Manchester Ship Canal Cruise

We took a trip aboard the Mersey Ferry boat the ‘Snowdrop’ which is currently painted as a dazzle ship (see my earlier blog post) on a cruise up the River Mersey and along the Manchester Ship Canal to its terminus at Salford Quays.

The Manchester Ship Canal is 36-miles long (58 km) linking Manchester to the Irish Sea.  In large part it follows alongside the routes of the rivers Mersey and Irwell.

There are many landmarks along the way.  There are many different types of bridges which have to be lifted or swung aside to allow ships to pass up or down the canal.  As well as bridges there are many sets of locks to be negotiated.  In order to travel from the tidal River Mersey the ship canal has to negotiate four sets of locks (including the entrance lock at Eastham) which lift vessels around 60 feet (18 m) up to Manchester.  And on the banks of the canal there are many historic buildings and a changing industrial landscape.

The rivers Mersey and Irwell were first made navigable in the early 18th century. Goods were also transported on the Runcorn extension of the Bridgewater Canal (from 1776) and the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (from 1830), but by the late 19th century the Mersey and Irwell Navigation had fallen into disrepair and were often unusable.  Manchester’s business community viewed the charges imposed by Liverpool’s docks and the railway companies as excessive and a ship canal was proposed as a way of giving ocean-going vessels direct access to Manchester.  A public campaign was set up to enlist support for the scheme and was presented to Parliament as a bill in 1882. However, faced with stiff opposition from Liverpool, the canal’s supporters were unable to gain the necessary Act of Parliament to allow the scheme to go ahead until 1885.

Construction of the ship canal began in 1887 taking six years to complete at a cost of £15 million which is estimated to be equivalent to about £1.65 billion in today’s money!  When the ship canal opened in January 1894 it was the largest river navigation canal in the world, and enabled the newly created Port of Manchester to become Britain’s third busiest port despite the city being about 40 miles (64 km) inland.

Changes to shipping methods and the growth of containerisation during the 1970s and 1980s meant that many ships were now too big to use the canal and traffic declined, resulting in the closure of the terminal docks at Salford in 1984. The canal is able to accommodate a range of vessels from coastal ships to inter-continental cargo liners but it is not large enough for most modern vessels. By 2011 traffic had decreased from its peak in 1958 of 18 million long tons (20 million short tons) of freight each year to about 7 million long tons (7.8million short tons).

The canal was bought by the private company Peel Ports in 1993.  Peel are re-developing sites along the ship canal and are looking to increase shipping from 8,000 containers a year to 100,000 by 2030 as part of their Atlantic Gateway project.

I took a number of photographs along the route.

We took the ferry from Seacombe with a short hop to the Pierhead at Liverpool and down along the Mersey.

Woodside Ferry terminal in Birkenhead is the second Mersey Ferry terminal on the Wirral side.  The New Brighton and Tranmere ferry terminals having long since closed down.

Cammel Lairds shipbuilders yard with the twelve century Birkenhead Priory building as a backdrop.  I’ve posted in the past about both of these sites.

The former grand merchants houses at Rock Park on Wirral look much more elegant from the river even looking through the Tranmere Oil Terminal.  Rock Park comprises a varied selection of Grade 2 listed villas built between 1836 and 1850 along with landscaped drives and a Victorian Esplanade overlooking the River Mersey.  The Tranmere Oil Terminal was opened on 8 June 1960 to handle vessels of up to 65,000 tons, and is connected to the Stanlow Oil Refinery by a 15mile (24 km) pipeline. Part of the terminal occupies the site of a former ferry service to Liverpool, with the old pier considerably modified.

At Eastham locks on the River Mersey forms the entrance to the Manchester Ship Canal just after the Eastham Ferry Hotel.  We passed the Sten Idun chemical tanker being navigated down the canal by the MSC tugs Victory and Viking.

