Ships and Shipping in Hull's Past

Hull owes its very being to its proximity to water. During the late 12th century when the monks of Meaux needed a port to export wool from their estates they chose a spot at the junction of the rivers Hull and Humber to build a quay and named it Wyke on Hull.

In the late 13th century when Edward I looked for a port in the north east of England through which he could supply his battling troops in Scotland he acquired Hull which then became known as Kingston (King’s Town) upon the Hull. The king set about enlarging Hull and built an exchange where merchants could buy and sell goods.

The main export from Hull was wool, along with some salt, grain and hides whilst the chief import into Hull was wine together with wood, iron, furs, wax, seeds for oils and pitch. By the early 17th century there was a ship building industry in Hull and by the end of the century trade in goods was booming. This caused problems as River Hull was unable to cope with the volume of traffic and there were problems with it silting up. This eventually resulted in the development of new docks in the 18th century. This saw Hull prosper through the export of goods from the manufacturing towns of Yorkshire.

In addition, fishermen and whalers had been operating out of Hull from the 16th century, see separate Source Guide: Fishing and Associated Records, and when the port became congested a dock was built in 1778 where ships could load and unload their cargoes. See separate Source Guide: Hull’s Docks

Should you wish to view any of the records held at the History Centre please check the Visit Us section of our website. One of the first places to start any research is to consult the History Centre online catalogue. In addition, at the centre are a number of card catalogue and card indexes which can supplement any search, but cannot be accessed remotely.

Hull’s shipping registers
Recording details of vessels and their ownership from 1804-1994 these registers give tonnage, dimensions, place and date of construction, rig, number of decks and masts. The registers cast light on the transition from sail to steam and indicate how and when ships were converted for use during the two World Wars.

As they also record the owners of vessels and often give occupation and places of residence, they could also be studied to indicate the occupational and social profile of the town's ship-owners and patterns of investment in shipping. Some vessels had a large number of owners and shares changed hands frequently and therefore identifying owners at a particular time can sometimes involve tracing vessels through subsequent re-registrations. Vessels owned by joint stock companies simply have the company name, not those of individual shareholders. The shipping registers of ships registered in the port of Hull can be found at C DPC/1 and cover 1804-1994. The registers have been indexed by ship’s name up to the 1940. This work is ongoing. All of the registers are only available to view on microfilm.

Shipping companies
The records of shipping companies and associated companies operating within Hull can also throw light on the history of shipping and ships within their fleets. The following can be found within our collections:

C DBHB Records of Hellyer Brothers, trawler owners. 1937-1970
C DBTH Records of Thomas Hamling & Co. trawler owners. 1894-1982
C DBEL Earle's, Cement manufacturers, ship owners, merchants. 1811- 1954
U DEA Records of Earle's Shipbuilding and Engineering Co Ltd (and its predecessor C & W Earle) 1858-1908
C DBA Records of Associated Humber Lines, ship owners. 1946-1971
U DEW Records of the Wilson Ellerman Line, ship owners. 1825-1972
Photographs of ships built for the Wilson Line, information on local companies and yard lists for Earle’s shipbuilders can be found in the library area and accessed through the index cards.

The records relating to Hull’s docks, including The Hull Dock Company, which was formed in 1774. Created by the Hull Dock Act it was the first statutory Dock Company in Britain. C DPD/8 are commercial records and include registers of ships entering Alexandra Dock, 1885-1910 and 1924-1982 and St. Andrews Dock, 1946-1975.
C DMX 29 contains a Humber Conservancy Board accident report book. This is a notebook recording vessels docked in Hull Dock Company graving dock and the Hull & Barnsley Railway Dock. 1885-89 and 1924-36 plus 1942
C DBH The records for Charles D. Holmes & Co, shipbuilders, marine engineers and boiler makers.
C DBD Drypool Engineering Co., shipbuilders. 1916 - 1972
U DHS Timber firm, Horsley Smith & Co. who were involved in acquiring timber for the ship building industry 1871-1968
The Health & Sanitary Committees were responsible for granting licences to Canal Boats (1887-1929). Their details, and also the results of any inspection can be found within the council minutes which are on open access in the library area. The Hull & Goole Port Sanitary Authority records are held at C WHG, 1873-1979 with some additional minutes, annual reports and schedules 1892-2001 at L.352.4

Maritime commerce
Hull’s Reference Library (details at end of leaflet) holds the Lloyds Register of Shipping, an annual list of vessels, giving details current at the time of publication. Until 1890, the Register was limited to British registered vessels, with the exception of some foreign vessels which regularly traded with the UK. For a short time (1834-1837) all British vessels of 50 tons and over were included. This practice became the norm in 1875 when all vessels which had not been surveyed and classed at Lloyd's were included. Since 1890 all British and foreign sea-going merchant vessels over 100 tons have been added.

