Modern Beverley: Economy, 1835-1918

A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.

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A P Baggs. L M Brown. G C F Forster. I Hall. R E Horrox. G H R Kent. D Neave, 'Modern Beverley: Economy, 1835-1918', in A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989) pp. 136-141. British History Online [accessed 28 May 2024].

A P Baggs. L M Brown. G C F Forster. I Hall. R E Horrox. G H R Kent. D Neave. "Modern Beverley: Economy, 1835-1918", in A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989) 136-141. British History Online, accessed May 28, 2024,

Baggs, A P. Brown, L M. Forster, G C F. Hall, I. Horrox, R E. Kent, G H R. Neave, D. "Modern Beverley: Economy, 1835-1918", A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989). 136-141. British History Online. Web. 28 May 2024,

In this section


Economy, 1835–1918

Nineteenth-century Beverley remained, essentially, a small market town, the population growing, but slowly. Numbers in the municipal borough rose from 5,401 in 1801 to 8,915 in 1851 and 13,654 by 1911 (see Table 12). (fn. 1) Those figures show a lower rate of growth than for the population of the United Kingdom as a whole, which approximately doubled between 1801 and 1851, and doubled again by 1914. It was very much lower than the rate of growth in nearby Hull, where the population grew approximately twelve and a half times between 1801 and 1911. (fn. 2) There must, therefore, have been substantial emigration from Beverley throughout the period, in the first place into Hull but also abroad, whether directly or by stages. In 1906 the Beverley Emigration Society reported plans to send a group of men to Canada yearly, and a party of 50 left the next month. (fn. 3) Fifty years later the council sent official greetings to three Beverleys in the Commonwealth. (fn. 4)

Table 12: Population of the borough and liberties of Beverley, 1831-1981
Municipal borough Liberties Municipal borough Liberties
1831 7,432 831 1911 13,654 1,516
1841 7,574 1,097 1921 13,469 1,593
1851 8,915 1,143 1931 14,012 1,877
1861 9,654 1,214
1871 10,218 1,231 1951 15,504 3,610
1881 11,425 1,689 1961 16,031 3,641
1891 12,539 1,545 1971 17,132 5,239
1901 13,183 1,479 1981 16,214a 6,164
a The number of 'usual residents' in the four wards comprising the former borough.
Sources: V.C.H. Yorks. iii. 499; Census, 1911-81. For constituent settlements see below, Outlying Townships.

The general picture, therefore, is one of poverty and relative stagnation, as is illustrated in the record of the local poor rates. A return of 1876 showed that the cost of relief in the Beverley union, which included a ring of surrounding villages, rose from 5s. 3d. a ratepayer in 1850 to 7s. 8d. in 1874. That happened during the years of prosperity before the agricultural collapse of 1879. Comparable figures for the Hull and Sculcoates unions had fallen since 1850, and in 1874 were 4s. 10d. and 3s. 10d. Paupers in the Beverley union in 1874 were 4.1 per cent of the population, compared with 2.7 and 3.0 per cent in Hull and Sculcoates respectively. (fn. 5) A taxation return of 1856-7 illustrates another aspect of the situation: the yield of the income tax in Hull worked out at 15s. a head of the 1851 population compared with 10s. 5d. in Beverley. A breakdown of the yield into the various tax schedules shows that the main difference between the two places was in schedule D, levied on salaries: in Beverley a total of £2,462, compared with about £42,000 in Hull, had been collected under that heading. (fn. 6) This suggests that an important feature of the town's social structure was the lack of a comparatively secure and prosperous salaried class of clerks or public officials which industrial development brought into existence elsewhere.

