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Coordinates: 53°32′34″N 0°05′32″E / 53.5427°N 0.0923°E / 53.5427; 0.0923
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A long suspension bridge over a large expanse of water
Humber Bridge viewed from the south-east
Humber is located in England
Mouth of the Humber
CountiesEast Riding of Yorkshire, Lincolnshire
CitiesKingston upon Hull
TownsBrough, Grimsby, Immingham, Barton upon Humber, Cleethorpes
Physical characteristics
 • locationTrent Falls
 • coordinates53°42′03″N 0°41′28″W / 53.7008°N 0.6911°W / 53.7008; -0.6911
 • location
North Sea, between Spurn Head
 • coordinates
53°32′34″N 0°05′32″E / 53.5427°N 0.0923°E / 53.5427; 0.0923
Length38.5 mi (62.0 km)[1]
Basin size24,240 km2 (9,360 sq mi)[1]
 • locationfreshwater inflow[1]
 • average250 m3/s (8,800 cu ft/s)[1]
 • maximum1,500 m3/s (53,000 cu ft/s)[1]
Basin features
 • leftRiver Ouse, River Hull
 • rightRiver Trent, River Ancholme, River Freshney
Official nameHumber Estuary
Designated28 July 1994
Reference no.663[2]

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 there to the North Sea, it forms part of the boundary between the East Riding of Yorkshire on the north bank and North 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.[3]

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 headland of Spurn Head to the north.

Ports on the Humber include the Port of Hull, the Port of Grimsby and the Port of Immingham; there are lesser ports at New Holland and North Killingholme Haven. The estuary is navigable for the largest of deep-sea vessels. Inland connections for smaller craft are extensive but handle only a quarter of the goods traffic handled in the Thames.[4]


There are numerous theories for how the hydronym of Humber is derived from Celtic or Pre-Celtic languages. For example it maybe a Brittonic formation containing -[a]mb-ṛ, a variant of the element *amb meaning "moisture", with the prefix *hu- meaning "good, well" (c.f. Welsh hy-, in Hywel, etc).[5]

The first element may also be *hū-, with connotations of "seethe, boil, soak", of which a variant forms the name of the adjoining River Hull.[5]

The estuary appears in some Latin sources as Abus (A name used by Edmund Spenser in The Faerie Queene). This is possibly a Latinisation of the Celtic form Aber (Welsh for river mouth or estuary) but is erroneously given as a name for both the Humber and The Ouse as one continuous watercourse.[6] Both Abus and Aber may record an older Indo-European word for water or river, (as in the 'Five Rivers' of the Punjab). An alternative derivation may be from the Latin verb abdo meaning "to hide, to conceal". The successive name Humbre/Humbri/Umbri may continue the meaning via the Latin verb umbro also meaning "to cover with shadows".[7]


The Humber from the International Space Station

Although it is now an estuary, the Humber had a much longer freshwater course during the Ice Age, extending across Doggerland, which is now submerged beneath the North Sea.[8]


The Humber features regularly in medieval British literature. In the Welsh Triads, the Humber is one of the three principal rivers of Britain (together with the Thames and the River Severn) and is continually mentioned throughout the Brut y Brenhinedd as a boundary between the southern kingdom (Lloegyr) and various northern kingdoms. In Geoffrey of Monmouth's 12th-century historically unreliable chronicle (Historia Regum Britanniae), the Humber is named for "Humber the Hun", an invader who drowned there during battle in the earliest days of the chronicle.

The Humber remained an important boundary throughout the Anglo-Saxon period, separating Northumbria from the southern kingdoms. The name Northumbria derives from the Anglo-Saxon Norðhymbre (plural) = "the people north of the Humber".[9]

The Humber is recorded with the abbreviation Fl. Abi (The Abus river, Ancient Greek: Ἄβος) in Ptolemy's Geographia, discharging into the German Ocean (the North Sea) south of Ocelum Promontorium (Spurn Head). Ptolemy also gives the Iron Age tribes of the area as the Coritani south of the Humber and the Parisi to the north.[10][11]

In the 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe, the eponymous protagonist leaves England on a ship departing from The Humber.

On 23 August 1921, the British airship R38 crashed into the estuary near Hull, killing 44 of the 49 crew on board.[12]

From 1974 to 1996, the areas now known as the East Riding of Yorkshire, North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire constituted the county of Humberside. The Humber, from 1996, forms a boundary between the East Riding of Yorkshire (to the north) and North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire, to the south.


The Humber Forts were built in the mouth of the estuary for the First World War. Planned in 1914, their construction started in 1915 and they were not completed until 1919.[13][14] A coastal battery at Easington, Fort Goodwin or Kilnsea Battery, faced the Bull Sands Fort.[15] They were also garrisoned during the Second World War, and were finally abandoned for military use in 1956.

Fort Paull is further upstream, a Napoleonic-era emplacement replaced in the early 20th century by Stallingborough Battery opposite Sunk Island.[16]


The Humber Bridge was the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world from its construction in 1981 until 1998. It is now the twelfth longest.

Before the bridge was built, a series of paddle steamers operated from the Corporation Pier railway station[17] 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.[17] Railway passenger and car traffic continued to use the pier until the end of ferry operations.[18]

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.[19] The Humber was then one mile (1.6 km) across.[20]


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 (2.06 m) tall and took advantage of a very low tide.[21] He replicated this achievement on the television programme Top Gear (Series 10 Episode 6) when he beat James May who drove an Alfa Romeo 159 around the inland part of the estuary in a race without using the Humber Bridge.


