Bridge farewell for Humber ferry boats

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Marvelling at the awe-inspiring Humber Bridge, connecting Yorkshire with Lincolnshire, now makes the previous ferry-boat crossings look extremely primitive.

Trips by boat may even stretch back to Roman times as the Romans’ Ermine Street, meandering from London and constructed between AD45 and AD75, came to a halt near the village of Wintringham. Between there and Petravia (Brough), some of the first Humber crossings were made. Thus, linking their road from London with Beverley and York.

Over the ensuing centuries crossing routes increased and included those from Barton and Barrow to Hessle. In 1316 the Warden and Burgesses of Hull were granted a charter by King Edward II to run a ferry between Hull and Barton, Lincolnshire. Pedestrians were carried at a halfpenny each, horses one penny and a cart with a pair of horses twopence. From the middle of the century it became known as the South Ferry.

Leases to operate the Barton ferry came from the Crown and by the 17th century it was regularly criticised. This was due to the lease continually changing hands; a rent rise causing fares to increase during 1656 (the first time since being established); and trouble continually brewing between the lessees and private boatmen.

In the late 18th century Hull Corporation made attempts to acquire the leases of ferries from Barton to Hull and Hessle. After successfully purchasing the lease of the Crown’s tenant at Barton for about £3,000 in 1796, both ferry leases were subsequently awarded on new terms around 1815.

Five years later, the Corporation issued a ban forbidding private vessels from carrying passengers or goods yet, a legal loophole, wrapped up in the grant of 1315, ultimately rendered the order useless. Thus competition continued and this included a ferry from Barrow established in 1792.

In the early 1820s a ferry service to Hull from a creek in an undeveloped area on the south bank of the Humber was started by Thomas Dent. The terminal consisted of no more than a house and a shed and Dent worked a small boat with the help of an assistant. But, this was considered to be nothing more than a front, behind which Dent smuggled goods – especially Holland’s gin.

Yet, by 1825 a company calling itself the New Holland Proprietors had established a crossing to Hull from New Holland (perhaps taking its name from the smuggled gin). Towards the end of the decade a daily service was being operated and in 1832 a paddle steam ship, the Magna Charter, was completing three round trips a day.

The coming of the railways underpinned the prominence of the Hull – New Holland concern when, in 1845 the Great Grimsby & Sheffield Junction Railway paid £10,000 for the Barrow and New Holland ferries, the jetty, and many of the other facilities. The rival Barton ferry survived until 1851 unable to cope with the increased competition from New Holland ferry which then grew into a major link between Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.

A plan to displace the ferry by a tunnel scheme appeared in 1872. It was promoted by Hull merchants and businesses dissatisfied with the service provided by the New Holland ferry but came to nothing. The same happened to an idea for a multi-span truss bridge, four miles west of Hull, between Hessle on the north side and Barton-upon-Humber on the south.

Approval for the construction of a spectacular suspension bridge was granted in 1959 with the passing of the Humber Bridge Act. The scheme was completed on June 24, 1981; the Queen performed the formal opening ceremony on July 17, 1981.

The ferry service between Hull and New Holland ended with the opening of the Humber Bridge. The last ferry to leave Victoria pier was operated by ‘Faringford.’