Beverley remained isolated throughout the 19th century, except in relation to Hull. There were long-established communications by road and water with Hull, which lies only 8 miles to the south. In 1834, on the eve of the railway era, there were seven daily coaches to Hull, compared with two to Scarborough and three to York. (fn. 7) The railway linking Beverley with Hull and Bridlington was completed in 1846, only six years after the opening of the Hull and Selby line. The proposal to build the line had been supported by the corporation in spite of the fact that, as the owner of the beck, it stood to lose by competition from it. It was probably significant of the stagnant state of the town that 20 years then passed before a direct line from Beverley to the west was built. George Hudson had taken the railway from York as far as Market Weighton in 1847: his business collapsed two years later and the line was not continued to join the Hull to Bridlington line at Beverley until 1865. (fn. 8)

Such was the setting for the town's 19th-century history. Beverley was dependent for its livelihood on local agricultural business, on its position as an administrative centre, and on its ability to gain a share of the industrial business of Hull. That ability was to a considerable extent made possible by the town's possession of Beverley beck and a waterfront along the river Hull. The trade of Hull, throughout the 19th century, relied heavily upon inland navigation on the Ouse and Trent waterway systems: thanks to the beck and the river Hull, Beverley was connected to those systems.

The occupational structure of Beverley, as revealed in the 1851 census returns, (fn. 9) shows a concentration in several groups which are particularly significant when they are compared with those in the borough of Hull, (fn. 10) which had a population nearly ten times as great as that of Beverley. Among the manufacturing trades, for example, there were 38 tanners in Beverley, compared with 97 in Hull, 52 wheelwrights (49), 52 blacksmiths (309), 37 whitesmiths (96), 22 millwrights (79), 44 engine and machine workers (317), and 28 in iron manufacture (105). Leather working and the manufacture and repair of agricultural machinery were evidently prominent in Beverley. The returns also suggest that the town, with its pleasant residential streets, the open spaces of Westwood, and the belief that it was a healthy place, had attracted a professional and rentier population. There were 16 medical men in Beverley, compared with 107 in Hull, 57 schoolteachers (267), 87 proprietors of houses or land (364), and 150 annuitants of both sexes (703). In general it was a town with one or two modern industries and some professional and gentry families, but, over all, a place without much money.

At the end of the century the picture was much the same. The 1901 census provided numbers, in grouped occupations, for municipal boroughs. In Beverley there were 165 in engineering, 476 tanners, 116 in woodworking other than housebuilding, and, among the women, 689 domestic servants and 236 milliners. Men employed in shipbuilding were not separately enumerated. (fn. 11)

Three or four industries were particularly prominent. Grain milling was long established in the town and in 1834 there were nine millers altogether, including five on or near Westwood, two at Grovehill, and one, with a water mill, in Hull Road. (fn. 12) By the end of the century all but one had gone out of business. (fn. 13) Josiah Crathorne had started milling at Grovehill c. 1830. By the 1850s he used steam as well as wind power and the mill was later much, enlarged. (fn. 14) With its favourable situation beside the river Hull, Crathorne's was able to make the change to rollergrinding of imported grain which became so important in Hull after 1885. Yet when the mill was burned down in 1907 it was not rebuilt: (fn. 15) it seems likely that a mill 8 miles away from its importing and distributing centre was in a poor competitive position.

Tanning, which probably employed more men than any other occupation in Beverley in 1901, was equally long established. In 1851 there were half a dozen firms, along the southern edge of the town, the largest being those of William Hodgson, George Cussons, and George Catterson. Hodgson's, which had been started in 1812, became predominant; it was on a fairly large scale, making average annual profits of over £2,000 between 1832 and 1850. (fn. 16) In 1851 Hodgson's, employed 70 men and in 1890 as many as 450 at the tannery in Flemingate. (fn. 17) With its position near the head of the beck it had easy access to a supply of imported hides, and by the 20th century it owned a fleet of 15 powered barges. (fn. 18) The firm was typical of many in and around Hull in the later 19th century. Its proprietor from 1845, Richard Hodgson, was a leading Liberal in the town and a supporter of the Mechanics' Institute. (fn. 19) He was nevertheless determinedly opposed to trade unionism, as was demonstrated in the bitter strike which broke out in May 1890, when 75 of his employees, who were members of the Dockers' Union, were dismissed. That was immediately followed by sympathetic, action, in Hull where dockers refused to handle material consigned to the tannery and seamen refused to carry Hodgson's products. Tom Mann and Ben Tillett both came to address the strikers in Beverley. Hodgson's refused any concessions and the strike collapsed in September 1890. (fn. 20) It was an episode which well illustrates the close relationship between industry in Beverley and Hull. The longest lasting of Hodgson's rivals was Cussons's. The tannery in Keldgate had been acquired by George Cussons in 1834 and was worked by the Cussons family until c. 1910. It was sold to Hodgson's in 1915 and after a period of disuse was later revived. (fn. 21)

