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21st August 2020

Watching shipping on the river Humber has been a popular pastime for generations.

Student volunteers from the University of Hull's Hull History Network have researched objects in our collections plus the companies behind them and uncovered some interesting facts, characters and stories.

The owners of ships often display flags and paint funnels in company colours. But which companies own them and what do they do?

In this final blog Lauren Batchelor, Matt Pooley and Jessica Hooley look at some of the companies involved in coastal trading

Bennett Steam Shipping

The Bennett Steam Shipping Company was founded in 1873 and registered in 1890. Its founder, John Bennett, had worked in Goole in local government and as an entrepreneur. He bought land (now Market Hall and Alexandra Street) where he laid down streets and sewers and then sold the land to developers.

Committed to the town, Bennett operated his Steam Shipping Company out of Goole, where it was part of local life for just over 100 years, closing in 1975. The company started by transporting potatoes, then expanded trade to include other vegetables and cars, and the number of ships increased. Connections were created between Goole, Calais and Ostend, and further links to Boulogne.

Things were not always easy for the business. In the 1920s and 1930s, the company felt they suffered injustice when ordered to stop using their mark: the Bennett Steam Shipping Company used a red cross like that of the English St George’s Cross.

Coastal Trade Fig 1
Hand written and illustrated fleet list for 1939 including Bennett Steamship Co. Goole
Bennett Steam Shipping
Bennett steam shipping mark

Aberdeen, Newcastle & Hull Steam Co.

The Aberdeen, Newcastle & Hull Steam Company began as the Aberdeen & London Steam Navigation Company in 1821. By 1827 the company obtained their first major fleet of steam ships and was able to operate as both a passenger and cargo shipment service between Aberdeen and London.

In 1835 the Aberdeen & London Steam Navigation Company came together with the Aberdeen & London Shipping Company to form the Aberdeen Steam Navigation Company in order to operate between the two cities more efficiently. When the Aberdeen & Hull Shipping Company was taken over in 1838, more transport lines were made available in the UK to Sunderland and Hull, although the Hull transport line was discontinued in 1854.

After the Second World War in 1945, the Aberdeen Steam Navigation Company was taken over by the Tyne-Tees Steam Shipping Company operating in Newcastle, renaming it the Aberdeen, Newcastle & Hull Steam Company (as part of the Coast Lines group of ship lines).

Between 1802 and 1947, the combined companies owned in total forty-seven ships (fourteen sailing ships and thirty-three steamships). Despite this, eventually all passenger lines were stopped in 1948 due to competition from land-based transport companies; the Tyne-Tees Steam Shipping Company ceased operations in 1962.

Aberdeen Newcastlehull Steam Co
Aberdeen, Newcastle and Hull Steam Company flag

Associated Humber Lines

The Associated Humber Lines formed in 1935 from five previously established rail ferry companies: the Goole Steam Shipping Company, the Hull and Netherlands Steam Ship Company, the London and North Eastern Railway, the London Midland and Scottish Railway, and the Wilson & North Eastern Railway Shipping Company.

Coastal Trade Fig 2
Map of the London and North East Railway System, from London in south to Aberdeen in north

The Associated Humber Lines connected British ports to North European ports, including the Netherlands Steam Ship Company, transporting goods in the North Sea, but was then absorbed by London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) in 1923. The British ports connected to 21,666 miles (34,868 km), which allowed the transportation of goods across Britain. Sea routes operated from Goole, Hull and Grimsby to Antwerp, Amsterdam, Bremen, Copenhagen, Hamburg and Rotterdam.

Poster advertising cargo and passenger services by the Associated Humber Lines Ltd., 1959
Poster advertising cargo and passenger services by the Associated Humber Lines Ltd. 1959
Associated Humber Lines motor vessel, 'Whitby Abbey'
Associated Humber Lines motor vessel, 'Whitby Abbey'
Associated Humber Line
Flag of the Associated Humber Lines

John H. Whitaker (Tankers) Ltd.

John H Whitaker (Tankers) Ltd. has been in operation since 1880. The company started by transporting coal to major UK industrial centres, before changing its choice of cargo as technology and fuel demand changed to petroleum after the turn of the twentieth century.

By 1950 an article in the Hull Daily Mail (2 March 1950) described the company as having 20 tankers, with the article’s purpose to announce the new, diesel tank-barge named Jondor which was to undergo trials on the following Monday. The fleet’s purpose was the transport of petroleum in bulk, operating from the Humber ports and transporting cargo to inland centres (large cities at the centre of British industry).

In December 1954, John H. Whitaker became the owners of ‘the first post-war vessel constructed at Hull’ named Sirwin, the ‘first of two dry cargo motor ships’ to be built by the Yorkshire Dry Dock Co. and launched from their Lime Street Shipyard (which today would have stood on the eastern bank of the River Hull over the North Bridge, near Hull College). John H. Whitaker (Tankers) Ltd. is still operating today with a similar role transporting fuel on ‘a fleet of inland barges and sea going tankers in UK and European waters’, with nine ships owned by the company and two under their management.

Bow (front) view of the launch of Whitaker’s barge Sirwin
Bow (front) view of the launch of Whitaker’s barge Sirwin
John H Whitaker pennant
John H Whitaker pennant

Leith, Hull & Hamburg Steam Packet Co.

The Leith, Hull & Hamburg Steam Packet Company began as the Hull & Leith Shipping Company around 1800 and the Leith & Hamburg Shipping Company in 1816, which would then come to together in 1836 to become the Hull & Leith Steam Packet Company (trading between the ports at Hull and Hamburg).

The combined company then merged with the Edinburgh & Dundee Steam Packet Company in 1847 to become the Forth & Clyde Shipping Company (later changing the company name to the Leith, Hull & Hamburg in 1852). The company offered both passenger lines and cargo shipments across the UK and to specific areas of Europe. In 1865 for example, transport was available to Copenhagen, Northern Germany, Russia and the Baltic Islands. Then, in 1919 more transport lines were made available to Portugal and the Mediterranean when another company was acquired after the First World War.

According to the official ship logs, between 1834 and 1957 the Leith, Hull & Hamburg Steam Packet Company owned in total one hundred and thirty-four fleet ships for both passenger and cargo transport. Passenger lines were stopped in 1958 in favour of only UK and European cargo lines, which it is still doing today with a new combined company called The Currie Line.

White ceramic jug with 'The Leith, Hull and Hamburg Steam Packet Co.' transfer, which would have been used by passengers on their ships
White ceramic jug with 'The Leith, Hull and Hamburg Steam Packet Co.' transfer, which would have been used by passengers on their ships
Leith, Hull and Hamburg Steam Packet Company pennant
Leith, Hull and Hamburg Steam Packet Company pennant