The River Hull is a navigable river in the East Riding of Yorkshire in Northern England. It rises from a series of springs to the west of Driffield, and enters the Humber Estuary at Kingston upon Hull. Following a period when the Archbishops of York charged tolls for its use, it became a free navigation. The upper reaches became part of the Driffield Navigation from 1770, after which they were again subject to tolls, and the section within the city of Hull came under the jurisdiction of the Port of Hull, with the same result.
Most of its course is through low-lying land that is at or just above sea level, and regular flooding has been a long-standing problem along the waterway. Drainage schemes to alleviate it were constructed on both sides of the river. The Holderness Drainage scheme to the east was completed in 1772, with a second phase in 1805, and the Beverley and Barmston Drain to the west was completed in 1810. Since 1980, the mouth of the river has been protected by a tidal barrier at the estuary, which can be closed to prevent tidal surges entering the river system and causing flooding upriver.
Most of the bridges which cross the river are movable, to allow shipping to pass. There are six swing bridges; four bascule bridges, two of which have twin leaves, one for each carriageway of the roads which they carry; and three Scherzer lift bridges, which are a type of rolling bascule bridge. The former Scott Street Bridge (taken out of use 1994 and dismantled 2020) was originally powered from a high pressure water main maintained by the first public power distribution company in the world.
The name Hull is probably of Brittonic origin. The name may derive from *hūl, an element related to *hū- meaning “boil, soak, seethe” (Old Celtic *seu-; c.f. River Sill in Europe).
The source of the River Hull is in the Yorkshire Wolds. It rises from a series of springs to the west of Driffield, near the site of the medieval village of Elmswell. The Elmswell Beck flows eastwards from these, and is joined by the Little Driffield Beck, which flows southwards from Little Driffield. It continues as the Driffield Beck, flowing around the south-western edge of Driffield, where it is joined by the Driffield Trout Stream. After the junction, it becomes the River Hull or the West Beck and flows to the east, before turning south to reach Corps Landing. For much of the route below Driffield, the Driffield Navigation runs parallel to the river.
The river from Corps Landing to its mouth is navigable. At Emmotland, it is joined by the Frodingham Beck, which is also navigable, and leads to the canal into Driffield, which forms the major part of the Driffield Navigation. Scurf Dyke joins from the west and is followed by Struncheon Hill lock, which marks the end of the Navigation, and the official start of the navigable River Hull. Below here, the river is tidal. The tidal range of tides can be up to 7 feet (2.1 m) in winter and 4 feet (1.2 m) in summer. Just above the lock, the Beverley and Barmston Drain, which collects water from the catchwater drains on either side of the main channel, flows under the navigation in a tunnel, and runs just to the west of the river almost to its mouth. Below the lock, the surrounding land is almost at sea level, and the river is constrained by flood banks on both sides.
On its route southwards, the river passes the former junction with Aike Beck, once navigable to Lockington Landing, but the stream was subsequently re-routed to join the Arram Beck. The Leven Canal used to join on the east bank, but the entrance lock has been replaced by a sluice. The Arram Beck flows in from the west, and then the river is crossed by Hull Bridge, the cause of repeated disagreement between the owners of the Driffield Navigation and the Corporation of Beverley, who owned the bridge. Just above Beverley Beck, which joins from the west, is Grovehill Bridge, now a lift bridge but once a ferry bridge.
Once the river reaches the outskirts of Hull, its course is marked by a series of bridges, most of which open to allow boats to pass. There are swing bridges, lift bridges and bascule bridges, and the river becomes part of the Port of Hull. The river, which is the dividing line between West and East Hull, bisects the city’s industrial area. The bridges can cause traffic delays during high tides, though river traffic is less than it once was. The Beverley and Barmston Drain rejoins the river above Scott Street Bridge. Below North Bridge, an unused dry dock on the west bank marks the former entrance to Queens Dock. Below Drypool Bridge, a muddy basin on the east bank was once the entrance to Drypool Basin and Victoria Dock. The river reaches its confluence with the HumberEstuary in the centre of Kingston upon Hull. At its mouth, a tidal barrier has been constructed to prevent tidal surges from entering the river. In the past, these had regularly flooded the town and the flat countryside to the north.