Queen Victoria and Hull – The Original Victoria Dock Branch Railway

Posted: 11th December 2022

Humber Museums Partnership - Queen Victoria and Hull – The Original Victoria Dock Branch Railway

As part of the Ferens Art Gallery winter exhibition, Queen Victoria and Hull, Hull and District History Research Group have been researching Victorian Hull. This blog is the latest in a series revealing the hidden stories from Victorians in Hull.

You can view objects from the Ferens, Wilberforce House Museum, Hands on History, Guildhall and Hull Archive collections in the Queen Victoria and Hull exhibition from 20 October 2022 until 19 February 2023.

The Original Victoria Dock Branch Railway, Hull

The railway came to Hull in 1840 when the Hull and Selby Railway (H&S) opened on July 1. Its line terminated at the Humber Dock (now Hull Marina) and an imposing station and warehouse fronted onto the newly named Railway Street. Like most early railways it was primarily intended for the transport of goods, with passengers being a secondary consideration. The first Hull docks were built around the perimeter of the “old town” adjacent to the line of the old town walls making use of the old moat that had surrounded the town. When the Victoria Dock in Hull was opened on July 3 1850 it had no railway connection and communications between the older docks and the new were difficult. The York and North Midland Railway (YNMR) realised that this situation needed to be addressed and applied for permission to construct a new line around the outskirts of the town. Approval was granted on 30 June 1852[1].and a new single track line was built within a year. The Victoria Dock Branch Railway (VDR) line opened to goods traffic on May 16 1853, and to passenger trains on June 1. The main purpose of the line was to provide a link for the transport of goods between the old docks and the new dock. Passenger traffic was very much a secondary source of income and in its initial format the passenger line lasted only a year. The line was named after the Victoria Dock which in turn took its name from Queen Victoria.

The three and a quarter mile long line around Hull formed almost a semi-circle around the outskirts of the town running through, what was then, mainly open countryside. On its way the line passed over several of the major roads leading into the town which meant that level crossings were required at Hessle Road, Anlaby Road, Spring Bank, Beverley Road, Wincolmlee, Holderness Road, Hedon Road, and several other places. These level crossings would prove to be troublesome for horse drawn traffic and become major obstacles to the smooth flow of motor traffic in later years. (It can only be imagined what chaos would ensue with so many crossings nowadays.)

Image: From Wilberforce House Museum collection. Entrance to the Spring Bank Cemetery, showing the Botanic Gardens Level Crossing, drawn by Frederick Schultz Smith (1860-1925), 1889. The level crossing in front of the cemetery gates was for the York & North Midland Railway Co’s Victoria Dock Branch line, laid in 1852.

Although Paragon Station had opened in 1848 the Victoria Dock branch line ran from the old H&S station adjacent to Humber Dock and followed the original H&S line along the Humber before it turned north and crossed Hessle Road. From there it headed north-east to cross Anlaby Road and the Hull to Bridlington line before crossing Spring Bank, close to the recently opened cemetery. The line continued to Stepney where it crossed Beverley Road and ran on to Wincolmlee where Wilmington Bridge was built to cross the river Hull, and then the turned south-east to Holderness Road and finally across Hedon Road where it finished on the north side of Victoria Dock. Intermediate stations were provided along the route, at the places where the major roads into Hull were crossed, making it one of the first commuter lines in the country[2]. Another innovative feature of the line was that it operated a flat fare scheme of 3d (first class) or 2d (second class)[3] per journey whatever the length.

At the old H&S station passenger facilities had been done away with after the opening of Paragon Station in 1848 and so the station had to be adapted to meet the needs of prospective passengers. A new siding and platform were provided together with a booking office. This site was not popular with passengers who were again left at an inconvenient point for visiting the town. With the demise of the passenger service in 1854 the short lived station closed.

Along the line halts were provided at The halts at Hessle Road, Anlaby Road and Spring Bank did not have platforms so boarding or leaving trains must have been a precarious undertaking. Hessle Road halt had a very short life and was closed by October 1853. Anlaby Road Halt seems to have lasted until the closure of the line in 1854. However, Spring Bank halt later became a station, known at first as Cemetery, then as Cemetery Gates and later as Botanic Gardens, and colloquially as “Botanic”. Stepney, Sculcoates and Southcoates were all provided with stations. William Botterill, architect of the YNMR, was employed to design the buildings but only Stepney Station, still stands as a testament to the excellence of his work.

The line terminated at Victoria Dock where a temporary station (Victoria Station) was provided pending the arrival of the Holderness Railway. The YNMR and the NER agreed to share the costs of a station which was became the terminus of the line from Withernsea from 1854. A Mr Chaffers was appointed Foreman of Goods and Station Clerk of Passenger Traffic at the station at a wage of 24 shillings per week[4].

Passenger services on the line operated as a shuttle service with one engine running to a simple timetable. Trains left the Humber Dock terminus on the even hour from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm returning on the odd hour from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm. There was, however, a special instruction in operation in case it was necessary to run a second train to insure against the possibility of an accident. The NER also stated in its rule book that the “branch would be worked by a pilot guard wearing a special uniform”.[5] Due to the lack of passengers the service was reduced six months after the opening from seven to four trains in each direction daily.

Unfortunately, the number of passengers using the line was low, probably because there was little housing in the vicinity of the stations. A glance at maps of the time will show a lack of urban development in the vicinity of any of the stations. Its terminus at Humber Dock was also inconvenient for passengers who would have had much better facilities and better access to the town at Paragon Station. As a result the line closed to passenger traffic at the end of October 1854, though Victoria Station remained open as the terminus of the Withernsea line. The track was kept open for goods traffic.

