Death on the River Hull – the Brewhouse Wrack ferry disaster

The River Hull in winter. Fourteen people died not far from here when their ferry capsized.

On a dark December day 170 years ago, an east Hull street was in mourning.

At number 12, Hood Street, the Durr family was trying to come to terms with the loss of three girls – Mary, Catherine and Maria – drowned just yards away in the River Hull. Next door, 21-year-old newlywed William Smith had also been lost.

All four had been on their way to work at the giant new Kingston Cotton Mills, when tragedy struck. ¹

They had caught a popular early morning ferry, known as the Brewhouse Wrack, which crossed the river from the Groves – an infamous district of tightly packed slums – to Wincolmlee. ²

As the crowded boat reached the middle of the fast-flowing river, it capsized, throwing about 30 people into the water. Fourteen drowned.

In the days to come, thousands of people would turn out to mourn the dead and watch their funeral processions.

But despite the disaster being one of the worst in the history of Hull, little was done to improve safety in its wake. For the authorities, the blame was to be placed on the unfortunate victims themselves. Continue reading “Death on the River Hull – the Brewhouse Wrack ferry disaster”

The 1801 Hull UFO revisited – with a Wokingham link

Moon occluded by clouds over San Diego, California (Picture: Rufustelestrat via Wikimedia Commons)

What was the strange, unexplained phenomenon seen above Hull in 1801: a rare weather event, or perhaps a UFO?

The supernatural sighting was described in newspapers of the time as resembling an “immense moon with a black bar across”, which then split into seven “globes of fire”. During the time it was visible, a faint blue light fell on the surrounding area.

Mike Covell, local historian and expert in all things strange and unexplained, discovered the obscure reference a few years ago and, during a former life at the Hull Daily Mail, I was lucky enough to collaborate with him on an article about it.

Our report, published in November 2015, soon went viral and was picked up by several national newspapers, which branded it, with admirable hyperbole, “Britain’s first UFO sighting”.

Unfortunately, our original is no longer online (the HDM lost much of its archive when it moved to a new website last year) but I recently came across a copy on archive.org and was as intrigued as ever. Continue reading “The 1801 Hull UFO revisited – with a Wokingham link”

A deadly trek across the Great Silence of Russia’s White Sea

A seal-hunting ship navigates a semi-frozen White Sea in 1931 (National Archive of Norway)

The three men stumbled across the frozen surface of the White Sea. They were freezing, starving and close to exhaustion.

Through snow drifts, whipped up by cruel winds, they could occasionally see the dim beacon of a lighthouse. Desperately, they trudged on towards it, across the rough and treacherous ice, conscious that to stop might mean their deaths.

They were the last survivors of the crew of the SS Sappho, a Hull steamship which was sailing home from the Russian port of Archangel, when it became stuck fast in ice, miles from the safety of land, in December 1915. 

What happened next is one of the most tragic tales of courage and endurance in the history of Hull. Continue reading “A deadly trek across the Great Silence of Russia’s White Sea”

East Yorkshire had nuclear missiles powerful enough to destroy a city

The American Ivy Mike hydrogen bomb test in 1952.

RAF Catfoss is long forgotten. Today, the runway is home to an industrial estate and the old station houses make up a quiet hamlet.

But half a century ago, this peaceful corner of Holderness was on the frontline of the Cold War.

In the late 1950s, Catfoss was one of five bases in East Yorkshire chosen as launch sites for Britain’s first nuclear missiles.

American Thor IRBMs, which carried warheads big enough to destroy an entire city, were installed here in 1958.

Bases in Driffield, Carnaby, Full Sutton and Breighton, also received the ballistic missiles, as part of a programme codenamed Project Emily.

Four years later, as the world teetered on the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Thor missiles were placed on full standby and could have been launched within 15 minutes. Continue reading “East Yorkshire had nuclear missiles powerful enough to destroy a city”