Humber Bridge.png
Humber Bridge suspension bridge viewed from the south-east.
Country United Kingdom
Within the UK England
Counties Yorkshire, Lincolnshire
Cities Kingston upon Hull
Town Grimsby, Immingham, Barton upon Humber, Cleethorpes
 - left River Ouse, River Hull
 - right River Trent, River Ancholme, River Freshney
 - location Trent Falls
 - location North Sea, between Spurn Head & Donna Nook
Length 38.5 mi (62 km) [1]
Basin 24,240 km2 (9,359 sq mi) [1]
Discharge for freshwater inflow
 - average 250 m3/s (8,829 cu ft/s) [1]
 - max 1,500 m3/s (52,972 cu ft/s) [1]

Humber is located in England
Humber (England)
River Hull tidal barrier. Situated at the end of the River Hull where it meets the Humber
The Humber Estuary and Spurn Head looking north-east from over North Lincolnshire
Railway era map of Hull showing Ferry route and layout of docks

The Humber /ˈhʌmbər/ is a large tidal estuary on the east coast of Northern England. It is formed at Trent Falls, Faxfleet, by the confluence of the tidal rivers Ouse and Trent. From here to the North Sea, it forms part of the boundary between the East Riding of Yorkshire on the north bank and North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire on the south bank. Although the Humber is an estuary from the point at which it is formed, many maps show it as the River Humber.[2]

Below Trent Falls, the Humber passes the junction with the Market Weighton Canal on the north shore, the confluence of the River Ancholme on the south shore; between North Ferriby and South Ferriby and under the Humber Bridge; between Barton-upon-Humber on the south bank and Kingston upon Hull on the north bank (where the River Hull joins), then meets the North Sea between Cleethorpes on the Lincolnshire side and the long and thin (but rapidly changing) headland of Spurn Head to the north.

Ports on the Humber include Kingston upon Hull (better known as simply Hull), Grimsby, Immingham, New Holland and Killingholme. The estuary is navigable here for the largest of deep-sea vessels. Inland connections for smaller craft are extensive but handle only one quarter of the goods traffic handled in the Thames.[3]


The Humber is now an estuary. When the world sea level was lower during the Ice Ages, the Humber had a long freshwater course across what was then 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 Northumbria came from Anglo-Saxon Norðhymbre (plural) = "the people north of the Humber". The Humber currently forms the boundary between the East Riding of Yorkshire, to the north and North and North East Lincolnshire, to the south.

From 1974 to 1996, the areas now known as East Riding, North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire constituted the county of Humberside.

On 23 August 1921, the British airship R38 crashed into the estuary near Hull, killing 44 of the 49 crew on board.[4]


The estuary's only modern crossing is the Humber Bridge, which was once the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world. Now it is the seventh longest.

Before the bridge was built in 1981, a series of paddle steamers operated from the oddly-named Corporation Pier railway station[5] 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.[5] Although the railway to New Holland closed in 1977, passenger and car traffic continued to use the pier until the end of ferry operations.[6]

The line of the bridge is similar to an ancient ferry route from Hessle to Barton upon Humber, which is noted in the Domesday Book and in a charter of 1281. The ferry was recorded as still operating in 1856, into the railway era.[7] The Humber was then a mile across.[8]


The Humber Forts were built in the mouth of the river for the First World War. Planned in 1914, their construction started in 1915 and they were not completed until 1919.[9][10] A coastal battery at Easington, Fort Goodwin or Kilnsea Battery, faced the Bull Sands Fort.[11] They were also garrisoned during the Second World War, and were finally abandoned for military use in 1956.

Fort Paull is further downstream, a Napoleonic-era emplacement replaced in the early 20th century by Stallinborough Battery opposite Sunk Island.[12]

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 Brough; four hours later, he emerged on the south bank at Whitton. He is 6 feet 9 inches (205.74 cm) tall and took advantage of a very low tide.[13] 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.

Crossing by swimming

On 8 September 1927 Miss Alice Blowman, aged 19, entered the water at New Holland Pier at 4.30 pm and arrived at Victoria Pier Hull at 6.40 pm. She was the first lady to successfully swim across the River Humber, unassisted in any way. Her recognition was endorsed by a presentation from the Hull City Police Sports Club at a presentation ceremony in November 1927. Alice Bainton (née Blowman) died on Christmas Day in 1999 aged 90, leaving behind a significant number of swimming trophies collected throughout her swimming career and now cherished by her family.[14]

Since 2011 Warners Health have organised the 'Warners Health Humber Charity Business Swim'. Twelve swimmers from companies across the Yorkshire region train and swim in an ellipse from the south bank to the north bank of the river under the Humber Bridge over a swim approximately 1.5 miles (2.4 km) miles in length.[15]

The Humber from the International Space Station


This river's name is recorded in Anglo-Saxon times as Humbre (Anglo-Saxon ) and Humbri (Vulgar Latin dative) / Umbri (Classical Latin dative). The Humber was once known as the Abus, for example in Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene. The Latin name Abus (probably from Latin verb Abdo which means to cover with shadows) has the meaning of black/dark river. The successive name Humbre/Humbri/Umbri could continue to have the same meaning; in fact, the Latin verb umbro means "to cover with shadows" with the sense of black/dark river.[16] Another hypothesis is that, since its name recurs in "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 England before the Celts migrated there (compare Tardebigge). 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, invariably referred to by the Latin word for river, was named after "Humber the Hun," who drowned there while trying to invade in the earliest days of Britain's settlement.

Pop culture reference

The British duo Everything But the Girl referred to the Humber by name in the song "Oxford Street" on their 1988 album Idlewild.[17]

Navigable tributaries and connections


  1. ^ a b c d Cave, Rachel (2002). "The Humber Catchment and its Coastal Area". University of East Anglia. Retrieved 12 October 2013. 
  2. ^ "Get-a-map online". Ordnance Survey. Retrieved 6 March 2009. 
  3. ^ "Department of transport figures for 2009. See table 2-1." (Excel). Department of Transport. Archived from the original on 4 May 2011. Retrieved 24 January 2013. 
  4. ^ Airship Memorial in Hull (1512866). PastScape. Historic England. Retrieved 14 January 2013. Entry includes considerable details about the ship, flight, and crash.
  5. ^ a b Hull Corporation Pier station (498352). PastScape. Historic England. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  6. ^ New Holland Pier station (498365). PastScape. Historic England. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  7. ^ Barton Ferry (79005). PastScape. Historic England. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  8. ^ Lewis, Samuel, ed. (1848). A Topographical Dictionary of England. London: Samuel Lewis & Co. pp. 164–168 'Barton, St Michael – Basing'. Retrieved 24 January 2013. 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)
  9. ^ Bull Sand Fort (915963). PastScape. Historic England. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  10. ^ Haile Sand Fort (1429147). PastScape. Historic England. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  11. ^ Fort Godwin (929478). PastScape. Historic England. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  12. ^ Stallinborough Battery (1429224). PastScape. Historic England. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  13. ^ "Humber crossing after 1,000 years". BBC News Online. BBC. 22 August 2005. Retrieved 28 July 2008. 
  14. ^ Original framed certificate presented to Alice
  15. ^ "Business people to swim the Humber for charity challenge". Hull Daily Mail. 4 August 2013. Retrieved 26 June 2013. 
  16. ^ "Beda, De Temporum Ratione, CAPUT LXV,Number 269". Retrieved 24 January 2013. 
  17. ^
  • 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 978-0-901934-03-1.