Ellesmere Port Boat Museum

I made a visit to what is now known as the National Waterways Museum in Ellesmere Port which is situated in South Wirral on the banks of the River Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal.

The museum contains the largest collection of canal boats in the world.  It has boats from Britain’s inland waterways and canals including narrowboats, barges,tugs and some wide bodied vessels as well.  The museum has been developed on a site at the northern end of the Shropshire Union Canal where it enters the Manchester Ship Canal at Ellesmere Port where huge warehouses, docks and a range of moorings and locks were built as the canal port developed.

The canal to Ellesmere Port was built by Thomas Telford and William Jessop funded by the merchants of the Shropshire town of Ellesmere to give them an outlet onto the Mersey and the port of Liverpool for their goods.  The canal was completed in 1795 and over the next hundred years the village of Netherpool which changed its name to Ellesmere Port grew steadily.  Industrial areas grew up around the canal and its docks attracted more and more workers to the area and the town itself continued to expand.

The Manchester Ship Canal opened in 1894 giving businesses in Manchester direct access to the Atlantic to export their goods.  The Stanlow Oil Refinery was completed further along the ship canal in the 1920s and the town expanded so that it now incorporated further outlying villages as suburbs.  The canal port continued to be fully operational until the 1950s.

With the growth of railways and road transportation the use of canals declined and the dock complex was abandoned in the 1960s.  In 1973 a group of volunteers came together to rebuild the warehouses and the lock system and they founded the Ellesmere Port Boat Museum which became the National Waterways Museum in 2004.

The museum covers the area of the former canal port and retains the original system of locks, docks and warehouses.  The Island Warehouse now includes an exhibition on the history of boat-building and an exhibition which describes the social history of canals.  The Pump House contains the steam-driven pumping engines which supplied power for the hydraulic cranes and the capstans which were used around the dock and the Power Hall contains a variety of other engines.

The Museum also contains a terrace of four houses known as ‘Porter’s Row’. These were dock workers’ cottages which have been decorated and furnished to represent different periods from the docks history.  The houses show how they would have been in the 1830s, the 1900s, the 1930s and the 1950s.

The area outside the dockworkers’ cottages is set out as a typical street scene from around the 1940s and 1950s.

Whilst the museum displays many canal boats which tell the story of the waterways the heritage boat yard has a number of old and neglected boats which the boatyard aims to restore training young people in the skills of boat restoration.

Looking across the Boat Museum to the Manchester Ship Canal you can see the Widnes/Runcorn Bridge in the distance, another feat of engineering which was opened in 1961 to replace an older bridge dating from 1905.

The Holiday Inn which is adjacent to the boat museum is built on the site of the former Telford’s Winged Warehouse.  So called because it was a four storey building built on two arches across the canal basin.  It was completed in 1835 but was burned down in 1970.  The Holiday Inn was built in the late 1980s.  As I walked past the locks next to the Holiday Inn a pair of swans were feeding on the downfall from the lock gates.

All in all this was a very interesting walk back in time to the days when canals fed the industrial revolution which saw Britain develop into the first industrialised nation.

A space in time a visit to Jodrell Bank

This world renowned facility dates back to 1945 when the physicist and radio astronomer Bernard Lovell, following his work during WWII on the development of radar, took up a post at the University of Manchester to observe cosmic rays.  The project required a ‘quiet’ site away from the noise of the city to observe the solar system.  The University chose its botanical station at a little known place called Jodrell Bank, near Holmes Chapel in Cheshire 20 miles south of Manchester, to build a radio telescope.  Bernard Lovell was the first Director of what became the Jodrell Bank Observatory, from 1945 to 1980 when he retired.  He sadly died aged 98 in August this year.

Jodrell Bank is only 45 miles from the Wirral and with a rare day off I went along to the Discovery Centre on the site to find out more about this leading radio astronomy facility.  I have seen the telescope several times from afar.  Driving home as you come from to Buxton you can see Jodrell Bank on the Cheshire Plain far below the Derbyshire Peak District its white shape gleaming against a green backdrop.  Today I took a close up view of the facility.

The telescope was designed so that it could be pointed to any part of the sky.  It is a fully steerable and tiltable telescope with a solid steel surface dish capable of focussing radio waves from space to the monitoring station located in the gounds.  It was completed in the summer of 1957 and in October that year it followed the launch by the then Soviet Union of the first satellite into earth orbit, Sputnik 1.  The Mk1 telescope (now known as the Lovell Telescope being the largest of the four telescopes on the site) was able to track the progress of the launch rocket by radar. This brought the telescope into the public’s eye and it was realised that Britain had built a unique instrument which was in great demand for monitoring the satellites and space craft that were launched by the US and USSR as part of the ‘space race’ in the 1960’s.  Whilst this was never a major part of the telescopes’ work, the payments for its use helped pay the debts that were outstanding for its original construction together with a large donation by Lord Nuffield and the Nuffield Foundation.

