Saturday, 15 July 2017

Alexandra Dock

On 16 July 1885, the Alexandra Dock was opened for traffic. It was constructed by the Hull, Barnsley, and West Riding Junction Railway (H&BR) using powers obtained by Act of Parliament in 1880. It was named after Princess Alexandra, wife of the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII). Sadly both were unable to attend the opening ceremony. James Abernethy had been appointed to design the Dock. It was constructed by the Hull firm of Oldham and Bohn, and A. C. Hurtiz was appointed Resident Engineer. Despite financial problems the Dock was built in the space of four and a half years. 

Fresh water from the Holderness Drain was used to fill the Dock. The hope being that this would reduce the need for expensive dredging operations. While this measure may have slowed the process of silting, this hope was dashed and the H&BR would acquire three dredgers for clearing the Dock. 

The formation of the H&BR was prompted by a shortage of dock and railway accommodation for handling imports and exports. Prior to the construction of Alexandra Dock, all the docks were in the hands of the Hull Dock Company, and all the railways connected with Hull were controlled by the North Eastern Railway (NER). These companies were viewed by many – whether fairly or not – as not being responsive enough to the needs of the City. The opening of this Dock, and its associated railway, broke both of these monopolies; it was thus a source of rejoicing to many.
Illustration of proposed Alexandra Dock, 1880.
When built it was the largest dock on the East Coast. This was no vain attempt to impress, but a response to a pressing need for larger dock accommodation at Hull; the late nineteenth century saw the widespread adoption of steam motive power at sea, and this had resulted in the advent of much larger ships.

Alexandra Dock was instrumental in the development of Hull as a coal port. The H&BR Railway was well connected to the developing coal fields of South Yorkshire, and the expansion of this industry called for additional distribution facilities. The coaling facilities established at Alexandra Dock facilitated this growth.

Illustration of Alexandra Dock.
The dock was very successful with its modern facilities. By the twentieth century shipping links had been established with Australia; Egypt; India; Cuba; the West Indies; Russia; and North, South, and Central America.

Not all was rosy for the H&BR however, for the company would find itself engaged in a ruinous price war with both the NER and the Hull Docks Company. This price war would lead to the amalgamation of the NER and the Hull Docks Company in 1893. It would not be until the end of the 1890s that an understanding was reached with the NER, and the two companies would collaborate towards the construction of King George Dock.

On 25 July 1899 a small extension of seven acres was opened. Despite its small size, it managed to increase the amount of quay space by thirty percent and added four additional coal hoists to the Dock. In 1911 dock accommodation was further increased by the addition of a pier, which was built to handle perishable goods, general goods, and passengers. The Pier included electric cranes, two additional coal hoists, and two transit warehouses were provided for storage.

Alexandra Dock became the property of the NER when the H&BR was merged with its rival in 1922, which brought all the Hull docks and railways under the control of a single company once again. The following year it became part of the London and North Eastern Railway, which remained in control of the Port of Hull until nationalisation in 1948.  On the 30 September 1982, the Port closed to commercial traffic. However, following demands for additional dock accommodation it was re-opened in 1991 with the rail connection having been removed. 

Alexandra Dock remains in use to this day and is operated by Associated British Ports. The last few years have seen the establishment of offshore wind turbine manufacturing facility as part of Green Port Hull.

Robert Astin, Project Archivist

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