between Hull and Gainsborough.
P.S. Humber A paddle steamer working on the Humber from 1815.
P.S. British Queen A paddle steamer working on the Humber from 1815.
P.S. Albion A paddle steamer working on the Humber from 1815.
P.S. Waterloo A paddle steamer working on the Humber from 1815.
P.S. Maria A paddle steamer working on the Humber from 1815.
P.S. Royal Charter A paddle steamer used from 1831 between Barton and Hull. This was the official steamer.
P.S. Public Opinion A paddle steamer used from 1831 between Barton and Hull. This was the 'peoples opposition boat'. (This vessel was formerly called Victory)
Pelham Little is know about this apart from it working between Hull and Grimsby from 1832.
P.S. Kingston A paddle steamer working Hull to Grimsby from 1832.
P.S. Adelaide A paddle steamer working Hull to Selby in 1832.
P.S. John Bull A paddle steamer working Hull to Thorne in 1832.
P.S. Rockingham A paddle steamer working Hull to Thorne in 1832.
P.S. Eagle A paddle steamer working Hull to Goole in 1832.
P.S. Dart A paddle steamer working Hull to Gainsborough in 1832.
P.S. Mercury A paddle steamer working Hull to Gainsborough in 1832.
P.S. Elizabeth A paddle steamer working Hull to Brigg in 1832.
P.S. Trafalgar A paddle steamer working Hull to York in 1832.
P.S. Sovereign A paddle steamer working Hull to Selby in 1835.
P.S. Ann Scarborough A paddle steamer working the Barton to Hessle ferry service from 1841.
P.S. Columbine Launched 1843. This iron steamer was used between Hull and Lindsey (Gainsborough) and was capable of carrying 500 passengers.
P.S. Atalanta Used from 1851 between Gainsborough and Hull by the Gainsborough Steam Packet Co. Also worked Hull to Burton Stather, Hull to Ferriby and Hull to Grimsby. Withdrawn during World War I
P.S. Manchester (II) A paddle steamer working Hull to Burton Stather, Hull to Ferriby and Hull to Grimsby from 1855. Used on the Hull to New Holland service briefly (see above).
P.S. Sheffield (II) A paddle steamer working Hull to Burton Stather, Hull to Ferriby and Hull to Grimsby from 1855.
P.S. Isle of Axholme Used from 1860 between Gainsborough and Hull by the Gainsborough Steam Packet Co. It was sold in 1912 to the Goole Steam Packet Co and used between Goole and Hull. It was broken up in Scarborough in the 1920's.
P.S. Lady Elizabeth Used from 1890 between Hull and Goole by the Hull and Goole Steam Packet Co. It finally left the Humber to work on the Amazon.
P.S. Her Majesty Used from 1893 between Hull and South Ferriby Sluice by the Hull and Goole Steam Packet Co. It was broken up in 1912. (It may have started running as early as 18th June 1858)
P.S. Empress Used from 1893 between Hull and Goole by the Hull and Goole Steam Packet Co. It was sold to Tay Steamboat Co Ltd in 1916 and broken up in 1922. (It may have been running as early as 1858)
P.S. Humber Used from 1895 between Grimsby and Spurn and also Winteringham to Hull including possibly Burton, South Ferriby and New Holland by J Turner. It was originally built as a tug for use on the river Tyne. It had a length of 100ft and a breadth of 19ft.
Hovercraft Minerva Used briefly between Hull Pier and Grimsby Docks from 17 February 1968 to 21 October 1968. The hovercraft cut 1 hour off the ferry travelling time and only cost 50p. Unfortunately they were frail and never managed to cope with the Humber. By June of 1968 both hovercrafts had suffered 164 propeller or shaft breakages between them.
Hovercraft Mercury Used briefly between Hull Pier and Grimsby Docks from 17 February 1968 to 21 October 1968. The hovercraft cut 1 hour off the ferry travelling time and only cost 50p. Unfortunately they were frail and never managed to cope with the Humber. By June of 1968 both hovercrafts had suffered 164 propeller or shaft breakages between them.

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Special thanks to Ted Gaytor for most of the images on this page, and to Alan Green for the image of the PS Liverpool. For more information on River Humber Ferries visit the River Humber Ferries web site.

Sources : Humber Shipping by Michael E. Ulyatt & Edward W. Paget-Tomlinson : The Humber Ferrries by Alun A D'Orley : extract from a diary of an 18-year old pupil of the Rev. Frederick Stockdale.

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