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9 August 2022

In this blog, Hull Maritime white badge tour guide Janet Penny writes about the River Hull.

The images are by fellow volunteer, Olwen Evans-Knibb.

Why not find out more on one of our volunteer led guided tours?

As a city we owe our existence to the river and it gives us our name, Kingston upon Hull.

The river rises from a series of springs fourteen miles north near the town of Driffield and at its source it is crystal clear.

The dark brown muddy appearance lower down in the city is due to the boulder clay from Holderness that is swept into the river from the Humber. Despite its colour the river is clean with few chemicals due to declining industry along its banks.

River Hull, despite its colour the river is clean

Prior to the 1100’s the river ran a different path, joining the Humber about a kilometre to the west. And it was at this point the first settlement of Wyke was founded by the monks from nearby Meaux Abbey who wanted a quay from which to export their wool. It was in the early 1100’s when there was a huge flood in the area which spread for miles around that the river changed its course flowing into a drainage ditch and moving to its present position.

The settlement of Wyke upon Hull was moved to the new position and trade continued to grow. Traces of the old river remained for some time before drying up completely.

The town of Wyke upon Hull caught the attention of King Edward I in the 1290’s as he needed a handy supply port for his troops along the east coast as he planned to invade Scotland.

He bought the town off the monks and renamed it Kingstown upon Hull. From this time trade grew and the port became more important.

Initially the ships moored within the river Hull which became known as the Harbour, and it was only in the 1770’s that the first town dock was built due to the river being so congested and the fact that there was no legal quay from which the treasury could collect their taxes.

There is a lot less traffic now
The river has always been a divide between the two sides of the city

Nowadays there is not the huge amount of river traffic that we once had and as dredging no longer takes place there are vast amounts of mud near the banks.

The river has always been a divide between the two sides of the city and the many bridges have in the past caused disruption to traffic. Hull has fourteen bridges which is the most of any city in such a short stretch of navigable river.

Hull has 14 bridges

It was King Henry VIII who instructed that the first bridge be built across the river, where North Bridge stands today but until more bridges were built goods and people were taken across the river in small ferry boats.

There was always a rush for people to get over the river if they lived on one side and worked on the other side. There was a tragic incident in December 1848 when people were trying to get from the east side to the factories on the west.

It was cold, dark morning and the bells were ringing for people to be at work for a 6am start. People clambered into the ferry which unfortunately got stuck in the mud, the ferryman got out to push it away from the bank, but this allowed more people to jump on board.

Eventually the boat was rowed to the middle of the river but due to it being overloaded it sank and fourteen people lost their lives. This was known as the Brewhouse Wrack tragedy, and it devastated many local families. Sadly, it was still some time before more bridges were built connecting both sides of the city.