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150 Years of the Port of Goole

A port is born

The Port of Goole has its origins in the 17th Century - although it would have been difficult to find anyone then who would have predicted its development. Indeed it would have been difficult to find anyone who had even heard of Goole.

The story of the port starts in effect in 1698 when a body of men from Leeds and Wakefield were authorised by an act of Parliament to make navigable the rivers Aire and Calder in the County of York. This group styled itself "The Undertakers of the Aire and Calder Navigation".

In the same century a Dutchman, Cornelius Vermuyden, was commissioned by the King to drain the area of Hatfield Chase a few miles west of Goole. His efforts were not entirely successful and to rectify matters he was compelled to make a cut to the Yorkshire Ouse, to form what is known as the Dutch River.

The development of the two Yorkshire rivers progressed steadily and in 1774 the Undertakers were granted further powers to link the River Aire to the River Ouse at Selby by a canal. Forty years later merchants were complaining that the Selby canal was inadequate and that an outlet nearer the sea was necessary from where bigger ships could trade.

The pressure mounted and in 1820 the Undertakers obtained powers to construct another canal from Knottingley to Goole, together with docks to accommodate ships.

At that time Goole consisted of only a few scattered dwellings and was virtually virgin land, but the project proceeded steadily and on the 20th July, 1826 the port of Goole was officially opened. The docks consisted of Ship Dock, Barge Dock and a harbour with two locks - Ship Lock and Barge Lock - giving access to the River Ouse.

The buildings on the dock estate included a large multi-storied warehouse with a covered water inlet where canal craft could load or discharge under cover, and a multi-storied warehouse of "special security" which became known as Bond Warehouse.

The early trade of the port was principally estuarial with a little coastwise traffic and it was quickly realised that foreign trade was both desirable and inevitable.

On the 6th April, 1828 with the support of the Commissioners of His Majesty's Customs, the brig "Stapler" cleared for Hamburg. A few weeks later Goole was appointed a port in the United Kingdom and by August the warehouse of "special security" was approved as a bonded warehouse.

The port prospered steadily if slowly. It was important for the Undertakers that it should generate traffic for the canal which was their main business and for which they received payment of canal tolls. This was not too difficult as the canal was at first virtually the only means of transport for both goods and people.

In 1838 the first extensions to the port, Ouse Dock and Ouse lock, were opened. The lock was 58 feet wide - this width, unusual for its day - being especially to accommodate paddle steamers. The lock was later lengthened to its present day length, and No. 1 dry dock was constructed at the north east of Ouse Dock.

Trade had been won from Selby and Thorne and the Undertakers of the Aire and Calder Navigation had provided a paddle driven tug, the "Britannia", to tow sailing ships between Goole and the Humber Estuary and vice versa. These ships consisted principally of brigs, schooner and sloops, Humber keels and those curious Yorkshire vessels, the Billy-boys.

Many of the estuarial craft unshipped their masts and sails at Goole and proceeded horse-drawn up the canal, often through to Leeds, there to exchange cargoes and return to Goole to refit for their voyage.

The iron way casts its shadow

The halcyon days were not to continue indefinitely. The "railway mania" had been spreading relentlessly and covetous eyes had for some time been cast on the new port of Goole. The Undertakers, mindful of the threat railways posed on their canal, apprehensively watched the iron way extend first to Selby and then to Hull. They refused to sell any land to the various railway proprietors but realised that they could not keep them away indefinitely.

In 1845 the Wakefield, Pontefract and Goole Railway proprietors finally obtained an Act empowering them to construct a railway to the River Ouse at Goole. Purely for self-protection the Undertaken of the Aire and Calder Navigation had opposed the Act, but having obtained protective clauses, they agreed to co-operate.

The line was opened in 1848 by which time the railway company, by amalgamation, had become the famous Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company. The Undertakers constructed a passenger station at the junction of Aire Street and St. John's Street, Goole and leased this to the L&Y together with other ancillary installations.

While the railway was under construction the Aire and Calder Navigation had also been busy constructing a new dock. This was Railway Dock which was opened a few weeks after the new railway. It was connected to Ship lock by a channel now called "a gutway".

Enter a pioneer of progress

In 1853 T. H. Bartholomew, the chief engineer for the Aire and Calder Navigation, died. He was succeeded by his son, W. H. Bartholomew. Incredibly, the young Bartholomew was then only twenty-two years of age! He was to have great influence and personal achievement in the development of the port of Goole and the Aire and Calder canal undertakings.

The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company in the 1850s had made an attempt, based on the new Railway Dock, to develop a trade in coal. This was not particularly successful but nevertheless the young Bartholomew realised the potential danger to the Aire and Calder Canal undertaking and the ultimate loss of canal revenue which would he entailed if the Railway Company did eventually develop and monopolise the trade.

