Paul Gibson’s Hull and East Yorkshire History

The Origins of Hull’s Dry Docks

The ‘Dry Dock’

The Greeks repaired ships in much the same way that Hull ship repairers did centuries later. Vessels were beached or dragged ashore at low tide beyond the high water mark and surrounded with earth or sand to support them and enable works to be carried out. The natural progression from this method was to prepare an area with wooden runners, set on an incline, to ease the job of hauling the vessel in. Another method, where the tides allowed, was to simply beach the vessel at a high tide in Spring. The repairs would be carried out, and  the vessel left grounded until the next Spring. In situations where the ground allowed, a bed or ‘grave’ was dug, to receive the vessel at high tide, which was protected from the next tides by an artificial bank built at low tide, hence the first ‘graving’ docks. Later evolution of these ‘dry docks’ in tidal rivers, involved simple dug outs being made, usually lined with timbers with a brick or concrete floor. Gates or floating pontoons would then be used to exclude the tide. As the vessel entered at high tide the gates would be closed, the water emptying through a sluice leaving the vessel settled on blocks prepared especially. The practice of shoring the vessels with timbers horizontally to prevent them tippling over was adopted at this time, and some pumping out was necessary to prevent water rising during work. As ships increased in size, dry docks became more proficient, utilising solid masonry for their lining or bricks, usually in steps known as altars. These provided easier access and also provided firm bases at regular heights for shoring poles. Large scale pumping machinery was used to enable continuous operation, independent of the tides. The dry dock as we see it today is not far removed from the original design.

The Dry Dock in Hull 

The following is a breif examination of the evidence relating to the shipbuilding and dry dock industries in the High Street area of Hull. As the author is not aware of any other works of note on the dry docks, the opinions expressed are his own and do not have the benefit of any previous works to build upon or update. The dry dock formed from the original lockpit to the former Queens Dock which was filled in c.1932 has been omitted from the research as its origins are obvious and have no bearing on this study.

Hull, or originally Wyke, was formed principally on its import and export trade, which required ships of some description. Consequently, ships have been built in or around Hull since at least the end of the 12th century, and a shipwrights craft guild was formed in 1369.

By 1314 Hull was supplying military ships for expeditions to Scotland, a practice which carried on throughout the 14th and 15th Centuries, with Hull providing Henry V with many ships in 1414. Ships would be built on land initially and dragged to the waters edge at low tide, or on timbers which would enable the vessel to be dragged or pushed into the water independent of the tide. This method of launching by means of a slipway would almost certainly have been used in the area of Trippett (originally owned by the De La Pole family) just outside the North Gate, which was probably still mud or earth banks at this time. Recorded as a ‘dock’ as early as 1427, this area is shown in Gent's sketch of Hull in 1735 with ships shown ashore but not in docks. This site would later become the North Bridge Yard and dry dock, although still being described as ‘ways’ (slipways?) in a notice of 1787. Curiously Hollar’s plan of Hull c.1640 shows no shipyard in this area, even though reliable evidence proves it was there from at least 1427. One can only deduce it was made up of simple slipways, and not drawn.

The western side of High Street was only reclaimed from the river Hull after 1300, and the northern end of High Street did not have much in the way of buildings until after 1347. This would have left much room for similar slipways at this northern wall of the town; this area was also the site of the north ferry until the first north bridge was built in 1541 with the ferry taking defence from the town walls. Hollar’s plan of Hull of c.1640 shows what appear to be three separate ‘docks’ in this area, and we can speculate that these were being used as dry docks. Interestingly all three fall on almost exactly the same lines as merchants staithes built later, e.g. Blaydes Staithe, however what Hollar was showing may just have been the extended jetties of the merchants 'staithes'. The Blaydes had lived and worked in the area for many years by the time of Hollars plan. Evidence found during the excavations at Chapel Lane Staith in 1978 proved that vessels had been grounded whilst tied up to staithes on beds of stones and general infill, it was also the practice of some merchants to extend their land at the staithes by infilling and in some cases creating ‘more or less enclosed water between the staith and the land’ (R. Horrox). It seems plausible that the natural progression from this, as a shipbuilder owning a staith, is that you would use this process to form a dry dock. Indeed, as buildings are shown alongside these bays at the north end of High Street I would suggest this is the shipyard and dry docks of one of the early owners of that exclusive address, no.1 High Street. As the space between the majority of the staiths were eventually filled in, it seems likely that at least one was kept as a working dock, and may have formed the origins of the present Number 1 Dry Dock.

