History of Ferries in Hull

Although the Rivers Hull and Humber have brought undeniable advantages to Hull in the facilities which they provided for river transport, they nevertheless severely impeded the town’s road communications. Ferries were therefore essential from an early date.

Ferry boat dock [Ref Lp 386.6]

River Hull - Stoneferry and Drypool
There were ferries over the River Hull at both Stoneferry and Drypool by the 14th century. The earliest recorded crossing at Stoneferry was in 1269, when it was referred to as 'Stanfordrak'. The name Stoneferry occurs from the mid 14th century and suggests that a stone paved ford there was replaced by a ferry.
Further downstream at Drypool a ferry existed by 1273, crossing from land of the lords of Sutton on the east to land of Gilbert de Aton.

North Ferry
Established in 1299, this ferry was referred to as the North Ferry from at least 1353. Presumably, the ferry did not survive the building of the North Bridge in the mid 16th century. In 1608 a man was paid to keep the staith at the North Ferry boat, but there is nothing to suggest that the ferry was still in operation in 1610. The staith was reopened by the corporation in 1675 on the petition of inhabitants of the North End living near by. In 1676 a temporary ferry was established from the Charterhouse while North Bridge was rebuilt.

Other River Hull Ferries
Two other ferries over the River Hull are known. By 1823 a ferry existed from Garrison Pier to the neighbourhood of Blackfriargate, near the mouth of the river. It was still in existence in 1856 but was presumably replaced by South Bridge. A ferry known as the Brewhouse Wrack is said to have operated in the 19th century between the Groves and Wincolmlee, serving in particular the cotton mills in the area.

Humber Estuary - Early Crossings
The ferry across the Humber has always been of greater significance to Hull’s communications, providing the final link in the direct line of communication with London. Until the mid 19th century it was hazardous and uncertain, as well-known travellers of the 17th and 18th centuries have testified.

The earliest crossings to have had a landfall close to Hull appear to have been the ferries from Barton and Barrow to Hessle, the first of which linked the road from London to that to Beverley and York. In the 14th century the right to a ferry across the Humber became a source of dispute between the lords of Barrow and Barton which was not settled until 1371.

South Ferry (Barton)
In 1315 the ferry was established to run from Hull to Lincolnshire and back, charging tolls for the king’s use on pedestrians, horsemen, arts and animals. The keeper of the town was to answer the tolls annually at the Exchequer. It became known as the South Ferry from the middle of the century. During the 17th century the efficiency of the ferry was frequently criticised. The lease changed hands often, the rent rose, and in 1656 fares were increased for the first time since its foundation. There was friction between the lessees and private boatmen who carried passengers to Lincolnshire and rivalry between the crews of the Hull and Barton boats. On several occasions in the 18th century the Corporation had tried to acquire the lease of the ferries from Barton to Hull and Hessle. In 1796 it purchased the lease of the Crown’s tenant at Barton for about £3000 and in 1815 it leased both ferries on new terms.

Barrow Ferry
The ferries faced competition from market boats which sailed from Goxhill, Barrow and Winteringham, from a boat service that operated briefly from Barrow in 1792 and from the steam packet service on the Humber. In 1820 the corporation forbade private boats to carry passengers or goods. In 1826, however, a privately operated service began again at Barrow. Under the grant of 1315 the Corporation’s failure to supply boats to other parts of Lincolnshire rendered it powerless to enforce its right to ferryage - the Corporation apparently abandoned the idea of litigation and the Barrow Ferry continued without hindrance. The Barrow ferry was running at a loss in 1834, primarily because of its new rival at New Holland. The proprietors of the New Holland ferry bought out the Barrow ferry although they allowed it to operate as before. The Barton ferry continued to provide four crossings daily until 1851, but was then discontinued. An attempt to revive it in 1856 proved abortive.

New Holland Ferry
This ferry was established in about 1825 and expanded rapidly. By 1832 a steamboat, the Magna Charta, was making three crossings a day. It was joined by the Falcon in 1839. When in 1836 the London mails to Hull were transferred from the Barton to the New Holland ferry, New Holland became the preferred crossing point. In addition, the coming of the railways strengthened New Holland’s position. The ferry was taken over by the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway in 1846. It was still operated by their successors British Railways in 1965, but the service ended with the opening of the Humber Bridge in June 1981.

Paddle SteamersFerry Boat Dock, 1952 [Ref L RH.3.400]
In 1912 the Killingholme and Brocklesby replaced the older steamers, joined by the Cleethorpes and Frodingham by 1929. In 1934-1940 these were again replaced by the Tattershall Castle, Wingfield Castle and Lincoln Castle, and the latter became the last coal-fired paddle steamer to operate commercially in Britain. The shallow water meant the paddle steamers were the only ferries that could operate.
The Tattershall Castle has been run as a restaurant since 1981 and is moored on the Thames in London.

Ferry Pier
A new pier was built at Hull in 1801 which meant that ferries could be boarded regardless of the state of the tide. In 1847 the ferry pier was joined to the mainland by a platform, and thereafter landings were made on the river side of the pier. In 1877 a floating pontoon was attached to the pier, known as the Victoria Pier or Corporation Pier. After the service ended, the building stood empty for some years before being converted into apartments.

Further Reading
L. 386.6 (9) Alun D’Orley, The Humber Ferries (Nidd Valley Narrow Gauge Railways, 1968)
L. 386.6 (9) A. J. Ludlam, Railways to New Holland and the Humber Ferries (Oakwood Press, 1996)
L. 387(9) Michael E. Ulyatt & Edward W. Paget-Tomlinson, Humber Shipping (Dalesman, 1979)