His stroke of genius was the invention of the unique compartment boat system. Bartholomew simply adapted the rail principle of an engine pulling a series of standard sized railway wagons to its water counterpart of a tug towing a series of standard sized boats. To load the contents of his compartment boats into ships, he invented a special type of hoist able to lift a loaded compartment boat bodily out of the water and then to tip the contents down a chute. The first hoist was working in Ouse Dock by the late 1860s and the system was eventually to develop into one employing five hoists and over 1,000 compartment boats with a fleet of tugs, conveying coal from the Yorkshire coalfields for shipment into seagoing vessels at Goole docks. A compartment tug with its tow of boats became known as a "train". At first Bartholomew employed the push-tug concept but later changed to conventional towing. His system was a notable success for an engineer still only in his thirties.

The introduction of his system brought hydraulic power to the port of Goole, and lockgates, bridges and cranes were also harnessed to this source of power.

From small beginnings

By the mid-nineteenth century it was realised that if the port's trade was to develop, regular cargo liner services were required. The number of steamers using the port, although small by present day standards, was slowly increasing and attempts to establish regular sailings were made.

In the 1850s a man named William France became interested in the coastal trade, running small vessels to London with coal and bringing back mixed general cargo. Eventually he connected with the Australian and New Zealand wool trade, and as William France, Fenwick & Co. Ltd. developed a regular coastal service carrying coal to London and wool and general cargo back, the wool being destined for Bradford, principally via the canal system. This trade was to last for a century.

In the early 1870s a local man, John Bennett, established a trade to France. This, as the Bennett Steamship Co. Ltd., and its famous "Red Cross Line", also lasted a hundred years. In 1880 a man named T. Ward became interested in trade with Holland. His shipping service survives today as T. Ward & Co. (Goole) Ltd.

One of the most promising of the early services had been Cunliffe, Watson & Company, and although this failed in 1864, from its ashes rose the Goole Steam Shipping Company. At first a private venture, financed by local business men, it was acquired by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company in the early 1900s. The company retained its original name, and in its heyday owned twenty-five steamers operating regular weekly and twice weekly services between Goole and the continent.

These pioneers were followed by many smaller shipping companies with one, two or three ships, mainly founded by local men principally in the coal trade.

Coal had now become the major trade at Goole. Fed by Bartholomew's compartment boat system and by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, the original coastwise trade now began to feed markets on the continent and in the Baltic States and Goole's reputation as a coal port was established.

Sailing ships still had an important share of the port's trade and the Goole and Hull Steam Towing Co. Ltd., owning a fleet of steam tugs, was founded to tow these vessels along the Ouse and the Humber. The company also serviced the many keels and barges which traded the natural and artificial waterways of Yorkshire, and operated steam packets which traded to London carrying passengers and cargo.

In 1880, W. H. Bartholomew, in addition to his position with the Aire and Calder Navigation was appointed general manager of the Goole Steam Shipping Company. It is from this date that the rise of the GSS. really commenced.

Under Bartholomew's supervision, Aldam Dock was opened to shipping in 1882 and a second compartment boat hoist was erected in Ouse Dock.

In 1884, the Undertakers of the Aire and Calder Navigation secured powers under the Ouse (Lower) Improvement Act to alter the difficult course of the River Ouse and to construct training walls both to facilitate navigation and to straighten and deepen the navigable channel. A series of navigational lighting aids were erected and under Bartholomew's direction the entire scheme was an undoubted success. A jetty at Blacktoft provided safe mooring for the slower ships on passage to and from Goole. Prior to these developments the maximum size of ship able to visit the port had been restricted to about 500 tons. By the early 1900s colliers of over 2,000 tonnes capacity were regular traders.

During the 1880s Railway Dock had also been extended and the "New Extension Dock", now Stanhope Dock, was opened in 1891.

The period from 1890 to 1914 was one of great prosperity for the port of Goole. Larger ships were using the facilities and both the Aire and Calder Navigation and the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway constructed more coaling appliances. The supply of coal must have seemed inexhaustible. In addition sugar, grain, and dyewood or logwood were amongst the traffics handled. The Goole Steam Shipping Company increased its fleet and in 1904 the company was sold to the L. & N. Railway Company. Bartholomew relinquished his managership of Goole Steam Shipping and returned to his parent company, the Aire and Calder Navigation, where he was by now engineer and general manager.

His last important work was the construction of West Dock, Goole's biggest dock, opened in December 1911, for eight years later, after 66 years service, Bartholomew died. He had seen the trade of the port grow to some 3,000,000 tons in 1913, of which nearly 2,775,000 tons was coal. Over 1,500,000 tons of this had been carried and shipped from his unique compartment boats. His memorial today is not in the name of a dock or in some other connection with the port, but in the Bartholomew Hospital, the building of which he largely financed from his personal pocket.