The main Lovell Telescope is 76m wide and it is still the third largest steerable radio telescope in the world. There are three other active telescopes located at the observatory; the 28x 25m diameter Mark II, as well as 13m and 7m diameter radio telescopes.

Jodrell Bank has played an important role in the research of meteors, quasars, pulsars, masers as well as the tracking of space probes.  Jodrell Bank Observatory is the base of the Multi-Element Radio Linked Interferometer Network (MERLIN), an array of seven radio telescopes spread across England and the Welsh borders connected together which allows the astronomers to be able to collect more data from space.  The dish is moved around on a track with large bogey wheels which slowly move the telescope to face the correct direction or ‘azimuth’ and large motors mounted on the semi circular arms are able to tilt the dish to the required angle of inclination to observe the relevant part of the sky being studied.

The Discovery Centre has an interactive experience which includes exhibits about the planets and the solar system.  It includes this beautiful clockwork orrery in the centre of the exhibition room.  An orrery is a mechanical device that illustrates the relative positions and motions of the planets and moons in the Solar System.  Though the Greeks had working planetaria, the first orrery that was a planetarium of the modern era was produced in 1704, and one was presented to the Earl of Orrery who then gave his name to the devise.  As with this model built by Smith and Nephew of Liverpool an orrery is typically driven by a clockwork mechanism with a globe representing the Sun at the centre, and with a planet at the end of each of the arms.

In the grounds around the telescope there is a statue showing Nicolaus Copernicus the Renaissance astronomer and whose controversial proposal was that rather than the earth it was the sun which was in the centre of the universe and the earth revolved around it.  He is regarded as the father of modern astronomy.

The astronomers and physicists at the Observatory can access the giant dish through a series of walkways, lifts and steps.  The surface of the Lovell Telescope has been renewed on two occasions the last being in 2002.

Jodrell Bank remains a world leader in radio astronomy-related research and technology development and research across the electromagnetic spectrum.  Next time I see the telescope from a far on my travels I will remember my visit and experience being close up today.

A walk along Hoylake Promenade

I had a walk along the promenade at Hoylake on one our recent October sunny days and took a few photos of what caught my eye in the early evening autumn sunlight.  There were a few people out on the beach, horse riders riding into the sun and dog walkers kicking across the sand.

As well as the views looking out across Liverpool Bay and across to Hilbre Island there are some fine examples of Wirral’s heritage to appreciate on the promenade.

Outside the recently built RNLI lifeboat station is a memorial statue which was unveiled in December 2010 in memory of eight Hoylake lifeboat men who lost their lives in a heroic rescue bid 200 years earlier in December1810.  The bronze statue was created by local sculptor Paul Bearman and represents Joseph Bennett, who was lifeboat coxswain at the time of the tragedy and who survived.  It depicts him standing at the helm of the boat as it sinks.  The crew, who were local fishermen, was responding to a ship called the Traveller which had been driven on shore in the Mersey, the boat going to their rescue was overwhelmed by the sea and 8 out of the 10 of the lifeboat crew were drowned.  Two families were badly affected by the tragedy.  John Bird aged 40, his sons Henry, 18, and John, 16, and nephew Henry Bird, 18 lost their lives and in addition were Joseph Hughes, aged 28, his brother Richard, 36, and Richard’s son Thomas Hughes who was 16.

Close to the memorial statue is the Victorian drinking fountain which dates back to 1897 which was installed to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.  The cast iron drinking fountain on was restored in 2008.  It was originally manufactured in Glasgow and installed on Hoylake and Meols promenade in 1897.  But years of weather corrosion meant the structure fell into disrepair.  A grant of £25,000 from the local council was provided so that the fountain could be repaired.

Fellowship House is painted a bright terracotta red which caught the late afternoon sun with a warm glow.  The building used to be the home for the blind at some point and more recently it has been converted as a home for adults with learning difficulties by a local housing association.  Nearby on the corner of Trinity Road is another house which takes a warm pink glow from the sun late in the day.  The roof of the Sanderlings day nursery building has had another use in its past and the bright blue ‘spire’ caught my eye.

But as the day was drawing in the view across to Hilbre with the sun’s rays peeping through the clouds was a fitting end to my walk.