Goole Times, 19th December 1975
END OF 100-YEAR-OLD SHIPPING LINE
On Friday one of Goole's landmarks disappeared - the sign on the offices in Stanhope Street which for almost 50 years proclaimed proudly that here were the offices of the Bennett Steamship Company.
The removal of the sign - one of the 'patent' signs made by Gunnill of Goole - coincided with the disappearance of the company as a separate entity after a century of trading from Goole. From the beginning of the month the Bennett Steamship Co. Ltd became part of P & O Ferries (General European).
John Bennett's Red Cross Line of steamers was founded in September 1875 and for 100 years the company has operated a Goole to Boulogne service. Bennett was a Goole farmer who imported fruit, vegetables and potatoes from Boulogne, using chartered ships. Outward cargoes were of coal, and Bennett soon raised sufficient capital to buy his own ships.
His original idea was to establish a regular cargo and parcels' service between Goole, Calais and Ostend but after initial setbacks a regular Goole to Boulogne service was established, largely to replace the service by the General Steam Navigation which was being discontinued. Even today the Goole to Boulogne service still sails weekly. The 528 ton Petrel regularly carries 15 000 to 18 000 cases of whisky for the French market.
The red cross of the Bennett steamship line was soon established and well- known both in this country and in France, but in 1922 its use caused trouble with the War Office, which claimed that the funnel marking of a red cross on a broad white band infringed the Geneva Convention.
The managing director of the shipping line, John Bentley Bennett, son of the founder, replied that the red cross was a well-known and valuable trade mark, and had sentimental value from its associations.
The War Office was not impressed and stated that "the continued use of the red cross emblem on the flags and funnels of your ships .......... could not be reconciled with the international obligations entered into by His Majesty's government."
Help was sought from Goole Chamber of Commerce and Shipping and from Goole's M.P., Captain T. E. Sotheron-Estcourt, who asked the finance secretary to the War Office to intervene.
It was all to no avail and in April 1933 Bennett was given two years in which to remove the red cross from the ships and house flags. A compromise was, in fact, reached and the house flag was redesigned to show a red flag on a blue background with a white border.
During the Second World War the three Bennett Steamship Co.'s vessels, Corea, Sparta and Hydra, carried munitions to France and food supplies to the population of Boulogne. The first loss was the Corea, which was blown apart by a mine off Harwich on 7th December1939. Six of the crew were lost in addition to the master, Captain Harry Needham.
Sparta also struck a mine in the English Channel in March 1941 and sank. She was originally the Petone and came to Bennett's from New Zealand. The third vessel, Hydra, was a lighter and was sold for scrap after the war.
John Bentley Bennett died in 1946 and the original family name of the company disappeared when the concern was taken over by General Steam Navigation, restoring the Goole to Boulogne service they discontinued 45 years earlier. General Steam Navigation in its turn was acquired by P & O lines.
At the height of the Goole to Boulogne trade - between the wars - Bennett's had a staff of almost 400 in Boulogne and nearly as many in this country. Today the service is run by a handful of staff at each end, headed by the general manager, Mr Douglas Longhorn, who has been with the company in Goole for 25 years.
Cargoes handled by the company in its century of trading have varied enormously. The first consignment for Goole 100 years ago included seven cases of silks from Lyons, and other cargoes included fruit, flowers and vegetables, and thousands of wicker baskets shipped direct to London and northern markets between the wars.
A quick turn-round was the secret of Bennett's success and in 1908, on the day before the Bank Holiday, 67 000 packages of vegetables were loaded on to the three ships which left between 3 p.m. and midnight to catch the Covent Garden market the next morning.
At one time the line carried cars, and in 1926 Bennett steamers crossed the Channel 534 times to carry 8 000 Citroën and Renault cars, mostly for use as London taxis. Recently cargoes have included raw wool, ores for smelting, steel strip and whisky, of which Bennett's carry 60% of France's importation.
Now the company has disappeared, bringing to an end one of the port's oldest shipping lines and a link with the 19th century entrepreneurs who built up Goole's prosperity.
|Bank Chambers, Goole showing the Bennett sign mentioned above|