The largest enterprise in Beverley in the mid 19th century was Crosskill's ironworks. (fn. 22) The firm had been established by William Crosskill, a whitesmith, by 1825, when it began to make articles in, cast iron, such as railings and lamp standards for the Beverley gas undertaking. Some years later, in 1844, Crosskill provided lamp standards for the street lighting system installed in Hamburg, and from 1849 a branch in Liverpool sold kits of emigrants' tools. He had expanded into the manufacture of agricultural machinery in the 1830s, and increasingly concentrated on it. His catalogue shows a wide range of machines, the best known being the clod-crusher, of which he had sold 2,478 by 1850, but he also produced ploughs, harrows, and threshing machines. The history of the firm is a confusing mixture of a wide-ranging and inventive output, the expansion of premises and numbers employed, and persistent financial trouble. In 1847, the year of the collapse of the railway boom, Crosskill's was in difficulty and was mortgaged to the East Riding Bank. During the Crimean War the firm produced over 3,000 army carts and wagons and some ordnance: yet in 1855, when trade in Hull was depressed as a result of the war, the bank foreclosed.

After it was found that the trustees for Crosskill's creditors were abusing the terms of the trust, the firm was sold in 1864 to a company led by Sir Henry Edwards, the Conservative M.P. for the town. Edwards claimed that he bought the 'Old Foundry', as it was called, as an act of charity to save the employees from destitution, but it is clear that his underlying motive was to create a base for patronage. Others not immediately concerned held that the firm had been chronically in trouble for some time, though no precise reason could be given. (fn. 23) One explanation may well be that the opening of the Hull and Selby line in 1840 reduced the competitive advantage which the firm had enjoyed in the Hull export trade. In general, a small firm working on large contracts, such as that for the Hamburg gas undertaking, was likely to suffer from liquidity problems.

After 1864 the firm was continued under the name of the Beverley Iron & Waggon Co. Its political justification disappeared with the disfranchisement of the town in 1870, but it survived until the depression of the late seventies, when it was closed in 1879 with the loss of 200-300 jobs. (fn. 24) The premises in Mill Lane were sold and much of the site was used for a recreation ground and the Cottage Hospital in the 1880s. (fn. 25) The fact that the firm had debts of £24,000 when it was closed (fn. 26) suggests that Edwards had formerly subsidized it to a considerable amount, but had ceased to do so. In the mean time, in 1864, Crosskill's sons Alfred and Edmund had set up a rival firm, trading as William Crosskill & Sons, on a site in Eastgate. They continued to make railway wagons and farm carts there until 1904, when they in their turn were taken over by the East Yorkshire Cart & Waggon Co. (fn. 27) The latter company had until 1880 been known as Sawney & Co., and it had works in Trinity Lane which William Sawney first occupied in 1862. (fn. 28) As the East Yorkshire and Crosskills Cart & Waggon Co. it eventually went into liquidation in 1914, and a later revival of the firm was short lived. (fn. 29) While none of those firms became permanently established, the need for a supplier of agricultural machinery was clearly persistent.

The last of the leading industries, shipbuilding, is perhaps a surprising one to find on the banks of the narrow river Hull. The building and repair of wooden ships was long established at Grovehill, and also beside the beck (fn. 30) where a second dry dock was made near the lock in 1858. (fn. 31) The first to make iron vessels were Henry and Joseph Scarr, who already had an engineering works near the head of the beck. In 1882 they launched two iron boats, the first next to their works and a larger one a little further down the beck. (fn. 32) In 1884 a dredger 70 ft. long and with a beam of 23 ft. had to be taken to the lock to be launched, and in the 1890s Scarrs moved to a more spacious yard by the river, in Weel. (fn. 33) In 1882 a larger firm, the Vulcan Iron Co. of Hull, established a shipyard on land owned by the corporation at Grovehill and began the production of bigger ships. Two years later the company was wound up and the yard was let to Cochrane, Hamilton & Cooper; it in turn collapsed in 1900 and the yard was taken by Cook, Welton & Gemmell of Hull the next year. (fn. 34) Engines, dredging gear, and other equipment were supplied by Hull firms: Beverley shipbuilding was an integral part of the Hull economy. It was possible to build bigger ships than might now be expected: in September 1884, for example, the Vulcan Iron Co. launched two ocean-going vessels of 1,500 tons. (fn. 35) Altogether Cochrane's built 245 vessels between 1884 and 1901. (fn. 36)