At Ellesmere Port the canal is joined by the Shropshire Union Canal, at a site now occupied by the National Waterways Museum. The area was a 7-acre (2.8 ha) canal port linking the Shropshire Union Canal to the River Mersey. It was designed by Thomas Telford and it remained operational until the 1950s.  I’ve posted about the boat museum in an earlier blog.

Essar Oil UK Stanlow Oil refinery is situated on the south bank of the Manchester Ship Canal, which is used to transport seaborne oil for refining and chemicals for Essar and Shell.  Stanlow has a refining capacity of 12 million tonnes per year, it is the second largest in the United Kingdom and produces a sixth of the UK’s petrol needs.  Stanlow is also a large producer for commodities such as jet fuel and diesel.  The refinery serves much of England through the UK oil pipeline network.  Oil is delivered to the Tranmere Oil Terminal via ship and pumped to Stanlow, where it is then refined and stored for delivery.

At Weston, near Runcorn, the ship canal also connects with the Weaver Navigation.  Stobart Ports now own the docks at Weston Point.  They are developing the site as an ‘inter-modal’ port facility to enable freight, currently carried by road, to be transported by rail and water. This will see increased warehousing, new container handling facilities, an extension to the existing West Coast main line rail siding, a new link road, and improved navigable access between the dock and the Manchester Ship Canal.

At Runcorn Ineos manufactures chemicals including chlorine, chlorine-containing compounds including vinyl chloride, heavy chemicals including alkalis, and fluorine-containing compounds. A separate business within the same company manufactures salt from brine transported by pipeline from the saltfields of central Cheshire.

The Runcorn railway bridge is on a branch of the West Coast Main Line and provides frequent services to the Liverpool Lime Street and London Euston stations.  Locally it has been called the Queen Ethelfleda Viaduct but more widely as the Britannia Bridge. The bridge is named after Ethelfleda because the southern abutments and pier were built on the site of the Saxon walled settlement built by her in 915.  Parts of the bridge are castellated to reflect this. There are three shields above the footway – the Coat of Arms of the City of London, Britannia (from the crest of the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) company and the Liver Bird of Liverpool.  Because of the crest the bridge is also known as the Britannia Railway Bridge.

The A533 road crosses the Runcorn Gap over the Silver Jubilee Bridge, the lowest bridge crossing of the River Mersey.  It is a through arch bridge with a main arch span of 330 m. It was opened in 1961 as a replacement for the Widnes-Runcorn Transporter Bridge, and was initially known simply as the Runcorn Bridge or Runcorn–Widnes Bridge.  In 1975–77 it was widened, after which it was given its official name in honour of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.  The bridge is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade II listed building.

The Silver Jubilee Bridge is a bottleneck and becomes congested at peak travel times, and in the event of a breakdown or accident on the bridge, traffic in the area comes to a standstill. To resolve this problem, a second crossing of the Mersey the Mersey Gateway is now being built.  Construction began in May 2014 and is due to be completed by the autumn of 2017. It is located approximately just less than a mile (1.5km) to the east of the existing Silver Jubilee Bridge that connects the towns of Widnes and Runcorn.  It is will be a toll bridge, with three lanes in each direction.  The design is a cable-stayed bridge with three towers across the river and a second bridge across the ship canal.  It will be 2.3km long with a river span of 1km. The main bridge deck is made from reinforced concrete and the spans are supported by steel cable stays attached to pylons rising up to between 80 and 125m above the river bed.

As we move on down the ship canal we travel past a number of bridges.  The construction of the Manchester Ship Canal included the construction of several swing bridges and high level bridges which would not obstruct tall vessels travelling on the Canal.

Old Quay swing bridge

Moore Lane swing bridge

Acton Grange Railway viaduct

Chester Road swing bridge

Northwich Road swing bridge

Latchford High Level Bridge, Knutsford Road swing bridge and Latchford viaduct

Latchford Locks.  Latchford was chosen as the location of intermediate locks on the Manchester Ship Canal. These comprise a larger lock for ocean-going vessels and a smaller lock to its south for coasters, tugs and barges. A ship mooring area was provided on the canal’s south bank and enabled two large vessels to pass each other at this point.

