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Nick explores a 1926 collection of photographs taken at Hull Docks, a facility with close links to the railway industry.

This is another set of photographs from the Humphrey Household collection in the National Railway Museum’s archives. Household’s special interest in minor, narrow-gauge and industrial railways led him to go beyond the conventional subjects of railway photography, and a series of about 30 images taken around Hull Docks in October 1926 shows how he liked to document installations and activities apart from those directly connected with the railways.

They were taken a few months after the General Strike of May 1926—which had a major impact on the British coal industry—and illustrate the importance of the port of Hull for the traffic of goods to and from the industrial areas of northern England and beyond.

Background

The development of Hull Docks in the late 19th and early 20th centuries owed much to the business interests of the railway companies, responding to the rapidly growing need for transport links to the port of Hull from the coalfields and industrial towns of Yorkshire and Lancashire.

The North Eastern Railway held a monopoly on rail transport to Hull until the 1870s, when—with the backing of Hull Corporation and the city’s business community—the Hull & Barnsley Railway was authorised to build a new line from the West Riding and the new Alexandra Dock, which opened in 1885 and ended the Hull Dock Company’s monopoly on dock facilities.

The two railway companies remained fierce rivals until in 1899 an agreement between them led to the construction of King George Dock to the east of Alexandra Dock. The Hull & Barnsley Railway merged with the North Eastern Railway at the 1923 grouping which created the London and North Eastern Railway.

This map shows the systems of the Hull & Barnsley Railway and the North Eastern Railway in 1914.

A map of the Railway Clearing House
Railway Clearing House [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
My choice of Humphrey Household’s photographs mainly illustrate the infrastructure of the port of Hull in the 1920s. Two of them also show some of the dockers at work, and the final one the arrival of a distinguished visitor and his entourage.

Alexandra Dock was at the eastern end of the port area when built in 1885. It facilitated the export of coal from the collieries of South Yorkshire, as well as receiving timber pit props imported from Scandinavia. An extension to the dock was added in 1899.

Hydraulic cranes unloading pit-props
Hydraulic cranes unloading pit-props from SS Steelville (built 1915, South Shields) in Alexandra Dock on 5 October 1926. The cargo is being transferred to wagons (still marked ‘H&BR’) on the quayside. Humphrey Household collection, glass plate negative (1996-7886_477 DS161130)
Imported coal being unloaded
Imported coal being unloaded from SS Ellensborg in Alexandra Dock on 5 October 1926. A full wicker basket is being hoisted up from the ship’s hold. Humphrey Household collection, glass plate negative (1996-7886_478 DS161131)

King George Dock was built to the east of Alexandra Dock as a joint development between the Hull & Barnsley Railway and the North Eastern Railway, and opened in 1914. It was the first fully electrically operated dock in the UK.

A coal hoist in King George Dock
A coal hoist in King George Dock, seen from a high-level siding on 17 October 1926. Coal for export was transferred to the hoist from wagons which returned to ground level via the gravity tracks shown in the picture. Humphrey Household collection, glass plate negative (1996-7886_468 DS161149)
A coal conveyor at King George Dock
A coal conveyor (number 2) at King George Dock, and a dredger moored near the tower. Taken on 16 October 1926. Humphrey Household collection, film negative (1996-7886_471 DS170165)

Albert Dock, originally Western Dock, was opened in 1869. Riverside Quay was built alongside it in 1907-11 as a deep water quay beside the River Humber for perishable goods requiring rapid handling. It also served as a railway terminus for passenger traffic to and from the continent.

A view of the docks on 23 October 1926
A view of the docks on 23 October 1926 from the bridge of Ellerman Lines vessel SS Primo moored in Albert Dock, looking east towards the cranes used to handle cargoes of coal. The roofs on the right of the picture belong to the Riverside Quay passenger station beside the Humber estuary. Humphrey Household collection, glass plate negative (1996-7886_487 DS161138)
A 10-ton travelling steam crane on the quayside
A 10-ton travelling steam crane on the quayside in Albert Dock on 23 October 1926. An unidentified steam locomotive is visible in the background. Humphrey Household collection, film negative (1996-7886_486 DS170169)

Victoria Pier, originally Corporation Pier (built in 1810), is to the east of Riverside Quay at the mouth of the River Hull. It was the terminus of passenger ferries across the Humber estuary.

The ferry steamer to New Holland in North Lincolnshire
The ferry steamer to New Holland in North Lincolnshire, at Victoria Pier to the east of Riverside Quay on 23 October 1926. The ferry service was originally operated by the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway. Humphrey Household collection, glass plate negative (1996-7886_490 DS161141)

Back to King George Dock for the last two photos. The first illustrates the importance of Hull for the import of fruit, especially bananas, from the Caribbean.

Crowds of dockers at King George Dock
Crowds of dockers at King George Dock on 14 October 1926, unloading large bunches of bananas by hand from SS Zent, one of Elders & Fyffe Limited’s ‘banana boats’ which imported fruit from the West Indies. The bananas were transferred to special wagons for onward transport by rail. Humphrey Household collection, glass plate negative (1996-7886_467 DS161148)

The final image in this series records a royal visit to King George Dock on 13 October 1926. The Prince of Wales (later to become King Edward VIII) is seen in the rear seat of the lead car in the procession as it arrives at the dock, which his father King George V had opened in 1914.

The Prince of Wales arriving for a visit to King George Dock
The Prince of Wales arriving for a visit to King George Dock on 13 October 1926. The lead car displays the prince’s fleur-de-lys insignia and the prince can be seen (partially hidden) in the rear passenger seat raising his hat to spectators. A group of boy scouts are lined up to greet the royal party. Humphrey Household collection, glass plate negative (1996-7886_473 DS161152)

In researching this post beyond Humphrey Household’s brief notes about his photographs, I have found this recent book an excellent source of background information. Written by a former director of the Port of Hull, it is very detailed and well illustrated, and available for reference on the open shelves of the Search Engine at the National Railway Museum.

Mike G Fell:  An illustrated history of the port of Hull and its railways, Irwell Press 2018. (ISBN 978-1-911262-14-5)

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