The development of shipbuilding at Beverley was partly in consequence of the fast growth of steam trawling from the Humber in the 1880s and 1890s. (fn. 37) An explanation of the otherwise puzzling choice of Beverley, with its reliance on the narrow river Hull, may lie in the fact that the Vulcan shipyard was opened shortly after the final closure of the Beverley Iron & Waggon Company's works, which offered a supply of experienced iron workers. When Cochrane's took over the yard in 1884 it was hoped that shopkeepers in the town would regain their income from the 'upwards of £500' in weekly wages which the workers had lost when the ironworks was closed. (fn. 38) The iron shipbuilding industry in Beverley was a creation of the last years of the century, a period of rapid economic growth in Hull. For most of the 19th century it would be truer to say that Beverley grew very slowly.

Of the lesser industries in the town several were concerned with processing agricultural produce or making goods for agricultural use. Breweries and maltings included the old-established Golden Ball brewery in Toll Gavel, which was rebuilt for the Stephensons to designs by William Hawe c. 1868. (fn. 39) Seed crushing and fertilizer manufacture were carried on at Hull Bridge, (fn. 40) and the former also at Beckside. (fn. 41) By 1848 Tigar & Co. had added fertilizers to its other products at Grovehill and fertilizers later became the firm's main concern. (fn. 42) There were also several whiting works in Beverley Parks, together with one at Beckside. (fn. 43) Other occupations notable at an earlier period still flourished. In the 1851 census returns there were 75 gardeners and nurserymen, and the Swailes family had over 100 a. of garden ground in 1865. (fn. 44) The half dozen brickmakers in 1851 included Anthony Atkinson, who retired in 1865 after 45 years in business. (fn. 45) It also remained the case, throughout the 19th century, that many townsmen were directly involved with agriculture; for farmers and cowkeepers there was much open land around the town, as well as the freemen's rights on the common pastures. In the 1851 census returns some 280 people had agricultural occupations. (fn. 46)

Many of the industrial premises, together with the gas works, were situated at Grovehill or near the beck and depended in varying degrees on water traffic. In a period when many inland waterways were losing money or being closed down the beck continued to flourish. The tonnage carried grew from some 31,000 in 1838 to nearly 40,000 in 1868, 56,000 in 1898, and 101,540 in 1905. (fn. 47) The town's trade was increasing, but only slowly, particularly in the first half of the century.


