Ferry History

Behind the Scenes with Birkenhead Corporation's Ferry Orders

My father, Charles McRonald, was Chairman of Birkenhead’s Municipal Transport Committee at the time when the orders for the three new ferries (Mountwood, Woodchurch and Overchurch) were placed in the late 1950s. As a result, I was privy to some of the “behind the scenes” events.

In the mid-1950s, Birkenhead Corporation owned 4 coal-fired steam ferries: Hinderton (1925), Thurstaston (1930), Claughton (1930) and Bidston (1933), all built at Birkenhead by Cammell Laird. With increasing age, their maintenance costs were rising, although these had been contained by closing the ferry’s own maintenance department and entrusting repairs and overhauls to local ship repairers. All four ferries were from a similar era, but Hinderton was significantly older than the other three, and her replacement was clearly rather more urgent.

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Mersey Ferry used to carry railway carriages to Dublin

A photograph in the Railway Gazette, dated 25th June 1926, showed two Pullman railway cars for Ireland being loaded at Birkenhead on to a vessel which appeared to be a luggage boat from the Birkenhead ferry service. The photograph showed one car already on the vessel, and another being lifted on board by a crane. The bogies had been removed from the cars, and one set was on the quay. The text accompanying the photograph referred to four cars. It was not clear whether the luggage boat had been used to trans-ship the Pullman cars to a seagoing vessel, or had herself crossed to Dublin. An investigation of the minutes of the Birkenhead Ferries Committee around that period did not found any reference to a charter associated with the event.

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Same Names, Different Rivers

THE MERSEY FERRIES ROYAL DAFFODIL AND ROYAL IRIS, AND THEIR THAMES COUNTERPARTS.

The names Royal Daffodil and Royal Iris have long been associated with Mersey ferries, having each been used on successive ships. The names originated in the aftermath of the First World War. There was also a tradition of ships on the Thames and its estuary using the name Royal Daffodil and, for many years, the existence of these ships prevented the use of the proper name on the Mersey. In recent years, a similar situation has prevailed with the name Royal Iris.

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Mersey Ferries - The Irish Connections

When our Mersey ferries have finished their useful lives on the river, sometimes they are sold for breaking up. However, frequently they have been bought by other operators for service elsewhere. In view of the geography, it is perhaps not surprising that more Mersey ferries have been sold to Irish owners than to any other group of buyers. The majority of the ferries were used as tenders, carrying passengers to and from passenger liners, mainly transatlantic. This was especially so at the port of Cork, where Cobh (formerly called Queenstown) has always been the major Irish transatlantic departure point. However, some former Mersey ferries were used as excursion vessels.

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