A later plan of Hull made for Gent's History of Hull in 1735, shows what could either be two small dry docks, or more likely the hulls of two ships, indicating that this area just beyond the old town walls was used for ship repair at that time. The ships are clearly aground in the crude plan, and this can be assumed to be a working area as the artist uses no other signs for docks or wharves of any kind. The Plan of Hull by Robert Thew in 1784 shows a shipyard marked at the ‘South End’ of the Old Town, and this ties in neatly with the trade directory listing of the same year of ‘Thomas Gleadah, shipbuilder’. The next available directory, that of 1791, also lists ‘Thomas Gleadah, shipbuilder, South End’. Probably using the methods described earlier, of building ships on land, Mr Gleadah or Gleadow as later directories correct, had two shipbuilding yards at the south end. There is an interesting record in Sheahan’s History of Hull written in 1864 where the suggestion is that the hull of an old ship, the ‘Holborn’ was used as a makeshift dry dock. By opening one end and floating smaller craft inside and then closing it up, a safe haven for workers was provided regardless of the tides. 

There is a spur of land shown on Thews plan, which by the time of the 1791 plan of Hull drawn by Mr Bower, has a dry dock marked to its west side. This seems to be the result of infilling, possibly around the hull of the Holborn and pre dating the later reclamation that would provide the new streets such as Queen Street and Nelson Street etc. at the South End. In 1843 work was begun on a new dry dock on this site that would provide the basis for the existing (just) Hull Central Dry Dock.

What follows is a breif chronology of each of the three docks on the west side of the River Hull, with relevant maps and plans where available. Plus a short chronology of shipbuilding in Hull in a historical context. There were other 'early' dry docks on the river, further north in The Groves, but these are for another project on another day. I originally compiled this study in Spring 1998, and a copy was sent to the Hull Maritime Museum for the keeper Mr Arthur Credland for his records.

Historical background

Hull or Wyke, has been trading since the late 12th Century and would therefore have needed to build its own ships, although to a considerable extent ships received their cargo by means of lighters and other small craft whilst lying in the Humber 'roads'. This suggests only very small ships were built up river, larger ships finding the harbour difficult to navigate (Hollar's plan of 1640 shows rowing boats in the river Humber).

1203In terms of taxation on exports Hull was the sixth largest port.
1290... by 1290 it was the third
1293Only 60 households in Hull (VCH)
'the prompt taking of three plots into the kings hands for the building of a new quay, later known as Kings staith on the south side of Kirk lane, was however, apparently not followed by any work of construction. The making of the quay was ordered as late as 1297. £10 was spent on the work that year and the plots were not returned to their owners ‑ the work presumably having been finished ‑ until 1302'. (VCH)
1300Lands being reclaimed in western High street
1314Hull supplies two ships for Scottish expeditions
1320Hull supplies a further ships
1325... to 1350, archaeological evidence of raised platforms to beach or bank ships at Chapel Lane Staithe
1334Hull supplies at least six ships for the wars with Scotland (VCH)
1347Bench book rentals show land immediately outside the north walls belonging to Wm De La Pole jnr with one tenement
1347'the buildings on the east side [High St] did not extend much beyond Scale Lane until after 1347' (Sheahan)
1359Hull supplies 16 ships to the king
1369Records of a shipwrights craft guild being formed
1414Hull supplies Henry V with ships
1427DOCK in 'trippett' leased to John Bedford
1527John Robynson, shipwright, pays rental for a tenement for a 'terme' in TRIPPETT
1541North ferry replaced by first north bridge
1567John Hodgkinson, mariner takes 21 year lease on land in Trippett for his DOCK at the east end of the road which ran otside the north walls of the town -more of a slipway.
1600Circa. 'Not surprisingly the increased demand for ships led to the establishment of shipbuilding yards, where vessels of a few score tons could be built' (VCH)
... 'establishing a yard was a simple matter of finding a plot convenient for launching into the river at high tide and with easy access by water for water and other bulky materials'. (A. Credland)
1607Jos Blaydes, shipwright has land outside the north gate adjoining the haven
1630Two other men have permission to build in the same area [making the three shown by Hollar?]
1700Shipbuilding was the most important industry in Hull in the 18th Century (VCH)
1760sDock operations were little understood in England. Hull's fist dock was evidence of this as its design and access left much to be desired
1766... 'of the 114 ship owners who can be traced between 1766 and 1800 ten were among other things SHIPBUILDERS'. (G Jackson)
... ship building and repairing was one of the oldest and most important local industries. For centuries ships had been built along the banks of the Hull and the Humber, taking full advantage of the cheap and plentiful supplies of hinterland oak and Baltic masts spars and sail cloth'. (G Jackson)
1790'... by the 1790's the enlarged south end had a shipyard and a dry dock' (VCH)