Thelwall Viaduct or officially called Thelwall High Level Bridge.  The viaduct is a steel composite girder viaduct close to the village of Lymm  It carries the M6 motorway across the Manchester Ship Canal and the River Mersey.  It actually comprises two entirely separate bridges, one of 4,414 feet long carrying the northbound carriageway, which was the longest motorway bridge in England when it was opened in July 1963, and one 4,500 feet long carrying the southbound carriageway which was opened in 1995.  The longest single span is the one of 336 feet crossing the ship canal.

Warburton High Level Bridge.  Warburton Bridge is a privately owned high-level cantilever bridge which incorporates a public highway the B5159 road, connecting the A57 with the A6144.  It has a statutory toll charge of 12p.  It was commissioned under the Rixton & Warburton Bridge Act 1863. It is unadopted and privately maintained.  It is one of the few remaining pre-motorway toll bridges in the United Kingdom.

Cadishead Railway Viaduct now disused

Irlam container terminal

Irlam Locks.

Barton Locks

Barton High Level Bridge carries the M60 over the ship canal.  It was opened in October 1960 as part of the then M63 and was known as the Stretford – Eccles by-pass.  Prior to its opening all the traffic in the area was forced to cross the Manchester Ship Canal via the Barton Road Swing Bridge or further upstream via the Trafford Road Swing Bridge.  The bridge was designed of such a height to give a clearance from the water level somewhere in the region of 100 feet to allow waterborne traffic to pass freely under it.  It was originally built with two lane carriageways in either direction but road traffic soon increased to the point where it became essential to widen the bridge to three lanes either side with each extra lane being supported by additional reinforced concrete piers built alongside the originals.  The work on this widening process was completed in 1990 – 30 years after its original opening.

Just a little further on a 60ft lifting road bridge which was being built collapsed next to the M60 Barton High Level Bridge in May 2016.  Construction was part way through the bridge which would carry a new dual carriageway over the Manchester Ship Canal to relieve congestion.  The lifting platform crashed onto the canal and has subsequently been taken way leaving the four bridge towers some of which suffered damage in the collapse.  The bridge’s completion has been put back indefinitely.

Barton Road swing bridge and Barton Swing Aqueduct, the only swing aqueduct in the world.  The Barton Swing Aqueduct is a moveable navigable aqueduct carrying the Bridgewater Canal across the Manchester Ship Canal. The swinging action allows large vessels using the ship canal to pass underneath and smaller narrowboats to cross over the top. The aqueduct, is a Grade II listed building and is considered a major feat of Victorian civil engineering.  It was designed by Sir Edward Leader Williams and built by Andrew Handyside and Company of Derby, the swing bridge opened in 1894 and remains in regular use.

Centenary Lift Bridge is the last bridge that we sail below as we then enter into the Salford Quays complex.

We then pulled into a side dock just before the ITV studios.  Media City is well named given the number of broadcasting satellite dishes next to our disembarkation point.

 

The trip had taken us over six hours passing through a varied landscape and a history of our industrial past and present.

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The Mersey Ferry ‘dazzle ship’

On a bright early autumn day I went to see the ‘Dazzle Ferry’ at Seacombe ferry terminal.

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The Seacombe Ferry Terminal building was made a Grade 2 listed building in 1991.  It is actually a ferry and bus terminus built between 1930 and 1933, designed by L St G Wilkinson, the Borough Surveyor of the then Wallasey County Borough Council.

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It has much architectural merit being built of brick with Portland stone dressings.  An imposing feature is the monumental central clock tower.

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There used to be a railway station outside the ferry terminal.  The station saw regular passenger trips to Birkenhead, New Brighton and Chester with occasional specials to Wrexham and West Kirby. However, the line was more focused on goods rather than passengers, so when the majority of the Wirral Railway was electrified in 1938 the Seacombe branch was not and passenger services ended on 4 January 1960.  Goods services continued for three further years until the station closed completely on 16 June 1963.  There is no real evidence of the line left in the area but the cutting in which the line was situated is now the approach road to the Kingsway (Wallasey) Tunnel.

