The Railway Comes to Hessle

A Brief History of the Coming of the Railway to Hessle


Keith Hare

In 1824 a plan was made by various magnates of the East and West Ridings to build part of the projected railway aimed at linking the Atlantic and the North Sea via the Mersey and the Humber. Five years later the Leeds and Selby Railway Company was formed with our own local gentlemen Henry Broadley and Robert Robinson Pease as directors. Had the 1824 plan succeeded, Hessle would have been part of an outstanding piece of railway history, an east–west link so early in the scheme of things. At the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in September 1825, toast no. 20 out of 24 was ‘success to the Leeds and Hull Railway’, which shows keen support for the cross-country project. Unfortunately part of the scheme was rejected and it took 15 more years to reach completion. By 1826 the line had reached Goole, from where its eastward extension was hotly opposed by several strong lobby groups consisting of certain East Riding landowners, Sabbatarians and steam packet owners, and these were supported by Hull Corporation – which was a significant investor in the Hull–Goole steam packet trade – claiming that Hull was sufficiently well connected to the hinterland via Goole.

In 1830 a change of heart came over the commercial brethren of Hull when they realized that Goole – a relatively new town – was increasing in power and prosperity through its rail links to the rest of the country. A steamer took four hours to travel between Hull and Goole. New experience indicated that the time by rail would be much less. By 1832 the change of heart was complete when the Hull and Selby Railway Company was formed. It received the Royal Assent on 21 January 1836, under William IV (1830–37). Its total working capital was £533,333. Among the chief investors were Trinity House (£2,500), the big landowners Bethels of Rise (£1,500), and an individual from Beverley (£5,000) (this was probably a Wharton – one of the wealthiest families in the East Riding). Among the directors were Joseph Robinson Pease (of Pease Old Bank, which was up to a year or two ago Barclays Bank at the corner of Silver Street and TrinityHouse Lane) and William Spyvee Cooper.

The original station building at Hessle, built on the south (up) side of the line.

Over the door is a name plate for George Hoyle, Station Master for over 40 years.

This building was demolished when the line was quadrupled in the early twentieth century. A new house for the Station Master was built on Southfield with a footpath leading down to the station.

By this time in railway history all significant towns, and many minor ones, were connected by rail, and men like these could see the possibilities in linking Hull with Birmingham, London, Leeds, Derby and Scotland, while George Hudson, the ‘Railway King’ of York, saw the possibility of linking Hull with his York and North Midland Railway at Sherburn-in-Elmet. His vision extended to 102 miles of railway in the north-east at £2.5 million.

So the resolution to build was now taken, £533,333 in capital was secured, and the next requirement was a plan.

In the Kingston-upon-Hull City Archive there are two documents relating to this. One is a leather-bound book a little smaller than A4 in size and about 2 inches thick [not very good scholarship here – I should have made more comprehensive notes] and the other is a plan on paper 14 inches wide and 8 feet long.

To take the book first, it is the record of every piece of land involved in the planning of the line. There were 700 of these and each is recorded according to ownership, present use and size (in acres, rods and perches). The list is arranged by township starting with the most westerly, Barlby, and ending in the east with Hessle. Most of these exist today, populating the map between Hull and Selby, Brackenholme, Brind and Bellasize being less well known today than Wressle and Ellerker. There were to be 38 road crossings, seven of which were of occupation roads, which are roads established at the time of the Enclosures to provide access to newly created plots, thereby avoiding the question of rights of way. More than 15 ditches had to be bridged but the main bridges were over the Ouse, the Derwent, the Market Weighton Canal and Hessle Harbour. Three road bridges had to be built in Hessle – Cliff Bridge taking Woodfield Lane over the line, Station Bridge carrying Pit Lane (Station Road today), and Waterside Bridge for Ferry Road.

Along the bottom of the chart the contours are shown. Not until the surveyors get to work do you discover just how undulating the seemingly flat land really is. Levelling and filling was needed in numerous places to achieve an acceptable track bed.

The only major engineering job was at Hessle Cliff, where a cutting 38 feet deep had to be made, entailing the removal of 230,000 tons of chalk. This was used to build an embankment three-quarters of a mile long on the Foreshore at St Andrews and to build up the bank near Hesslewood Hall.

Hessle Cutting to the west of the station.

On the plan there are no stations shown, although the brochure issued for the opening of the line states that trains will call at seven different stations. Further research might reveal a plan showing these stations.

In the township of Hessle, 92 plots of land were affected, and near the main quarry two houses on the north side and three on the south side of the line were demolished, all of which was legal under the Act of 1836.

After four years’ work, the 30.75-mile double-track line between Selby and Hull was complete, at a cost of £340,000, which is over £10,00 per mile.