On Saturday 26 August 1911, Alice Maud Boyall became the first recorded woman to swim the Humber. Boyall, then aged 19 and living in Hull, was the Yorkshire swimming champion. She crossed the Humber from Hull to New Holland Pier swimming the distance in 50 minutes, 6 minutes slower than the existing men's record.[22]

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 estuary under the Humber Bridge over a total distance of approximately 1+12 miles (2.4 km).[23] Since then, an organised group crossing at the Humber Bridge has become an annual event, with a small number of pre-selected swimmers crossing in a 'pod' which remains close together, in aid of Humber Rescue.[24]

In 2019, Hull-based competitive open water swimmer Richard Royal became the first person to attempt and complete a two-way swim across the estuary,[25] beginning and finishing at Hessle foreshore, with Barton on the south bank as the mid-way point, fulfilling the land-to-land criteria, covering a total of 4,085 m (4,467 yd). Royal holds the record for the fastest one-way swim across the Humber (35 minutes 11 seconds) and the fastest two-way swim (1 hour, 13 minutes, 46 seconds), certified by Guinness World Records and the World Open Water Swimming Association.[26] He raised over £900 for Humber Rescue, who provided safety support during the swim.


Fish live in and migrate along the Humber when returning from the sea to their spawning grounds in Yorkshire,[27] Lincolnshire and Derbyshire. Salmon, sole, cod, eel, flounder, plaice, sprat, lamprey and sand goby have all been caught within the estuary.[28] The Humber is also a good place for over-wintering birds[29] and is a good breeding ground for bitterns, marsh harriers, little terns and avocets.[30] It forms part of the Severn-Trent flyway, a route used by migratory birds to cross Great Britain.[31]

In 2019 the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and the University of Hull re-introduced the river oyster into the Humber after a sixty-year absence.[32]

See also[edit]

Navigable tributaries and connections[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Cave, Rachel (2002). "The Humber Catchment and its Coastal Area" (PDF). University of East Anglia. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 February 2014. Retrieved 12 October 2013.
  2. ^ "Humber Estuary". Ramsar Sites Information Service. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  3. ^ "Get-a-map online". Ordnance Survey. Archived from the original on 29 November 2013. Retrieved 6 March 2009.
  4. ^ "Department of transport figures for 2009. See table 2-1". Department of Transport. Archived from the original (Excel) on 4 May 2011. Retrieved 24 January 2013.
  5. ^ a b James, Alan. "The Brittonic Language in the Old North" (PDF). Scottish Place Name Society. Retrieved 29 April 2021.
  6. ^ Rivet; Smith (1979). The Place-Names of Roman Britain. London. ISBN 9780713420777.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  7. ^ Beda. "De Temporum Ratione". CAPUT LXV, number 269. Retrieved 24 January 2013.
  8. ^ Cowper Reed, F R (1900). The geological history of the rivers of East Yorkshire. London: Clay & Sons. pp. 65–66. OCLC 11368522.
  9. ^ "Northumbria". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 12 August 2017.
  10. ^ Public Domain Smith, William, ed. (1854–1857). "Abus". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography. London: John Murray.
  11. ^ Ptolemy, Geography, 2.3.6.
  12. ^ Historic England. "Airship Memorial in Hull (1512866)". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 14 January 2013. Entry includes considerable details about the ship, flight, and crash.
  13. ^ Historic England. "Bull Sand Fort (915963)". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  14. ^ Historic England. "Haile Sand Fort (1429147)". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  15. ^ Historic England. "Fort Godwin (929478)". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  16. ^ Historic England. "Stallingborough Battery (1429224)". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  17. ^ a b Historic England. "Hull Corporation Pier station (498352)". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  18. ^ Historic England. "New Holland Pier station (498365)". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  19. ^ Historic England. "Barton Ferry (79005)". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  20. ^ 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)
  21. ^ "Humber crossing after 1,000 years". BBC News Online. BBC. 22 August 2005. Retrieved 28 July 2008.
  22. ^ "Annual Humber Swim". Yorkshire Post & Leeds Intelligencer. 28 August 1911. p. 5.
  23. ^ "Business people to swim the Humber for charity challenge". Hull Daily Mail. 4 August 2013. Archived from the original on 28 June 2013. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  24. ^ "Countryfile star takes Humber challenge". BBC News. 7 July 2019. Retrieved 30 July 2019.
  25. ^ "Man from Hull completes 'first swim across the Humber and back' in aid of rescue charity". ITV News. Retrieved 30 July 2019.
  26. ^ Winter, Phil (27 July 2019). "Hull man becomes first to swim solo across River Humber and back". Hull Daily Mail. Retrieved 30 July 2019.
  27. ^ "Salmon are spawning along the River Burn in North Yorkshire for the first time in 100 years". The Rivers Trust. 21 June 2017. Archived from the original on 2 April 2019. Retrieved 23 March 2019.
  28. ^ Potts, Geoffrey; Swaby, Silja (1993). "Review of the status of estuarine fishes". English Nature Research Report (34). Plymouth: Marine Biological Association: 68–69. OCLC 182887652.
  29. ^ "Humber Management Scheme Fact sheet: Wintering and passage birds" (PDF). humbernature.co.uk. p. 2. Retrieved 23 March 2019.
  30. ^ "Humber Management Scheme Fact sheet: Breeding birds" (PDF). humbernature.co.uk. pp. 4–6. Retrieved 23 March 2019.
  31. ^ RSPB Where To Go Wild in Britain. Dorling Kindersley. 2009. p. 265. ISBN 978-1405335126.
  32. ^ Mitchinson, James, ed. (19 March 2019). "River oysters come back out of their shell". The Yorkshire Post. p. 1. ISSN 0963-1496.

External links[edit]

  • River Humber Ferries—Private web site about the Steam era ferries
  • www.humber.com—Associated British Ports, Humber group. Includes daily details of major shipping movements
  • www.humberpacketboats.co.uk—Extensive private web site about history of river trading in Humber and tributaries.
  • 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.