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On an historic note the first commercial shore-based Radar station in the world for the navigation of ships was installed at the Seacombe Terminal buildings in 1947.

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St. Paul’s Church was designed by John Hay of Liverpool looks down to the Ferry terminal.  It was consecrated on the 12th October 1847 and when it was completed it had a spire of 120 feet but it was deemed as too dangerous so 20 feet was removed from the top.

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I had come to see the Mersey Ferry boat which had been given a colourful design, created by Sir Peter Blake as part of the recent First World War commemorations.  I made reference to it in an earlier post about the ‘dazzle ship’ that was commissioned for the 2014 centenary of WW1, the “1418 NOW” (WW1 Centenary Art Commission) which used an historic pilot ship conserved by Merseyside Maritime Museum.  As I stated then when this ship was returned to its original colours it was planned to commission a similar design on one of the working Mersey Ferries boats.  https://briansimpsons.wordpress.com/2015/02/22/the-dazzle-ship/

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The Snowdrop was the ferry boat that was chosen.  The eye-catching dazzle design is in honour of the patterns that were first used on vessels in World War One. Unlike other forms of camouflage, dazzle works not by concealing but the specially painted ships ‘baffle the eye’ making it difficult to estimate a target’s range, speed and direction.

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The ‘Dazzle Ferry’ made quite a contrast to the Liverpool waterfront and the Fred Olson cruise ship Boudicca which was moored at Liverpool’s Cruise Liner terminal across the river.

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The artist Norman Wilkinson was credited with inventing the technique and he explained that dazzle was intended primarily to mislead the enemy.  The ships were painted in black and white and in colour; each ship’s dazzle pattern was unique in order to avoid making classes of ships instantly recognisable to enemy U-boats and aircraft.  Edward Wadsworth, an Intelligence Officer for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve during the First World War, supervised the painting of more than two thousand British ships in ‘dazzle camouflage’ in Bristol and Liverpool. This experience inspired him to produce a series of woodcut prints that are now part of the Walker Art Gallery’s collections in Liverpool.

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This commission has been entitled ‘Everybody Razzle Dazzle’ and the Snowdrop in its new livery came into service in April 2015.  This is the third in the series of Dazzle Ship commissions and the first to be a working vessel; it is the only operating dazzle ship in the UK.  The design has been commissioned by Liverpool Biennial, 14–18 NOW the First World War Centenary Art Commission and Tate Liverpool in partnership with Merseytravel and National Museums Liverpool. The project is supported by Arts Council England, National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and Department for Culture Media and Sport.

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Visitors who board the Snowdrop can learn more about the history of dazzle and the role that the Mersey Ferries took in the First World War in an on-board display which is curated by Merseyside Maritime Museum and Tate Liverpool.

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Sir Peter Blake is a world famous artist and is a leading figure in the development of British pop art and his work is synonymous with the use of imagery from modern culture, including comic books, consumer goods and advertisements. He has a strong relationship with Liverpool and probably most famously he designed the The Beatles’s album cover, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967. However he actually first visited the city during his National Service with the RAF (1951 – 53) when his training required that he travel to Belfast, so he sailed by ferry from Liverpool’s iconic waterfront.  He is also patron of the John Moores Painting Prize.

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Sir Peter designed the Pop Art-style patterns with the aid of a computer, then visited Liverpool to see how the two-dimensional artwork would translate on to the three-dimensional ferry and in the second stage he adapted the design to the shape of the boat.  The Snowdrop then went into dry dock at Birkenhead’s Cammel Laird’s shipyard where the painters made the design a reality.

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It certainly brightens the river view around the Seacombe Ferry terminal where it is a big attraction although the Spaceport visitor attraction which was installed in 2005 in some of the Mersey Ferry buildings attracts a number of people particularly with younger children who want to learn about space as they walk through different themed galleries, which all have a variety of interactive and audio-visual exhibits.

