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The Humber and Humber Bridge
Humber Bridge from the southeast

The Humber, sometimes called the River Humber, is a large tidal estuary slicing in from the North Sea and separating Lincolnshire to the south from Yorkshire to the north.

The Humber is formed from the confluence of two great rivers; the Yorkshire Ouse and the River Trent, which meet at Trent Falls, Faxfleet.

Below Trent Falls, the Humber is joined by other rivers and waterways: the Market Weighton Canal connects to the Humber on the north shore, the River Ancholme enters it on the south shore and the River Hull enters it form the north shore at Kingston upon Hull. The Humber meets the North Sea between Cleethorpes on the Lincolnshire side and the long, thin headland of Spurn Head to on the Yorkshire side.

The Humber Bridge crosses over the river between between Barton-upon-Humber on the south bank and Kingston upon Hull on the north, with a single central span of almost a mile; when built, it was the longest bridge in the world.

The Humber is a commercial river, with five large ports on its banks. The river is navigable for the largest of deep-sea vessels.

Name of the Humber

The origin of the river's name is uncertain. It is recorded in Old English as Humbre (dative).The Roman name was Abus fluvius.,[1] which suggests a British original which produced Abus in Latin and later Humber in English.

Another hypothesis is: since its name recurs in the name of the "Humber Brook" near "Humber Court" in Herefordshire or Worcestershire, the word humbr- may have been a word that meant "river", or something similar, in an aboriginal language that had been spoken in Britain before the Celtic tongues arrived; there are few examples if any of such pre-Celtic names, though the village of Tardebigge has been proposed as one. An element *ambri- 'channel, river' is reconstructible for proto-Celtic and the Ancient Celtic prefix *su- 'good' routinely developed into Welsh *hy-.

The Humber features regularly in Geoffrey of Monmouth's 12th-century fictional chronicle Historia Regum Britanniae. According to Geoffrey, the Humber was named after "Humber the Hun" who drowned there while trying to invade in the earliest days of Britain's settlement.


Ports on the Humber include:

Inland connections for smaller craft are extensive but currently only handle one quarter of the goods traffic handled in the River Thames.

Historical interest

The Humber is now an estuary; but studies of the seabed suggest that when the world sea level was lower during the Ice Ages, the Humber had a long freshwater course across the dry bed of the North Sea.

In the Anglo-Saxon period, the Humber was a major boundary, separating Northumbria from the southern kingdoms. The name Norþhymbre or Norþanhymbre means "the people north of the Humber", and their name survives in the remnant of the Northumbrian kingdom; the county of Northumberland. The Humber remains a boundary river, between the East Riding of Yorkshire to the north and Lincolnshire to the south.

On 23 August 1921, the British airship R38 crashed into the estuary near Hull, killing 44 of the 49 crew on board.[2]

Two fortifications were built in the mouth of the river in 1914, the Humber Forts.[3][4] A coastal battery at Easington, Fort Goodwin or Kilnsea Battery, faced the Bull Sands Fort.[5]

Fort Paull is further downstream, a Napoleonic-era emplacement replaced in the early 20th century by Stallinborough Battery[6] opposite Sunk Island.


The Humber Bridge

The Humber's only modern crossing is the Humber Bridge, which was once the longest single span suspension bridge in the world. Now it is the fifth-longest. Its central span is 4,625 feet (a little under a mile) and the whole bridge is 7,283 feet (1⅓ mile).

The building of a Humber bridge was ordered by Act of Parliament in 1959. Work began in 1972, and the bridge was opened by Her Majesty The Queen on 17 July 1981.


Before the bridge was built, a series of paddle steamers operated from the Corporation Pier railway station[7] at the Victoria Pier in Hull to the railway pier in New Holland. Steam ferries started in 1841, and in 1848 were purchased by the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway. They, and their successors, ran the ferry until the bridge opened in 1981.[7] Although the railway to New Holland closed in 1977, passenger and car traffic continued to use the pier until the end of ferry operations.[8]

The line of the bridge rather mimics an ancient ferry route, from Hessle to Barton upon Humber, which is mentioned in the Domesday Book and in a charter of 1281, and which was recorded as still running into the railway era in 1856.[9][10]

Crossing on foot

Graham Boanas, a Hull man, is believed to be the first man to succeed in wading across the Humber since ancient Roman times. The feat, in August 2005, was attempted to raise cash and awareness for the medical research charity, DebRA. He started his trek on the north bank at Boothferry; four hours later, he emerged on the South bank at Whitton. He is 6 feet 9 inches tall and took advantage of a very low tide.[11] He replicated this achievement on the television programme Top Gear (Series 10 Episode 6) when he raced James May, who drove an Alfa Romeo 159 around the inland part of the estuary without using the Humber Bridge.

Navigable tributaries and connections

Outside links

The Humber and bridge in fog
("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Humber)
  • The Humber Bridge
  • [1] Private web site about the Steam era ferries
  • [2] Associated British Ports, Humber group. Includes daily details of major shipping movements
  • [3] Extensive private web site about history of river trading in Humber and tributaries.


  1. Ptolomey's Geographia
  2. "National Monument record for Airship Monument in Hull. Entry includes considerable details about the ship, flight, and crash". 
  3. "National Monument record for Bull Sand Fort". 
  4. "National Monument record for Haile Sands Fort". 
  5. "National Monument record for Fort Goodwin". 
  6. "National Monument Record for Stallinborough Battery". 
  7. 7.0 7.1 "national Monument record for the Hull ferry terminal". 
  8. "National Monument record for New Holland station". 
  9. "National Monument record for Barton Ferry". 
  10. Lewis, Samuel, ed (1848). A Topographical Dictionary of England. London: Samuel Lewis & Co.. pp. 164–168 'Barton, St Michael - Basing'. "The ancient ferry to Hessle, across the Humber, which is here about a mile broad, is appurtenant to the manor, which is vested in the crown..."  (entry for Barton-upon-Humber)
  11. "Humber crossing after 1,000 years". BBC News Online. BBC. 22 August 2005. Retrieved 28 July 2008. 
  • D'Orley, Alun (1968). The Humber Ferries. Knaresborough: Nidd Valley Narrow Gauge Railways. 
  • Storey, Arthur (December 1971). Hull Trinity House: Pilotage and Navigational Aids of the River Humber, 1512-1908. Ridings Publishing Co. ISBN 978-0901934031.