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Humber Ports

River Humber, United Kingdom


1778 onwards


240 years




United Kingdom
Project achievements

Economy boosted

The ports provide thousands of jobs for local people, supplying a wide range of imported raw materials throughout the UK

Solved the problem

Create an access point for goods transported by container ship from Europe

Used engineering skill

Build docks, locks and bridges

Build ports on the river Humber to handle cargo

The river Humber is on the east coast of northern England.

It forms part of the boundary between Yorkshire on the north bank and Lincolnshire on the south bank.

The Humber is wide enough to take the biggest ships.

The river has three main ports – the port of Hull, the port of Grimsby and the port of Immingham. There are smaller ports at New Holland and North Killinghome Haven.

Over 65m tons of freight pass through the Humber ports every year. They contribute £2.2bn to the UK economy. Cargos include steel, bulk solids and liquids, forest products and paper.

With facilities to land and sell fish, other imports include coal, oil and timber for the energy industry.

Although the area has been used to land cargo since Roman times, the first large-scale port was built at Hull in 1778 when the Hull Dock Company raised £100,000 (about £14m today) to construct the Old Dock, later known as Queen’s Dock.

The Old Dock was a wet dock. A wet dock has gates or locks which control water levels so that ships can stay afloat at low tide. This makes it easier to load or unload cargoes.

The Hull Dock Company went on to build the Humber Dock in 1809 and Junction Dock in 1829. The trio of ports marked the start for the region as one of the most important dock complexes in Europe.

The port of Grimsby was also founded in the late 18th century. Today it’s best known for handling much of the fish landed from the North Sea.

Construction of the port of Immingham started in 1906. It’s now a major handler for bulk cargoes of steel and coal.

Humber Ports

Local historian, Garry Crossland, talks to us from the Royal Dock in Grimsby which was constructed and opened in 1852. He takes us through the history of the Dock which has adapted throughout the decades to suit the different types of traffic coming through.

Did you know …

  1. The Humber’s only modern crossing is the Humber Bridge. It was the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world when it opened in 1981.

  2. Local resident Graham Boanas waded across the river for charity in August 2005. Boanas is 6ft 9in tall, and made the journey during a very low tide. The stunt took him four hours.

  3. Alice Maud Boyall became the first woman to swim the river in 1911. The 19-year-old took 50 minutes to make the crossing.

Difference the project has made

The ports of Humber handle over 65m tons of freight every year. They supply raw materials for many industries in the north of England.

The docks have been credited with landing so much fish that Britain’s fish and chip shops would run short of supplies without them.

Together, the ports support over 33,000 jobs – making them a major employer and key contributor to the local economy.

How the work was done

The Humber’s first dock – the Old Dock – was built in 1778. It was designed by engineers Henry Berry and John Grundy.

Engineers built a structure that was 1,703 feet long by 254 feet wide (519m by 77m). The lock was 200 feet long and 36.5 feet wide (61m by 11.1m).

Workers used local brick for the dock walls. Cement for the lock walls was made waterproof with pozzolana imported from Italy. Pozzolana is a kind of ash containing silicon dioxide. It reacts to water to form a material similar to cement.

Earth dug up during construction work was dumped on land to the north, raising the ground by 5ft (1.5m). The land was later sold to be built on.

Humber Dock was built in 1809. It was designed by engineers John Rennie and William Chapman.

As the Old Dock had seen problems with subsidence, Rennie and Chapman put their dock walls on angled foundations. They also made the walls more robust to help cope with any future movements in the soil.

Junction Dock was designed by engineer James Walker. The 645ft (197m) long structure had a lock and bridge at each end.

People who made it happen

Port of Hull - Old Dock - 1778

  • Client: the Hull Dock Company
  • Designers: Henry Berry, John Grundy

Port of Hull – Humber Dock (1809) and Junction Dock (1829)

  • Client: the Hull Dock Company
  • Designers: John Rennie, William Chapman, James Walker

More about this project