Monday, 26 June 2017

King George Dock, Hull Port

On 26th June 1914, King George Dock was officially opened to much fanfare by King George V and Queen Mary.

Invitation to Mr & Mrs G. H. Smith for the opening ceremony
The Dock was funded by two former rivals – the North Eastern and Hull and Barnsley Railway Companies – using powers obtained under the Hull Joint Dock Act (1899). It was built by S. Pearson and Sons over the course of eight years, and was the first dock in the UK which utilised electric motive power throughout. This included modern coaling appliances (capable of loading up to six vessels simultaneously), electric belts and hoists for handling grain, fifty-three electric cranes of between one and a half and ten tons capacity, and a floating crane capable of lifting eighty tons. 

In terms of storage the new Dock included six ferro-concrete warehouses, and 200 acres was set aside outdoors for the storage of durable goods such as timber. A grain silo of 40,000 tons capacity was under construction at the time of opening (completed in 1919), and a site had been set aside for the provision of cold storage.

Plan of the opening ceremony
The new Dock was large having a capacity of fifty-three acres and an entrance lock eighty-five feet wide and 750 feet long. The lock was positioned so as to reduce the risk to vessels entering from the Humber during a strong tide. It included two gravelling docks (or dry docks) for maintenance and repairs. When opened the King George Dock was the largest dock on the East Coast north of London, and could handle some of the largest vessels of the day.

Detail from illustration of the King George Dock showing the gravelling docks

Originally the Dock was dominated by coal exports. However, as these declined the northern quays were increasingly used for wool, meat, fruit, and vegetables. The southern quays were generally used for metals, ores, machinery, and timber.

The King George Dock operated successfully, largely in its original form for forty-five years. However, in 1959 expenditure of £4,750,000 was authorised by the British Transport Commission for an improvement programme. This would herald dramatic changes for the Dock: all the coaling facilities were removed, its quays were adapted for general and bulk shipping, six transit sheds were constructed, and the capacity of the grain silo was increased by fifty percent. Investment was also made in new cranes and grain handling equipment.

Illustration showing coaling appliances
The 1960s onwards would see the opening of a number of new ferry terminals. These terminals were established to accommodate increasing roll-on roll-off ferry traffic between the UK, Scandinavia, and the European mainland. This was facilitated by the opening of the Queen Elizabeth Dock Extension in 1969, which enabled the establishment of facilities for container traffic. An all-weather terminal was established over one of the gravelling docks in 1997, and a new biomass storage facility was opened in 2014.

The King George Dock, and its extension the Queen Elizabeth Dock, remains in use today and is operated by Associated British Ports.

Robert Astin, Project Archivist

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