North Bridge Yard

(Dock Office Row, corner of Bridge Street)

1427 R. Horrox states: - 'The ship DOCK was in Trippett at the east end of the road which ran outside the north walls of the town. In 1427 it was leased to John Bedford for 100 years at 12 pounds per annum, by the middle of the next century it had dropped to 5 shillings...'
1527R Horrox selected rentals for Tryppett show Robert Robinson, shipwright, paying rent for a tenement for a terme ...
1567'John Hodgkinson, mariner, took a 21 year lease of land in Trippett for his dock which was more probably a slipway as it was so far to the north...' (Gillett & MacMahon)
1607Joseph Blaydes, shipwright has '40 yards of ground in a similar situation measured from the mud wall outside the North Gate and not coming any nearer than 5 feet to the causeway leading to the bridge'. (G&M)
1693'Hugh Blaydes was practising before 1693 when he was granted a lease of the corporations land outside the North Gate'. (G J)
1735Gent's sketch of Hull shows a shipyard beyond the North Gate, the ships in the yard are shown not in dock but aground as if on slipways.
1749Blaydes shipyard sold.
1772Hadley's survey of the staithes lists Mr Blaydes yard immediately south of the road to the bridge (140 feet from the water to the street, 183 feet wide at the street front and 250 feet and 5 inches wide at the back next the river.)
1775Sold to the Dock Company.
1778The Dock (Queens Dock) opened.
1784Wm Blaydes shipbuilder.
1787A notice to customers informs that 'Wm Gibson from Armin has taken the Shipyard and Ways lately occupied by Benjamin Blaydes.' 
1791Benjamin Blaydes, Trippett, Dock Bridge and Wm Gibson, Dock Bridge.
1791A.Bowers plan of Hull shows yards marked with Dry Docks north of the lockpit of The Dock.
1803Wm Gibson, shipbuilder, Trippett
1805A further notice to 'Merchants, owners, and masters of ships' informs that 'Wm Gibson has removed from the shipyard and dry dock which he lately occupied, adjoining the North Bridge to the large and commodious opposite the Dock Bason....' (June 28th)
1814Bunney & Fairbank, shipbuilders, 4 to 6 Dock Office Row
1842Wm Gibson, shipbuilder, Old Dock Bridge
1856Ordnance survey plan shows Dry Dock In detail.
1867T Humphrey & Son., shipbuilders, Bridge Street
1888Wm Sanderson, Dry Docks, Dock Office Row
1893Ordnance survey plan shows an extended Dry Dock with the loss of 5 buildings at the corner of Bridge Street and Dock Office Row.
1934Goads fire insurance plan shows the dock as we see it today.

Number 1 Dry Dock

(North End Shipyard, no.1 High St)

1640Hollar's plan of Hull shows three berths or docks in this position.
1772Hadley's survey of the staithes lists Mr Waltons yard directly after Mr Blaydes '100 feet wide at the street front and 96 feet wide next the river'. 
1784Thos Walton, shipbuilder
1784Robert Thew's plan of Hull shows shipyard in this area.
1790Nicholas Walton. (Sh)
1790Samuel Standidge purchases and leases in the area (Sh)
1791Nicholas Walton, shipbuilder, North End
1791Bower's plan of Hull shows shipyard but no dry dock.
1800Hall & Richardson (Sh)
1803Halls, Ellison & Richardson, shipbuilders, High Street
1814Halls, Ellison & Richardson, shipbuilders, 1 North End
1823Plan from Baines' directory shows a dry dock.
1856Ordnance survey plan shows dock in detail.
... 'at his death Standidge bequeathed to his grand daughter Mary Walton who was marrieed to another Walton. After her death it devolved to her eldest son 1864 who sold to Spencer & Gardham'. (SH)
NB: It is worth noting at this point that Sheahan states that 'number 1 High St stood where now is the entrance to Spencer & Gardhams shipyard', suggesting an earlier property existed - was this the lost half of the extant building?
1867Spencer & Gardham, shipbuilders, High Street
1888Bethel Scarr, shipbuilders, 1 High Street
1893Ordnance survey plan shows an enlarged dock with the loss of the north end of 'number 1 High Street' which becomes numbers 1 and 2. (See large scale 1856 0/S plan and note above

