The plane crash on the River Humber that killed 44 - and four other Hull tragedies that should never be forgotten

Hull has enjoyed many great highs in its 700-year history and endured many devastating lows.

Every year we rightly commemorate tragedies that are seared on to our collective consciousness – the Blitz, the loss of so many lives at sea, and the sacrifices seen during two world wars and other conflicts.

However, there are other less well-known disasters that once rocked Hull but are now fading into history. Here are five terrible tragedies that should never be forgotten.


The River Hull ferry disaster

Today, crossing the River Hull is easier than ever, thanks to no fewer than 13 bridges. Travel back 170 years, however, and commuters had to rely on small ferries.

Disaster struck on a dark December's morning in 1848, when an overcrowded ferry set out from the slums of The Groves, off Cleveland Street, on the east bank, for the gigantic Kingston Cotton Mill, off Wincolmlee, on the west bank.

As the ferry reached the centre of the fast-flowing river, it was caught in strong currents and capsized. At least 17 people were killed, including three members of a single family.

The Hull Packet reported: “Every soul was precipitated into the water. The shrieks and cries of the unfortunate people brought several persons who were near the spot to their assistance; but it being quite dark very little help could be extended.

“Eight of the individuals only were saved. The rest endeavoured to save themselves by clinging to the boat or anything that might be in reach, but were almost immediately carried down the river by the tide.”

Despite the disaster, it would be another 26 years before Sculcoates Bridge opened nearby.

Airship crash kills 44

Thousands of people witnessed one of the single worst disasters in Hull's history, when a huge airship went down in flames over the River Humber, killing 44 people on board.

The R38, which was 695ft long and could reach speeds of over 70mph, had been undergoing trials at Howden when on August 23, 1921, it set off for a flight over Hull.

As the airship passed above the city centre, spectators watched in horror as it began to crease, buckle and then droop at each end. Flames and smoke were seen, followed by an explosion that shattered hundreds of windows. The wreckage fell into the estuary.

Among those killed were 17 Americans, who were taking delivery of the airship for the US Navy.

Incredibly, five people survived, some jumping out with parachutes.

The captain, Flight-Lieutenant A H Wann, described his miraculous escape: “We had just passed over Hull when there was a violent crack … then there was a terrific explosion.

“Some of the men jumped overboard. I remained aboard and went down with the ship until close to the water, when I jumped, and was caught in the wreckage and pinned down. … I don't know how I was rescued, as I was unconscious.”

A memorial in the Western Cemetery remembers those who died.

The Valentines Day train crash

When a signalman pulled a wrong lever, it led to tragedy on the railway lines, on the morning of Valentines Day, 1927.

The 9.05am train to Scarborough had just left Paragon Station when the driver realised he had been diverted onto the wrong tracks and slammed on the brakes.

But it was too late and as the engine reached Argyle Street bridge, it collided head-on with an incoming train from Withernsea. Eight people were killed outright and another four died later in hospital. Two-dozen others were seriously injured.

The scene was so appalling, it was said to have shocked veterans who had witnessed the carnage of the First World War. “There were frightful things to be seen,” one surviving passenger told the Mail.

As doctors, nurses and ordinary members of the public flocked to help, there were moments of heroism and bravery.

Police told how a 14-year-old boy with a badly broken leg was pinned under a carriage seat. During the rescue he only spoke once to say “don't hurt me”. The sergeant who finally brought him out said: “He was the pluckiest lad I have known.”

The Union Steam Packet explosion

In June 1837, a “tremendous” explosion rocked the Humber Dock basin, killing more than 20 and injuring many others.

A passenger ship, the Union Steam Packet, had been about to set sail with about 150 people on board, when its boiler burst.

According to a report in The Spectator: “In an instant the air was filled with pieces of the boiler, planks of wood, bales of goods and human bodies. The vessel immediately sunk … and soon nothing but the top of one of the paddle-boxes was to be seen above water. The loss of life was fearful.”

The explosion flung men high into the air, one landing on top of a three-storey house. Falling wreckage, including the funnel and a part of the boiler, injured bystanders across a wide area.

The Old Sugar House disaster

When crossing North Bridge, spare a thought for the eight men and boys who were killed nearby in one of Hull's worst industrial disasters.

A car park now stands on the site in Lime Street where, in 1868, a warehouse collapsed on top of about 20 workers. Among the victims was a six-year-old boy who was passing at the time.

The Old Sugar House was already 100 years old by the time of the tragedy, when it was described as a “large and apparently dilapidated pile of brick”. The eight-storey warehouse had been built in 1731 for refining sugar, but by this time it was being used to store linseed.

An inquest heard that the accident was caused by a combination of overloading and years of subsidence.

In an era when health and safety was far from the primary concern of many businesses, the deaths did at least lead to calls for similar buildings to be inspected by the Board of Health.