  • 1. See also above, Beverley, 1700-1835 (Table 9).
  • 2. V.C.H. Yorks. E.R. i. 215.
  • 3. Beverley Guardian, 24 Feb., 7 Apr. 1906.
  • 4. Ibid. 23 June 1956.
  • 5. Return of No. of Paupers in Each Union in Eng. in 1850 etc. H.C. 214, p. 61 (1876), lxiii.
  • 6. Return of Property and Income Tax in Each Boro. in 1856-7, H.C. 123, p. 4 (1859 Sess. 1), xxiii.
  • 7. Pigot, Dir. Yorks. (1834), 674.
  • 8. K. A. MacMahon, Beginnings of E. Yorks. Rlys. (E. Yorks. Loc. Hist. Ser. iii), 11-14; below, Communications.
  • 9. In the published Census for 1851 the figures for the boro. are not separated from those for the registration district, which included all the villages in the poor-law union. The census returns are at P.R.O., HO 107/2359. The figures below have been calculated from information kindly provided by Dr. D. Foster, Humberside Coll. of Higher Educ., where the contents of the returns have been processed.
  • 10. Census, 1851.
  • 11. Ibid. 1901.
  • 12. Pigot, Dir. Yorks. (1834), 673.
  • 13. Directories; below, Common Lands; Outlying Townships (Beverley Parks). Directories imply that Thirsks were milling at Station Mill in Beverley in the early 20th cent. but that mill was in Nafferton: V.C.H. Yorks. E.R. ii. 291.
  • 14. Milling, 11 June 1904, 469; O.S. Map 6", Yorks. CCXI (1855 edn.); above, Beverley, 1700-1835. Illus. in Brown, Old Beverley, pl. 42; see below, plate facing p. 204.
  • 15. R.D.B., 127/403/366; Beverley Guardian, 19 Jan. 1907; V.C.H. Yorks. E.R., i. 256.
  • 16. P.R.O, HO 107/2359; J. C. P. Watson, 'Tanning Ind. in Beverley; 1830-1950' (Manchester Univ. B.A. dissertation, 1978), 24-9; above, Beverley, 1700-1835.
  • 17. P.R.O., HO 107/2359; Hist. and Growth of Ric. Hodgson & Sons, Ltd. [3].
  • 18. Hist. and Growth of Hodgson & Sons, [9].
  • 19. Watson, 'Tanning Ind.' 52.
  • 20. Hist. and Growth of Hodgson & Sons, [3-4].
  • 21. H.R.O., DDX/331/30; R.D.B., 169/365/304; directories; below (Beverley after 1945).
  • 22. See below, plate facing p. 140.
  • 23. G. P. Brown, 'Crosskills of Beverley', E. Yorks. Loc. Hist. Soc. Bulletin, xxvi. 7-9.
  • 24. Beverley Guardian, 16 Jan. 1864; 27 July 1878; 4 Jan. 1879.
  • 25. R.D.B., NT/363/502; NU/395/584; NX/294/437; below, Public Services.
  • 26. Beverley Guardian, 27 July 1878.
  • 27. R.D.B., 62/125/1118 (1904); Brown, op. cit. 8.
  • 28. R.D.B., IN/270/367; IR/208/278; 133/138/129; Beverley Guardian, 28 June 1862.
  • 29. Brown, op. cit. 8; below (Beverley, 1918-45).
  • 30. Beverley Guardian, 20 June 1857; 30 Oct. 1858; above, Beverley, 1700-1835.
  • 31. H.R.O., BC/II/7/11, pp. 48, 92; BC/II/7/14, pp. 309, 361, 384.
  • 32. Directories; Beverley Guardian, 18 Nov. 1882.
  • 33. Beverley Guardian, 2 and 9 Feb. 1884; below, Outlying Townships.
  • 34. H.R.O., BC/II/7/19, pp. 51, 78, 92, 234; Beverley Guardian, 8 Dec. 1883; 22 Mar., 27 Sept. 1884; Beverley Independent, 1 and 29 Sept. 1900; 18 May 1901.
  • 35. Beverley Guardian, 27 Sept. 1884.
  • 36. City of Kingston upon Hull Mus. and Art Gallery, Bull. xv. 35-6; see below, plate facing p. 252.
  • 37. V.C.H. Yorks. E.R. i. 254-5.
  • 38. Beverley Guardian, 27 Sept. 1884.
  • 39. Beverley Independent, 3 Apr. 1897; 2 Apr. 1898.
  • 40. Below, Outlying Townships.
  • 41. R.D.B., 45/251/229 (1891); Beverley Guardian, 27 Mar. 1937; directories.
  • 42. Beverley Guardian, 5 Jan. 1867; directories.
  • 43. R.D.B., 48/156/154 (1891); 23/311/282 (1900); directories.
  • 44. P.R.O., HO 107/2359; directories; Beverley Guardian, 4 Feb. 1865.
  • 45. P.R.O., HO 107/2359; directories; O.S. Map 6", Yorks. CCX, CCXI (1855 and later edns.); Beverley Guardian, 14 Jan. 1865; 14 Sept. 1867.
  • 46. P.R.O., HO 107/2359; directories; A. Harris, Milk Supply of E. Yorks. 1850-1950 (E. Yorks. Loc. Hist. Ser. xxxiii), 9-10, 14-15; below, Common Lands.
  • 47. B. F. Duckham, Inland Waterways of E. Yorks. 17001900 (E. Yorks. Loc. Hist. Ser. xxix), 14-15.