South End Graving Dock

Historian Sheahan states that the original dock in this vicinity had been formed out of the hull of an old ship called the HOMPTON ‘ first grounding it then opening wide its sides so as to admit vessels within it to be repaired...’.

1784Thews plan of this year shows a shipyard in this situation.
1784Thos Gleadah, shipbuilder
1791Thos Gleadah, shipbuilder, South End
1791Bowers plan shows shipyard in place with a Dry Dock marked. Between Thew’s and this, land had been reclaimed to the west of the dock, which had previously been shown simply as a spur of land or a jetty. This possibly was the start of the reclamation that saw the laying out of Queen Street, Nelson Street etc. in 1801-04. Sheahan records that when the new dock of 1843 was being built, the old landing stairs of the original ‘crescent moon shaped’ JETTY were discovered.
1790s...'by the late 1790's the enlarged south end had its own shipyard and a dry dock...’ (VCH)
1803Gleadow & Sons, shipbuilders, Humber Street
1814Robert Gleadow & Son, shipbuilders, 15 Humber Street
1818No dock is shown on Anderson's plan of Hull in that year
1823A small dry dock has been constructed by the time of Baines' plan
1843First stone of a new dock laid 28 March by the Lord Mayor. (Sh)
1844Dock finished at a cost of £10,000 at the time the largest graving dock in Hull (Sh)
1853Ordnance survey plan shows dock in detail.
1864T Humphrey one of the principal wooden shipbuilders in Hull at the time rents South end yard from the corporation (Sh)
1881Notice of sale by Hull corporation shows a much altered dock to the 1856 0/S plan (land to be sold shown as being occupied by Mr Humphrey)
1883Dock enlarged and stairs as above re-discovered (CJK)
1888Hull Central Dry Dock & Engineering Works, 51 Humber Street, T Humphrey manager
1934Goads fire insurance plan shows a further enlargment of the dock and it appears much as we see it today.

As I update this text for the web site in 2009 many of the sites discussed here are under a veiled threat of redevelopment as they fall within an ongoing plan of 'regeneration' that stretches along what is called 'the River Hull Corridor'. Hopefully sense will prevail, and this essential part of our maritime and social history will be given precedent, and be included within the planners dreams; so far so good.

©  Paul Gibson, 

Hull Spring 1998, revised for the web June 2009



RENTALS OF HULL BENCH BOOK 2. ff.39.58 (1347) Unpublished transcript. L.M.Stanewell 1930s



HULL IN THE 18th CENTURY Gordon Jackson 1972


A HISTORY OF HULL E Gillet & K MaeMahon 1980


A NEW PICTURE OF GEORGIAN HULL Ivan & Elizabeth Hall 1978

HIGH STREET CHRONOLOGY Unpublished text C J Ketchell 1998






Maps and Plans etc.

AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH 2008, Courtesy of Goole Earth


HULL AND THE SURROUNDING AREAS c.1725, From the collection of George III in the British Museum


PLAN OF HULL c.1784, Robert Thew


PLAN OF HULL c.1823, from Baines directory of 1823

ORDNANCE SURVEY PLANS OF HULL, 185316 Large scale 1856 & First edition large scale 1893



HESSLE HAVEN & THE HUMBER FERRY 1829, Oil painting on canvas J W Carmichael (Ferens Art Gallery)

REPAIRING S S MARTELLO HULL (PB 102), Real photographic postcard by Wm Parrish or Robert Berry c.1903 (Postally used 1904) Authors own collection

SHIPYARD & WAYS FOR SALE ..., Notice of sale William Gibson 18.10.1787 Hull Local Studies Library

TO MERCHANTS, OWNERS, & MASTERS OF SHIPS ..., Notice of sale William Gibson 28.6.1805 Hull Local Studies Library

1870 PHOTOGRAPH courtesy of Chris Ketchell via Yorkshire History website

2008 aerial view courtesy Google Earth

Archived by
the British Library