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I understand that the Dazzle Ferry will continue in service up to 31 December 2016.

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Birkenhead Priory

It was a sunny morning and I was an early visitor to Birkenhead Priory.

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The Priory is the oldest building in the whole of Merseyside.  It was founded around 1150 by Hamon de Masci, who was the 3rd Baron of Dunham Massey as a monastery for the Benedictine Order.  As well as being the oldest inhabited building in the area it has a rich and varied history to tell very closely linked to its position on the banks of the River Mersey adjacent to Cammel Laird’s shipbuilders.

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The site has recently fully re-opened following extensive restoration work taking place from 2012 to 2015.  The local newspaper the Liverpool Echo have only this month published their ‘Wirral bucket list: 75 things to do in Wirral before you die’ and Birkenhead Priory is listed at number one – they say take in the view from Birkenhead Priory!!  More of that view later.

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The monks looked after travellers for nearly 400 years operating the first regulated ferries across the River Mersey from the ‘headland of the birches’ when at this time the whole of Wirral was covered in dense hunting forest.  ‘Birchen head’ was to become what we now know as modern day Birkenhead.

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The Priory was visited twice by King Edward I due to its strategic importance being close to the borders of Wales and the Irish Sea.  In 1318 the monks were granted ferry rights by King Edward II. This allowed them to build a house in what is now Water Street to store their corn. The house was also used by travellers for shelter if the weather was too bad for the ferry to cross the River Mersey.

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The tower of St Mary’s is all that remains of what was the first parish church of the town which opened in 1821 in the grounds of the priory.  Redevelopment of the area from 1925 resulted in a large amount of housing within the parish being cleared to make way for the construction of the Queensway Tunnel.  At the adjacent Cammell Laird shipyard an expansion of the Number 5 dry dock and the construction of the Princes dock which opened in 1962 resulted in the church losing a significant portion of its graveyard.

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Subsequent redevelopment of the approach roads to the Mersey Tunnel effectively cut off the church from most of what remained of its parish, further dwindling its congregation. In 1971 St Mary’s church was closed with most of the church being demolished in 1975 for safety reasons.  Only the former church tower and parts of the outer walls remain. The tower has since been refurbished and is dedicated to those who died on HMS Thetis.  The remaining walls to the church, which would have been its internal walls, catch the early autumn sunlight with their white painted exterior.

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The site is dedicated as a memorial to those lost in the 1939 disaster aboard the Cammel Laird’s built submarine HMS Thetis. This was the Royal Navy’s worst peacetime tragedy when an accident happened during sea trials for the new vessel which had sailed out to the Irish Sea off Llandudno from Birkenhead.  There were 103 men on board on 1 June 1939, twice the usual number, with the Royal Navy crew swelled by engineers from ship builders Cammell Laird.  Due to a combination of unfortunate circumstances, sea water flooded in and the boat nosedived and was unable to resurface.  The sinking of the submarine resulted in the loss of 99 lives.  It happened three months before World War II.  The Thetis actually grounded on Anglesey on the day war was declared.

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Climbing the 101 steps to the top of St Mary’s tower affords you tremendous views down the river and across to Liverpool and you really do get a ‘bird’s eye’ view of Cammel Lairds shipyard next door.

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The priory’s chapter house was built in the 1150’s as a meeting place for the monks.  After King Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries around 1540 it was adapted for use as a chapel where it was the place of worship until St Mary’s church was opened in 1821.  Following restoration work the chapel was rededicated as a chapel in 1919 it is currently consecrated as an Anglican church, and is still used for services today. The chapter house is a Grade II listed building containing items of Norman architecture; it was fully restored in 2005.

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The Scriptorium was built above the chapter house in 1375.  The original use is uncertain but was probably a place where the monks could read and write on their own.  It was restored in 1919 and was repaired after bomb damage during World War II.

