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The Life and Work of James Abernethy, C.E., F.R.S.E
Hull, 1880-5


FOR many years past Hull has been classed as the third port in the United Kingdom, London and Liverpool taking precedence as first and second respectively, bat until the execution of the works authorised by the Hull and Barnsley and West Riding Junction Railway and Dock Act, in 1882, Hull possessed but one direct means of communication with the adjoining inland manufacturing towns, viz: by the North Eastern Railway. Although, too, the town had the advantage of being situated in close proximity to the South Yorkshire coalfields, with the great natural facilities of its river Humber, two and a half miles wide, which rendered it accessible to the largest class of vessels at low water, it was not a coal port in the sense of that commodity being its predominent export. The principal reason, no doubt, why the coal traffic had not been hitherto more strenuously cultivated by vessels frequenting the port, was that its cost and the delay in its despatch were enhanced by the prevailing conditions of railway transit from the collieries, coupled with the inadequate dock accommodation afforded, and inefficiency of the appliances for its shipment. Railway and dock accommodation had remained singularly neglected. Previous attempts had certainly been made to bring about an increase in trade, but they had been spasmodic and lacked cohesion of interest. Schemes for docks and railways as independent enterprises under separate management, had been launched, but unsuccessfully. Hull was still keeping her position as the third commercial port in the kingdom, but was making no advance: and to maintain one’s ground only, and do no more, ig, in these days of active competition, virtually to lose it.

Realizing this position of affairs, several of the leading citizens, headed by Lieut.-Colonel Gerard Smith, C.B., now Governor of Western Australia, came to Parliament in the Session of 1880, with a bold and comprehensive scheme, to make a direct line to the South Yorkshire coalfields, near Barnsley, together with a deep water dock at Hull, and the Bill then thrown out was reintroduced two years later and passed after two protracted parliamentary battles of almost unexampled severity, and at an expense of 115,000. The design of this dock was entrusted to Mr. Abernethy, and during its construction he was assisted by Messrs. Oldham and Bohn, civil engineers of Hull, while Mr. A. C. Hurtzig acted as resident engineer throughout. This magnificent dock, called after H.R.H. the Princess of Wales, the Alexandra Dock, was finished and opened on July 16th, 1885. It has an area of 46^ acres, being 2,300 feet in length, and 1,000 feet in breadth, and is nearly twice the size of the Albert Dock at Hull. As a preliminary operation, about 150 acres of land were first reclaimed from the Humber by embanking, so that it is situated on what was formerly the foreshore of that river.

The sea bank which was formed to exclude the water from the dock works, is one and a quarter mile in length, composed of 200,000 tons of chalk, and faced with Bramley Fall stone, with a slope of 2 to x on the sea face, while the cofferdam built across the entrance to the lock during construction, was 500 feet in length, and on a curve with a radius of 256 feet. It was composed of two rows of piles, in number about 1,000, and varying in length from 50 feet to 60 feet, driven 6 feet apart, and the intermediate space filled in with puddled clay. The lock is approached from the river through a trumpet-shaped entrance 360 feet in width,

with a timber wharf, 300 feet long on either side. These wharves are built on piles of creosoted timber, 60 feet long. The lock measures 550 feet in length and 85 feet in width, with a depth of 34 feet over the sill at high water ordinary spring tides, and has three pairs of massive Demarara greenheart gates. The principal features of the dock are its accessibility to large vessels at all times, and its large quay space of two miles, of which a considerable proportion is occupied by one railway jetty, three jetties built of masonry projecting from the outer wall towards the centre one on the west, two more on the south side, and the large water space, which affords anchorage for vessels waiting for a cargo, and so enables other vessels for which cargoes are ready, to occupy the loading berths, and the work of loading to be carried on uninterruptedly. The walls of the dock are 40 feet 6 inches high from ground level, their depth below that point varying from 10 feet to 15 feet, according to the nature of their foundation, and are 20 feet wide at the base, and 6 feet 9 inches at the top. They are composed of chalk rubble masonry, faced with ashlar, and finished with a granite coping, and at the north-east side are two graving docks, one 500 feet by 60 feet by 19 feet, and the other 550 feet by 65 feet by zi\ feet, and the dock is filled and supplied with fresh water from a land stream, known as the Holderness Drain, and ;n that way the expense of dredging is saved, a process which cost the old Dock Company 10,000 per annum, in consequence of the mud which is deposited by the admission of the water from the Humber.

Some idea of the magnitude of the work involved in the construction of the Alexandra Dock, which was admirably done by the well known firm of contractors, Messrs. Lucas & Aird. at an actual cost of 1,355,392, or 29,147 per acre, including equipment, may he gathered from the appended figures of what was actually done for the money, and the amount of the plant in use.

All the hydraulic machinery in connection with the lock gates, etc., was designed and supplied by Sir W. Armstrong, Mitchell & Co., and the machinery for loading and unloading exports and imports, was supplied by the same firm, and is also hydraulic. The exports at Hull, other than coal, are chiefly goods of great value in proportion to their bulk—agricultural machinery, cotton and woolen manufactures, and the like; while the imports are mainly heavy goods, such as grain, timber, seeds, etc.

It is worthy of note that in the course of constructing the Alexandra Dock at Hull, hydraulic power was for the first time applied to working the excavators. Two of the six excavators or navvies was worked by this power: an hydraulic crane put the stonework at the dock walls in place, while an hydraulic jigger raised the barrows laden with soil from the bottom of the dock to the wall. This machinery was found to work at least as quickly, as easily, and as economically as steam machinery, and it had the advantage of doing so almost without noise, and quite without smoke.


 

 


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