A testing Yorkshire pub, West or East Riding, quiz challenge, or exam question in the armoury of a Yorkshire Education Committee examination board, would be to name all the docks in the Port of Goole.
More testing still would be to pick them out correctly on a chart or map: Aldam Dock, Ship Dock, Railway Dock, Stanhope Dock, Barge Dock, West Dock, South Dock and Ouse Dock. It might help if you were born and bred in Goole, or studied for months to become a pilot there, but even then it would take time if not years. Given that relatively few UK flagged and perhaps even fewer UK crewed vessels now frequent the still busy inland port 50 miles from Spurn Point and accessed by the Rivers Humber and Ouse, there will be more citizens and mariners of Holland, Poland and the Baltic States that are familiar with the geography of Goole port than in the UK.
Goole’s is a remarkable story. It was built in the marshes at the confluence of the Yorkshire rivers Aire and Ouse and opened in 1826, a product of the booming industrial growth of Yorkshire and the wider North of England, a boom facilitated by plentiful good coal and first by the canal era and then by the integration of Britain’s expanding railway companies. While the ports of Liverpool and Hull were focusing on deep-sea world trade, especially with the British Empire, including importing the food needed by Britain’s rapidly expanding industrial populations, it was the near continent that wanted the manufactured goods of the North of England and not least the quality Yorkshire coal that would fuel their own industrial expansion. First it was investment by the Aire and Calder Navigation Company and then the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway and its associates that would create the remarkable complex that became the thriving town and short-sea trading port of Goole.
Over the 175 years since its creation, the port’s traffics have, of course, changed radically; the coal trade is gone, along with the once packed colliery railway sidings, while the unique compartment boat system is now history. And Goole’s innovative and prolific rail-sea shipping services are also now in the past, but Goole’s trade has adapted to the new reality and it is still busy with traders who find that Goole’s location and its expansive facilities have a great deal to offer. Just as the canal network and then transpennine rail links drew from the North of England’s industrial heartland towards Goole, and via its wharves to the continent, in recent decades the UK Motorway system has delivered droves of Heavy Goods vehicles to bring cargoes in and out of Goole’s quays and warehouses. So Goole now serves perhaps an even greater hinterland than in previous times.
My recent visit found a healthy number of ships being handled, the quays and storage facilities being a hive of activity with goods moving from ship into storage and from ship straight to road vehicle and out to the Motorways. Like most visible port traffics in the UK today, most cargoes are inbound. The quay of the Aldam Dock was a sea of packaged bricks for Britain’s house building boom, the familiar Fast Wil 1,391,’85 being rapidly relieved of this freight. Structural steel sections were being lifted from Eems Sprinter 1,862,’07 at the designated steel terminal in Ship Dock while, simultaneously, steel coil, delivered previously, was being shuttled from storage and onto road vehicles for onward distribution. Overnight, Cembay 3,017,’98 had threaded her way through Goole’s interconnected system to deliver Danish cement to the silo at Stanhope Dock, Cembay being a fleet-mate of the ill fated Cemfjord lying at the bottom of the Pentland Firth.