Two World Wars - and Goole fights back

1914 brought World War I which in turn brought a period of recession for Goole. With continental markets made inaccessible, ships on war service, and the workforce decimated by the demand of the armed forces, trade fell away. By the end of the war it was estimated that trade had fallen by 80% - and the hard times were to continue for a few years more.

In 1919 strikes by railwaymen and miners, together with a ban on the export of coal, virtually paralysed port working. Post-war inflation and more national labour disputes all contributed to the depressed fortunes of Goole.

However, despite continued adverse conditions, trade slowly improved. In 1922 coal shipments were over two million tons. In 1923 trade exceeded 3,000,000 tons once more, with coal and coke shipments including bunkers totalling nearly 2,700,000 tons, and over 3,600 sea-going vessels visited the port.

Under the 1921 Railway Act, the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company had ceased to exist. Its interests at Goole, including the Goole Steam Shipping fleet of steamers, came under the control of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company.

It was about this time that the then new motorships began to be seen in the docks, although steamships were still plentiful up to the 1950s.

Just when it seemed that Goole was recovering from its setbacks, the troubles of the mid 1920s, culminating in the 1926 General Strike, hit the port and its fortunes were once again reversed. Ironically 1926 was the port's centenary year. Trade fell to below one and a half million tons and a sixth of this was imported coal and coke.

The late 1920s brought improvement and the Aire and Calder Navigation pressed on with plans for building Ocean Lock, and for further improvements in the River Ouse.

In 1930-32 the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company erected eight 3-ton travelling electric quay cranes at West Dock and also constructed the port's biggest transit shed, 500 feet in length. This is now Shed No.22.

In 1935 the Aire and Calder Navigation completed their improvement works in the Lower Ouse and in the same year the Goole Steam Shipping Company amalgamated with other Humber shipping services to become the Associated Humber Lines.

Ocean Lock was now under construction and was finally opened in 1938.

Having weathered the depression years, Goole was just beginning to enjoy improved trade when World War II broke out. Again trade vanished almost overnight and the river navigation lights were extinguished.

In 1941, only 328 sea-going vessels reached the port. Amongst them was the four masted barque "Archibald Russell" 2,048 net register tons. She remained in Goole until the end of the war, used as a storeship for grain.

Now in public ownership

With the welcome return of peace in 1945, Goole again had the task of building up its trade.

Under the post-war nationalisation legislation, Goole Docks passed to the control of the British Transport Commission on the 1st January, 1948. The new owners had much to do in the way of reorganisation, improvements and maintenance, the latter having been much neglected during the war years.

The canal interest was separated from the docks, and the former Aire and Calder Navigation and Railway Company interests in the docks were fused into one entity.

Lock gates and lock entrances were overhauled. A modern grab hopper dredger replaced the old bucket dredger. New quay cranes were added and in the middle 1950s a modern 50-ton electric travelling crane replaced an old 25-ton fixed hydraulic crane. A new modern jetty was built at Blacktoft and Victoria Pier was completely reconstructed. New transit sheds were built.

Trade gradually improved into the 1950s and in 1956 cargoes again exceeded the 3,000,000 tons mark. Coal and coke shipments still dominated the scene.

In the meantime there had been various high level administrative changes. The British Transport Commission eventually ceased to exist and in 1962, further legislation again changed the structure of the nationalised transport undertakings and from 1st January, 1963 the port of Goole came under the control of the new British Transport Docks Board.

A port for today and tomorrow

The port of Goole besides a past, and a present, has every indication of an assured future, ready as it is to adapt to the changing needs of the port transport industry.

The British Transport Docks Board, owner of the port since 1963, has pursued new and progressive policies, implemented by efficient management, aimed at promoting Goole, and indeed every port under its control as an efficient and viable entity.

The movement of goods by water continues to be a most economical means of transport, particularly for bulk cargoes, and the port of Goole situated some 50 miles inland from the North Sea offers additional reductions in time and costs by virtue of this uniquely advantageous geographical position.

There are many obvious attractions and advantages to be gained by using the port. Strategically placed on the doorstep of the industrial Midlands, it is connected to natural inland waterways, directly served by an efficient canal system and main line rail services, and linked by road via the M62 to the new network of motorways bisecting the country to the north, south, east and west, and providing transport access to a vast industrial hinterland.

To augment these natural advantages, the port has a reputation for good labour relations and offers regular and reliable services to many ports overseas.

Catering for changing needs

Since the British Transport Docks Board became the port authority in 1963 many factors have influenced the distribution of manufactured goods and raw materials. New markets in emergent countries, the increasing wealth of the oil producers, the general prosperity and industrial growth of Europe and Japan, to name a few, have affected traffic trends. During this time, too, many changes have taken place in the traditional methods used for handling goods to and from sea-going vessels. The introduction of mechanical aids, unitisation and more specialised traffics have led to rapid expansion in the use of roll-on/roll-off vessels and an increasing demand for containerised traffic, bringing in turn a need for special handling facilities. Goole is equipped to cater for these new demands - container facilities are available, roll-on/roll-off vessels use the port and every consideration is given where new enquiries are concerned which would provide additional traffic to the port.