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It has a chapel dedicated to the training ship HMS Conway where services are held two or three times a year.  The Scriptorium is the home of the ‘Friends of HMS Conway’.  HMS Conway was founded as a naval training school in 1859 and housed for most of its life aboard a 19th-century wooden battleship which stood in the River Mersey off Rock Ferry.  The ship was moved from the Mersey to the Menai Straits during World War II.

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However whilst she was being towed back to Birkenhead for a refit in 1953, she ran aground and was wrecked.  Training of the naval cadets continued in a new camp in the grounds of the Marquess of Anglesey’s residence at Plas Newydd, using his private dock for seamanship and small boat handling.  In 1964 the new HMS Conway, a purpose designed college close to Plas Newydd, was opened however with the running down of the British Merchant Navy and the emphasis being placed on university style nautical training, it was decided to finally close HMS Conway in 1974.  The ‘Friends of HMS Conway’ was established in 1996 to safeguard the many items of memorabilia from the training school and they were allowed to use the Scriptorium as a museum.

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New stained glass windows have now been installed commissioned by ‘Old Conways’ (former cadets of HMS Conway) and designed by the late David Hillhouse the former curator of Wirral Museums. The furniture and memorabilia were moved from the Conway Centre in Angelsey together with many items donated by ‘Old Conways’ worldwide.

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The Frater Range is the second surviving building off the cloisters next to the Chapter House.  A museum detailing the history of the site is housed in the former undercroft.  Undercrofts were storage cellars but this one was very carefully finished which experts believe means it may have been used as a dining room.

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The museum has an interesting interpretation corner, a small exhibit by Kate White showing a medieval mason at work.  Stone Masons were paid by each brick they carved so they would mark each stone with their own unique symbol and some of these marks can be seen on the Chapter House.  Before the Twelfth century most buildings were of timber construction; the Priory’s stone design is typical of Anglo-Norman monastic buildings.  However the undercofts vaulted ceilings and pointed arches were a new technique and were early elements of the emerging ‘gothic’ style.

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The Refractory above the undercroft on the first floor is a venue space used for craft fairs and the like; it has a modern roof which was installed in 1993.

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You actually enter the site through the Western Range and through it into the cloisters area.  It is still intact but has no roof.  The two storey building was built after 1250.  It contained a number of rooms: the prior’s living room and bedroom, a monks’ parlour, guest hall and guest rooms.  The Western range and Frater Range were the first buildings to be restored when Birkenhead Corporation acquired the site in 1896.

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The churchyard contains the burial vault of the Laird family, which includes John Laird (1805–74), Birkenhead’s mayor and first Member of Parliament and co-founder of the adjacent Cammell Laird shipbuilding company.

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It is an interesting location for Merseyside’s oldest building sandwiched between Cammel Lairds ship yard, small scale industrial units and a more modern development of offices on the banks of the river.  Next to the ancient sandstone walls are the towering cranes of the shipyard next door.  Some of the older industrial units have not aged as well as the priory.

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It is interesting to me how we have treated historic buildings in the past.  Since the priory was first built it has been left to ruin for much of the time but has had periods of active restoration.  During the Eighteenth century it was in ruins but it was still a popular visitor attraction.  The industrialisation from the Nineteenth saw the Priory come under more threat but during 1896 to 1898 the Priory saw the Victorian restoration period.  During the 1960s and 1970s the encroachment of the shipyard and the construction of the Mersey Tunnel saw further threat and the Priory falling once again into disrepair.  Some work was undertaken in the 1990s to patch up the priory buildings.  But more recently from 2012 modern day stonemasons have undertaken major restoration works.  The small team from the local council together with local volunteers continue to ensure the site continues to have life for the future.

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All in all it was a very interesting day exploring almost 900 years of Wirral’s history in one day.

The Dazzle Ship

I had a recent trip to Tate Liverpool and a wander around the Albert Dock complex.  Across the dock you cannot fail to see one particular ship that looks like no other.

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In the lead up to the 2014 centenary of WW1, the “1418 NOW” (WW1 Centenary Art Commission), Liverpool Biennial and Tate Liverpool jointly commissioned, in partnership with National Museums Liverpool the artist Carlos Cruz-Diez to work with the idea of ‘dazzle’ camouflage using an historic pilot ship conserved by Merseyside Maritime Museum.

