Your browser is unsupported and may have security vulnerabilities! Upgrade to a newer browser to experience this site in all it's glory.
Skip to main content

7th August 2020

Watching shipping on the river Humber has been a popular pastime for generations. The owners of ships often display flags and paint funnels in company colours. But which companies own them and what do they do?

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.

In this blog Nathan Honest looks at the giant United Towing company

Model of the twin screw motor tug 'Waterman', built 1930 by Cochrane and Sons Ltd, Hull. One of the small barge tugs of United Towing, built for work in the Humber, Trent and Ouse

United Towing Co. Ltd. operated tugs from Hull and other ports in the Humber. A tug is a type of vessel that manoeuvres other (typically much larger) vessels around crowded or dangerous environments, such as harbours or canals. United Towing was formed in 1921 from a merger of several other smaller companies, and the first ship to be assigned to them was named Muscovite. The offices of United Towing were on Nelson Street, Hull, opposite Corporation Pier and adjacent to the current marina.

United Towing has a colourful history, being involved in the construction of pipelines during World War II and also in protecting fishing trawlers during the Cod Wars of the 1970s. The powerful tugs acted as "buffer ships"; staying in between British trawlers and Icelandic patrol boats to prevent confrontation. Their tugs were also used to rescue ships that had been struck or badly damaged at sea or in harbour, such as the Colonel Templer, which was damaged by a fire in 1990. It was lifted by the United Towing salvage vessel Moorsman.

Salvage of Colonel Templer in Hull's William Wright Dock 1990. The ship was righted by United Towing salvage vessel Moorsman

In 1925, United Towing ships made an extremely long and dangerous journey, towing two ex-Royal Navy minesweepers to Buenos Aires in Argentina. In 1982, during the Falklands War, three United Towing vessels returned to the South Atlantic, to assist British troops in their retaking of the islands.

The Salvageman was the longest serving military ship in the Falklands and its captain, Alan Stockwell, witnessed the formal surrender of Argentine forces in South Georgia. The company collapsed in 1992, due to the severe downturn in traffic through the Humber estuary.

United Towing blue pennant, with a white star containing the letter "U"
Invoice from the United Towing Company Ltd, Nelson Street, Hull, to W A Massey & Sons, for tugging the SS Geddington Court in 1925, total £12 12/-