Although the line missed a chance of being unique in any significant way, it was unique in a minor way in having the longest stretch of flat, straight line – 18 miles – in the UK.

Four years might seem a long time to cover such easy territory, but records show that progress was held up significantly by bad weather during the winter of 1839–40.

So we come to the opening. On the cover of his monograph The Beginnings of the East Yorkshire Railways, K. A. Macmahon [sic] shows a reproduction of the original advertisement for the opening of the line, showing that it had alternative titles – the Hull and Selby or Hull and Leeds Junction Railway. The date was 2 July 1840 and the line was to open for passengers and parcels only (which is another respect in which the line was unique). All other railways had, so far, been built expressly for goods, mainly minerals, that is, coal, iron ore and stone. No other railway began with this exclusive character. There was no riding in the coal wagons here. The boast was that you could travel from Hull to Leeds and York without a change of carriage. That this was for the better classes is shown in the table of fares. There were three classes, admittedly, but the price of first class was nearly double that of third class.

Fares were advertised thus:

A comparison of these prices with wages will show that even third class was not cheap.

The first timetable was relatively simple: departures from Hull were at 7 am and 10 am and at 3 pm and 7 pm.

In August that year, Sunday excursions were operated from Leeds to Hull. One of these trains had 40 carriages and 1,250 passengers, which was the largest number of passengers ever transported up to that time. The success of this venture was endorsed when in 1844 the longest-ever train arrived in Hull, with 82 carriages and 3,200 passengers. Between 1 and 8 August 1844, 18,500 excursionists arrived in Hull, at 3s per head. These trains all passed through Hessle, no doubt providing entertainment for the residents.

The official opening, on 1 July, with a grand civic ceremony and a parade through Hull centre, was ruined by heavy rain. [I have no mercy in providing negative reports on the English weather. K. H.]

Advertisement for the opening of the Hull and Selby Railway from the Hull Advertiser, June 18th 1840.

Success continued, and in 1841, 198,046 passengers were conveyed, with a significant increase the following year, with 227,461 travelling.

The company had 14 locomotives, two of which were freighters. At this stage in railway history, small companies like the Hull and Selby were not in a position to build their own, so these engines were bought, mostly from Shepherd and Todd Leeds ‘Railway Foundery’ near Holbeck. The pride of the fleet was ‘very beautiful with six wheels, with those in the centre being much larger than the others’. Its name was Exley after a certain Hull Customs officer [a very strange idea]. Much easier to understand is the name of another engine, Kingston. Others with obvious names were Andrew Marvell, Selby, Wellington and Collingwood. Steam locomotives have always been captivating objects. These were fast passenger engines and would have been painted in bright colours and maintained in their ‘Sunday best’. They are mentioned here because they would have become a source of interest to the people of Hessle, being a grand sight as they passed at unbelievable speeds through Hessle or slowed to a majestic halt at the new station.

Until the indefensible destruction of British Rail in the 1980s, when the entire network was given into the hands of numerous commercial and financial interests, the history of railways in the UK had been one of amalgamation. By 1850 a list of railways read like a football coupon and included nearly every town in the land, from big to small. Railways were originally named after the towns they connected, such as Hull and Selby, Leeds and Liverpool, starting with Stockton and Darlington, and so on. These railways had one big disadvantage. They were too small to make enough profit to produce the investment necessary for further expansion and development. Dividends were consequently low, resulting in disaffected shareholders, which led to the slightly more prosperous taking over their neighbours – and the Hull and Selby Railway was no exception.

Within six years the directors had to apply for a Bill enabling them to sell the Hull and Selby Railway Company ‘to the York and North Midland and Manchester and Leeds Railway Company or both of them and to authorize the raising of additional money by both or either of the last mentioned companies’.

By 1843 the Hull and Selby Railway directors had found they could not continue. £50 shares had fallen to £35 and the railway had to be worked in conjunction with the Manchester and Leeds Railway, and in 1845 the York and North Midland Railway Company took the lease.

So ended the Hull and Selby Railway Company. This was not unique in any way. The same pattern continued until 1922 when an Act of Parliament created four companies, to include, regionally, all the railways in Britain. These are known to our older members as the LMS, the GWR, the Southern and the LNER. They all came to grief in 1947 when, after the ravages of five years of war work, they could not continue without government support, and the Labour government nationalized them under the banner ‘British Rail’.

Since 1840 the railway has been a significant part of Hessle’s history, of which this little essay is only the beginning.

A good view of the station master’s house, signal box and down platform buildings can be seen in this photograph, taken facing east and the original Waterside Bridge carrying Ferry Road can be seen.

Sources: MacMahon, K. A., The Beginnings of the East Yorkshire Railways (East Yorkshire Local History Society, 1977); documents in Hull City Archive; an Autolican lifetime [see Shakespeare’s ‘A Winter’s Tale’].