Friday, 22 September 2017

Queen’s Dock: Hull’s First Dock

On 22 September 1778 the Manchester and Favourite sailed into Hull to mark the opening of the Port’s new Dock. This ceremony heralded the completion of the City’s first wet dock, and marked the beginning of a new era for Hull.

The establishment of the Dock was driven by two factors: increasing congestion of shipping in the Haven (the Old Harbour), and pressure from Customs and Exercise who were demanding the establishment of a legal quay to facilitate the levying of customs dues. Hull had a historic exemption from legislation stipulating that all goods, except fish, were to be landed on open wharfs with resident customs officers. As a result of this exemption, Hull had become notorious for smuggling by the eighteenth century.  There was much resistance in the City to any change to the status quo. However, the threat of the establishment of a legal quay elsewhere on the Humber motivated interested parties to act.

Coat of Arms of the Hull Dock Company
Power to construct the Dock was obtained in the Dock Act (1774), which created the Hull Dock Company. The Act empowered the Company to raise £80,000 in shares, and granted it the power to borrow an additional £20,000 should the need arise. £15,000 out of the Custom’s Revenue was allocated to the Company to facilitate the construction of the Dock, along with all the defences (walls, ditches etc.) west of the River Hull. The right to levy dues on shipping entering or leaving the Port of Hull from the end of 1774 provided the Company with additional funds.

The foundation stone was laid on 19 October 1775 by the Lord Mayor Joseph Outram. The 1774 Dock Act had stipulated that the Dock was to be constructed in seven years, a target that was easily met; the Dock was constructed in four years at the cost of £64,588.

At almost ten acres in size Hull’s new Dock was, for a time, the largest in Britain. Its large size meant its wharfs would become home to whalers and large foreign-going shipping, while most inland and coastal traffic continued to use the Haven. This situation would last until additional dock accommodation at Hull was provided.
Inscription from the Foundation Stone of Queen’s Dock
The construction of the Docks in four years was a notable achievement. However, it was not without its problems and a number of rebuilding works were required. Notably in 1814-15, when the lock-pit was rebuilt on a larger scale and the entrance basin was strengthened. Another hindrance in the operation of the Dock was that until 1829 the only means of entering the Dock was via the congested River Hull. This would prove a significant impediment to shipping until the opening of Junction Dock provided direct access from the Humber.

When opened the Dock was not given a formal name, and until 1809 it was simply known as ‘the Dock’. Following the opening of Humber Dock it became known as ‘the Old Dock’. It was not until 1855 that it was formerly renamed Queen’s Dock in honour of a visit to Hull by HM Queen Victoria the previous year. Queen’s Dock would eventually form a system of docks referred to as ‘the Town Docks’.

Queen’s Dock would remain in operation for over 150 years until its closure in 1930. The owners of the Dock – at this point the London and North Eastern Railway Company – had determined that the cost of maintaining and operating the Dock rendered it no longer viable. It was sold to Hull Corporation, and over the course of the next four years the Dock was filled in. Further details on this transformation can be found in our 2015 blog post. It was re-opened on 19 September 1935 to the public as Queen’s Garden, which remains open to this day.

Robert Astin, Project Archivist

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