The Hull History Centre holds a Whaling Collection, references L(WHA) and DMWH, which includes whaling ship log books c.1810-1852, accessible on microfilm. These include copies of log books held at Trinity House, Hull and within the Hull Maritime Museum collection.

Water Bailiff’s Records – C WB
The Water Bailiffs were officers appointed by the Corporation to collect various dues on shipping owed to it as the owner of the port. The dues were levied on ships using the port and on certain goods imported to and exported from it. The accounts throw light on the trade and shipping of Hull for a period of three centuries but are most valuable for the two periods, 1770-1820 and 1840-1874 when they are nearly complete.

They include Accounts, 1592-1602, 1607-8, 1693-1874 (broken series); out port accounts for Gainsborough, Keadby, Selby and Goole for various dates, 1849-70; Bills of entry, 1851-1857 and 1862 (with one for 1850, and gaps in the years of 1852 and 1856); correspondence 19th century. The Bills of Entry, weekly bills published on Saturdays, are particularly interesting and include a list of ships arriving from foreign ports with quantities and ownerships of cargoes, and a list of ships outwards giving destination ports of ships leaving Hull.

The Bills of Entry
These weekly bills were published on Saturdays, and are particularly interesting. They include a list of ships leaving foreign ports with quantities and ownerships of cargoes, and a list of ships outwards giving destination ports of ships leaving Hull. There are some available within C WB (see above) but a more complete series of Bills of Entry are held within at L.387 (1835-1853, 1858-1898, 1933-1939 and 1959-1971). Both can be ordered to view in the searchroom.

The Humber Conservancy
contains records from the Humber Conservancy. This includes records such as the Pilotage and convoy records relating to the port of Grimsby 1914-1916 and Registration dues on craft of various types for Hull. U DX/226 are the Conservancy and Ministry of War Transport records, 1943-1968. U DCC includes the records involving the legal action between the Conservancy and the Constable family, 1869-1880, whilst other records for the Humber Conservancy can be found within U DEW, the Ellerman Wilson Line records, 1933-1974 and at U DTR, Hull Trinity House records, 1905-1906.

General sources
There are a number of other records within the Hull History Centre which will aid researchers looking for more general information on shipping:
C BRB/4 Bench Book 2, List of Ships coming through Hull 1577-1585. A transcription by Helen Good (2005), is available with the reference SRL/T/1-6.
C CQB/XXV Coroner’s inquests re deaths on ships in British waters 1840-99.
C DFX/18 An account of the voyage of The Tranby to the River Swan, Australia, with a list of its emigrants 1829
C DFX59/1-18 The papers of William Brittain, marine engineer 1892 – 1908.
C DMX collections contains a large number of records relating to Hull Docks, shipping and trade 1540-1942
C SRL/R/68 Dissertation by Daniel Marsden The Dangers of the dockside: Topography and mortality in the sailor town of Hull during the nineteenth century, accessible within the searchroom.

U DDFA/1/39/43 is a letter from William Boswell of Escrick, who discusses ship building in Paull 1811-1816

U DX/338 'The Shipping and Mercantile Gazette' (1870-1884) contains news, information and data including destinations and those homeward-bound.
Stanewell’s Calendar of Documents includes references to ships and shipping from an earlier period including C BRL/312 Ships used to protect the town (1643) and C BRS/48 list of ships belonging to the town & crew numbers (1577).

A number of books of interest can be found at the History Centre, including:
Lost Trawlers of Hull by Alec Gill lists Hull trawlers lost at sea (L.639.22)
The Blaydes, Shipbuilders of Hull, Frances Bibby (L.972.837)
Cook, Welton & Gemmell, Shipbuilders of Hull and Beverley, 1883-1963, Michael Thompson, Dave Newton, Richard Robinson & Tony Lofthouse. (L.623.8)

Records held elsewhere

Hull’s Maritime Museum
Hull Maritime Museum holds some material relating to fishing companies in Hull and an extensive range of ship models and art work. A fully searchable database is available at this includes information, but not necessarily an image of each item, from the Maritime Museum’s extensive art and photographic collections.

Hull Maritime Museum, Queen Victoria Square, HU1 3DX
Telephone: 01482 300 300
Email: Website:  

East Riding of Yorkshire Archives and Records Service
The East Riding Archives in Beverley holds a number of collections relating to local shipbuilding companies, including Cook Welton & Gemmell and Cochranes.

County Hall, Beverley, East Yorkshire HU17 9BA Telephone: 01482 392790 E-mail: Website:  

Last updated 5th Oct 2011