However, this was not the end of passenger traffic on the line. With the opening of railways to Withernsea and Hornsea the line was once again brought into use.

The reprieve for passenger traffic and the stations came in 1864 when the NER (which now owned the Holderness line) doubled the track on the Victoria Dock branch line (except at Wilmington Bridge) and also installed a connecting curve to the east of Victoria Dock so that, from 1 June, trains on the Withernsea line could use the old Victoria Dock line and run into, or from, Paragon Station.[6]

The Hornsea line opened in 1864 with a terminus at Wilmington because the company due to a technical hitch but within a month this was overcome and trains were running directly into the town centre. This gave a further new lease of life to the stations on the Victoria Dock branch which were all re-opened together with a new one at Botanic, replacing the former halt.

Thus for the next hundred years the original Victoria Dock line, supplemented by the lines to Withernsea and Hornsea, carried passenger and goods traffic around Hull and, across Holderness, to the east coast. The line quickly became popular with excursionists making their way to the coast for a day or a half day, or a holiday. Reckitts, for example provided their employees with the Reckitt’s ‘Sunshine’ outings for poor children and ‘Old Folks’ outings.[7] The outing was a half day excursion to Withernsea departing from Southcoates station. Hornsea and Scarborough were other destinations. The line was also used by commuters and schoolboys travelling into Hull to carry on their daily work and by schoolboys attending Hymers College. There are many people still alive who can reminisce about these journeys.

Image: from Wilberforce House Museum collection. Map of Hull, probably taken from a Guide to Hull. The lines of the Hull & Selby Railway, the York & North Midland Railway and the Victoria Dock Railway are clearly shown. The Hull and Hornsea line is just visible to the top right. The Botanic Gardens is shown on Linnaeus Street, as well as its later site on Spring Bank where it moved in 1877.

In 1929 the LNER introduced the ‘Hull and District Interval Service’ which brought a new timetable to the Withernsea and Hornsea lines with hourly departures and about half the journeys being made by Sentinel steam railcars. Although this showed an increase in passengers and revenue for a year or so the depression of the 1930s and increased competition from motor buses soon began to take effect and the scheme was abandoned.

Diesel units replaced steam engines on the route in 1957. These diesel services were some of the first of their type in the country. From 1960 (4 January) the stations lost their staff and passengers were required to pay on the train. All of the stations closed to passengers in 1964 as part of the Beeching cuts and to goods traffic a year later. The route was retained as a goods line until 1968.

Much of the route is now gone, though parts have been redeveloped as footpaths and cycle paths. The only significant station building remains are on Beverley Road at Stepney and at Wilmington.  Only one short stretch of the track is still operating: that which leads out from Paragon Station and turns off the Bridlington line towards Spring Bank and into the maintenance depot (once Botanic Gardens shed). Northern (which operates the site), Transpennine Express and Hull Trains units are still stabled, re-fuelled, cleaned and to a lesser extent receive maintenance here. To the east the Wilmington swing bridge is still operating to allow river traffic to pass upstream. Today we can only wonder how much the routes to the coast could be used by modern day commuters if the lines were still operating.

M G Free, Rev Nov 2022

Select Bibliography and Sources

Documents, Maps etc

Census Returns 1841-1911

OS Maps 1895 (1”), 1962 (1”), 2007 (1:50,000).

Fullerton, map of Hull, c1870.

Bulmer’s Directory of East Yorkshire, 1892.

White’s Directory of the Borough of Hull, 1867.

Other Directories located in the Hull History Centre.



K J Allison, Victoria County History of East Yorkshire, Vol 1 Hull.

P Bagwell & P Lyth, Transport in Britain 1750 – 2000, Hambledon & London, 2002.

M Bairstow, Railways in East Yorkshire, 1990.

M Bairstow, Railways in East Yorkshire, Vol 2, 1995.

M Bairstow, Railways in East Yorkshire Vol 3, 2007.

M Craven, The Hull to Withernsea Railway, 1997.

T Dodsworth, The Train Now Standing Vol 1, Hutton Press 1990.

E Gillet and K MacMahon, A History of Hull, Hull University Press, 1980.

C T Goode, The Railways of East Yorkshire, The Oakwood Press, 1981. (1)

C T Goode, The Railways of Hull. (2)

K Hoole, A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain Vol 4 The North East, 1986, David & Charles. (2)

G McTurk, A History of the Hull Railways 1879, (revised by K Hoole 1970).

N Pevsner and D Neave, Buildings of England, Yorkshire: York and the East Riding, Yale, 2005.

D and S Neave, Hull (Pevsner Architectural Guide), Yale University Press, 2010.

D Nunn, The Railways around Kingston upon Hull, Carnegie Heritage Centre, 2012.

M Thompson, The Railways of Hull and East Yorkshire, Hutton Press, 1992.

P Tuffrey, East Yorkshire Railway Stations, Amberley, 2012.

E Wrigglesworth, BROWNS’ Illustrated Guide to HULL, A Brown & Sons, 1891 (1992 Mr Pye Reprint).

W B Yeadon, More Illustrated History of the Railways of Hull, 1995, Challenger Publications.


Journals and Newspapers etc

North Eastern Express, The Journal of the North Eastern Railway Association.




NERA: www.ner.org.uk

Disused Stations website:  www.disused-stations.org.uk

Hullwebs, History of Hull: www.hullwebs.co.uk

Forgotten Relics: www.forgottenrelics.co.uk/bridges/wilmington

[1] Hoole, p 45.

[2] Allison, VCH, p 395.

[3] Hoole, p 45.

[4] Hoole, p 45.

[5] Hoole, p 46.

[6] Ibid, p46.

[7] Craven, pp 27-8.