The Board has made every effort to improve port facilities and to accommodate the changing patterns of trade which influence the port's prosperity and viability. Since the port became state owned, over £3 million pounds has been spent on improvements. £2 million of this has been invested since the Board became the authority in 1963, which can be taken as an indication of the Board's continuing confidence in the future of Goole.

Over the past 13 years a programme of modernisation has steadily progressed. Amongst the improvements made have been the closure of two obsolete lock entrances, the filling in of the Harbour Basin, the demolition of redundant coaling appliances, the overhaul of Ocean Lock gates, and the modernisation of the lock gate machinery. There has been re-cranage of West Dock, with modern 7½ tonnes level luffing portal cranes, a number of transit sheds have been modernised, and one new modern 2-storey transit shed erected. Two 32-tonne scotch derricks have been provided, one in Stanhope Dock and one in Ship Dock, two 6-tonne quayside cranes have been recently installed in Stanhope Dock, and nine mobile cranes of varying capacities have been added to the port's facilities over the years. Other works include the construction of two new quays in Ouse Dock, 275ft (83.8m) and 300ft (91.4m) in length respectively, a new quay of 340ft (103.6m) in Barge Dock and one of 275ft (83.8m) in South Dock. At rail operated berths there has been level quay surfacing, improvements have been made to dock roads, dock lighting and navigational facilities, and many other smaller but nevertheless important works have all been carried out. In all, quite an impressive list.

Difficulties are overcome

What temporary setbacks the port has experienced have occurred for reasons outside the Board's control. The years 1970, 1971 and 1972 were lean ones, and the port passed through a very difficult period.

Traditional traffics had for numerous reasons fallen away and in 1972 what had been for many years the major traffic of the port, the export of solid fuel, coal and coke, appeared to be in jeopardy. By 1973, however, the corner was turned. The solid fuel position became more stable and a number of new traffics emerged. General cargo handling increased as the conversion to container traffic was resisted by some operators when it was discovered that there remained a demand for conventional traffics. In addition, benefits have accrued from the bulk carriers which discharge in the deep water continental ports and tranship merchandise in smaller vessels to UK. ports such as Goole.

Entry into the Common Market has benefited the port, which is traditionally so largely dependent on short-sea traffics.

In the latter months of 1974, international trade was seriously affected by the oil crisis. The rapid escalation in the price of oil exposed the vulnerability of dependence on this commodity as an energy source, and highlighted the need for an alternative and more comprehensive fuel policy for the current emergency and the future. Coal was the obvious immediate solution and will continue to be until such time as North Sea oil is produced in sufficient quantities, or some other energy source is found. The revival in the use of solid fuel considerably boosted the port's tonnages, and it is anticipated that the export of coal and coke through the port will continue for many years to come.

The port's bulk loading appliances are capable of handling substantial cargoes of coal and coke and various other commodities. Some of the appliances are operated on a two shift basis covering a period from 6am. to midnight, ensuring quick turn-rounds. On spring tides vessels of more than 2,500 tons can be handled, the port record to date for export cargo being made when the mv. "Raknes" sailed from Goole for Mo-I-Rana in Norway on the 17th October, 1970 with 3,296 tonnes of coke on board.

Inward bulk cargo is also well provided for, and on the 24th October, 1972 the port's record for inward cargo was established when the mv. "Beeding" arrived with 3,093 tonnes of coal on board for discharge in West Dock.

In the interests or the port's future trade and prosperity it is essential that a diversity of traffic should be encouraged to provide stability and a broader base for continuing security.

Over the past few years imports and exports of general merchandise, excluding coal and coke, have been building up until for the year ended 31st December, 1975 imports reached the highest tonnage for 49 years and exports, excluding solid fuel, were the highest ever. In all about 1,800,000 tonnes of imports and exports passed through the port of Goole during the year, over 1 million tonnes of which was general merchandise. Included in the latter were substantial tonnages of steel, timber, grain and vehicles.

Trade at Goole is carried out with all the continental countries and many liner services operate from the port. While it is true that the short-sea traffics predominate, merchandise from or to destinations as far afield as the Americas, Iceland, South Africa, the Mediterranean and the Middle East passes through Goole highlighting the versatility of the port in spite of its relatively small size.

With the continuing support of everyone concerned with the progress of maritime trade in Goole it seems reasonably safe to predict that this most inland port on the east coast of Britain - this hub of Humberside - having survived and prospered over 150 years of domestic and national upheavals, slumps, general strikes, wars, political vagaries and other crises, can look forward with confidence to its bi-centenary and its third century.

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