Tag: Hull

Short Sea Migration to the UK

As travel increased in the 19th century, British railway companies began to branch into cross-channel services. The 60 or so railway operating companies owned a huge fleet of some 1,250 ships, ranging from tugs and dredgers to cross-channel ferries and pleasure steamers. Many of the larger companies invested massively in the venture, placing a huge value on providing comfortable and dependable short sea crossings.

English: Victoria Station entrance Built in 18...
English: Victoria Station entrance Built in 1851 for the Manchester Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

British ports served as a gateway from continental Europe to Canada and the United States, thus, there was a great demand for the services that the railways offered. The railway companies met the demand by taking the shortest practicable sea route, and even constructing special harbours to connect the ship route to existing railways. Some railway companies even took ownership of strategic canals to facilitate this process.

Early in the game, the government had attempted to protect smaller existing enterprises by putting stringent restrictions in place to prevent railway companies from owning ships. Of course, the railways quickly found loopholes in the legislation by simply setting up lightly disguised subsidiary companies. The London and South Western Railway, for example, held a large interest in the South Western Steam Navigation Co, founded in 1842. The Brighton and Continental Steam Packet Co, founded in 1847, was held in large part by the London Brighton and South Coast Railway.

By 1863, however, the railways were collectively granted permission to run passenger steamers across the channel. From early on, the railways ran large operations of steamers from the ports of Goole, Grimsby and Hull in Humber. Most routes were focused primarily on cargo, meaning that there was typically room for no more than 12 passengers. The routes from Hull as well as the routes linking Grimsby with large European ports, on the other hand, ran steamers that could accommodate up to 450 passengers at a time.

The Great Central Railway (originally called the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway) became a very popular way for emigrants to journey from mainland Europe through the UK and on to their final destination in North America. The GCR ran ships to Grimsby on the East Coast from some of the most important ports in Northern Europe, including Hamburg and Antwerp, Riga and Libau. From the Grimsby port, GCR trains would take passengers to Manchester and then on to Liverpool, from which most ships sailed to the United States and Canada.

The White Hart, Alfred Gelder Street, Kingston...
The White Hart, Alfred Gelder Street, Kingston Upon Hull (Photo credit: D H Wright)

Since the Railway operated both the ships and the trains, they were able to offer combined tickets in a packet price. Emigrants from Hamburg, for example, could visit one ticket agent and buy their ticket for their short sea crossing and their train ride across the UK to Liverpool.

Quite a large number of emigrants chose this route on the GCR on their way to North America. In fact, the only comparable competition to this line was a similar package offered through the port in Hull, where emigrants – Scandinavians in particular – traveled via the Paragon Railway Station.

A huge number of Jewish immigrants came at this time from modern day Lithuania, and between 30,000 and 70,000 Russian and Polish emigrants also flowed through the Humber ports. The majority of these (as high as 63 percent) made their journey via the Grimsby steamers and trains of the Great Central Railway.

In all, Grimsby saw over 100,000 emigrants flow through its port and along its railway. When the exodus from Europe was at its pinnacle, as many as 5,000 emigrants a year flowed through the British borders, swelling the population of Grimsby from a mere 8,860 in 1851 to 40,000 by 1880.

Some of the immigrants did settle in Northern England – most of them concentrating along the travel route in Grimsby, Hull, Manchester, Leeds, and Liverpool. However, the majority of the European emigrants held tickets through to Canada or the United States and carried on with their journeys to North America after a brief period of weeks or months in England.

Single to Wisconsin, Please!

Kingston upon Hull sits quietly at the junction of the Rivers Hull and Humber. Due to its ideal location, the port has long enjoyed a successful and lively trade with most of Northern Europe. Shipping lines not only brought significant financial revenue to the town, but also added greatly to the culture and community as migrants made their way through the port.

English: "Farewell to home." Emigran...

Prior to 1836, however, migrants flowed in at a mere trickle. Those who passed through were primarily there for commercial reasons. Some migrant ships did pass through Hull on their way to Canada or the US, though these were infrequent and the numbers negligible. The few ships that did accommodate migrants were unpleasant and the journey was a tiresome ordeal. Accommodations were cramped and voyage timings were irregular.

All of this changed in the 1840s as steamship companies in Hull, Leith, Hamburg and Gothenburg began offering regular emigrant services via the UK. The steamships dramatically shortened the time it took to travel between mainland Europe and the UK ports, and thanks to contracts with the Royal Mail postal service, steamship companies were able to offer trips all throughout the year (rather than being limited to the previously established “immigrant season”).

The Wilson Line of Hull began running steamship services from Norway and Sweden as early as 1843. The North Europe Steam Navigation Company followed in 1853, running a strong fleet of nine steamers back and forth on the Christiania and Gothenburg route. By 1858, however, the Wilson Line practically monopolized the route from Scandinavia to Hull, and brought the majority of emigrant traffic.

From the port cities, the transmigrants were taken by train to Southampton, Liverpool, Glasgow, or London. In these larger cities, the migrants boarded large transatlantic liners for the final leg of their journey to the United States. Passengers could purchase a complete travel package that covered the entire trip including the steamship to Hull, the train ticket on the Transpennine Railway Line to Liverpool, and the final ocean liner ticket that would take them to their final destination.

This brought on a boom of transmigration as folks travelled en masse from Sweden and other Northern European countries. Of course, the city of Hull was not initially prepared for such an enormous number of emigrants, thus emigrant houses and railway stations quickly became overcrowded and a serious health risk. After a cholera outbreak in 1866, the city put major preventative measures in place. Travellers were no longer allowed to roam the city on foot, but were required to remain on board the steamers until their trains were ready to depart.

In 1871, the Northeastern Railway Company built a waiting room near Paragon Railway station so that the emigrants could relax, meet ticket agents, use the washrooms and facilities and be sheltered from the wind and weather. Eventually, the majority of the emigrants were passing through the Paragon Railway Station. Though the travellers were only there for a short time, their numbers were so great that in 1881, the station doubled the size of its waiting room. Women and children were able to wait in a separate room, and sanitary facilities were expanded and improved to meet the greater demand.

At times, so many emigrants were arriving that up to 17 carriages would be hooked up to a single steam engine. Passengers would cram into the forward carriages, while their baggage was piled high in the rear four cabs. Trains pulled out of Hull every Monday morning to make the three to four hour trip to Liverpool.

By 1914, however, transmigration had slowed to a crawl once more. The UK’s Alien Immigration Act of 1905 had severely restricted travel, and when WWI broke out followed by the passing of immigration acts in America, mass transmigration came to an end. Over those 70-odd years, however, 5 million transmigrants flowed through the UK, with approximately 60% of them passing through the port in Hull.

Related Items

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The Emigration from Sweden

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1. The research of Dr Nicholas J. Evans at the University of Hull. For further information please access the following article he has written Indirect Passage from Europe. European Transmigration via the UK, 1836-1914,  Journal for Maritime Research, Volume 3, No 1 (2001), pp. 70-84


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