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The “Edmund Gardner” is situated in a dry dock adjacent to Liverpool’s Albert Dock development.  The ship was unveiled prior to last year’s International Festival for Business which took place at the Liverpool Convention Centre further along the waterfront.  Unfortunately you cannot get too close to it at the moment as the area is fenced off whilst they improve and re-surface the area around the dock.

DSCF1074v2Dazzle painting was a system for camouflaging ships that was introduced in early 1917, at a time when German submarines were threatening to cut off Britain’s trade and supplies during WW1.  The idea was not to “hide” the ships, but to paint them in such a way that their appearance was optically distorted, so that it was difficult for a German submarine to calculate the course the ship was travelling on, and so know from what angle to attack. The “dazzle” was achieved by painting the ship in contrasting stripes and curves that broke up its shape.

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The approach using garish colours and a sharp patchwork design of interlocking shapes was heavily influenced by the artistic movement of Cubism.  Dazzle painting was invented by a marine painter, Norman Wilkinson who later became President of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours. He was influenced by avant-garde British painters such as Wyndham Lewis and David Bomberg.  The artist Edward Wadsworth supervised the application of ‘dazzle’ patterning to over 2,000 ships and he later made a series of paintings on the subject.

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Carlos Cruz-Diez is a famous contemporary artist especially in what is called ‘kinetic-optic art’ with his works to be found in the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne.

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The close relationship of ‘dazzle’ technology to British art extended right through its manufacture. Each British pattern was unique, and many of the designs were invented by women from the Royal Academy of Arts in London. These were then tested on wooden models, viewed through a periscope in a studio to assess how they would work at sea. The practice of ‘dazzle painting’ ships has largely, but not entirely, fallen out of fashion in the military now.

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From my distant vantage point it was difficult to get a clear shot of the ship.  But interestingly with the dark rain leaden skies with a late winter afternoon sun shining lowdown casting a golden glow, the ship was actually camouflaged against the dark angular buildings of the Mann Island development on the Strand behind the dock.  Certainly compared with the Mersey Bar retired lighthouse ship anchored in next door Canning Dock it has hard to make out the form of a complete ship.  I must return once again when I can get a close up view.

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The ship will be returned to its original livery in late 2015 and the attention the vessel has received during the project will help fund her long term preservation.  But I am told that a design by leading British artist Sir Peter Blake will cover the Mersey Ferry, Snowdrop with a distinctive pattern, as it continues its commuter service as a ‘dazzle ferry’.  It is being completed by local ship builders Cammel Laird in their Birkenhead yard and it will be in operation between the Spring 2015 up to the end of 2016.

The Giants come to Birkenhead

The Parade of Giants took place on Sunday 8th September in Hamilton Square, Birkenhead.  This was the first year the event had been staged.  The parade started at the corner of Hamilton Square and crossed the gardens before gathering in front of the old Town Hall under the watchful gaze of royalty.

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The Wirral Samba band led over 20 Giants including four representing Wirral’s own local ‘Giants’. The 16 other giants were provided by ‘Chester City of Giants’.  All the giants then went on show in the town’s Pyramids shopping centre.

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All the Giants were ‘walked’ by local organisations, community groups and businesses. These included Magenta Living, Cammel Laird, Forum Housing, YMCA, Beechwood Trust, the Shaftsbury Centre, Wirral Met College and Wirral Churches Ark Project to name the ones I could identify.

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The parade was organised by local volunteers with the help and expertise of the Chester City of Giants who are a community interest company, encouraging ‘social enterprise through creativity’.  They offer training and experience and encourage inclusivity and teamwork whilst having fun.  Throughout August the Giants ran workshops in the local shopping precinct allowing volunteers to work with professional artists to make the giants for the parade.  The Chester Giants (‘Chester: the Giant City’ www.thegiants.org.uk) were formed a few years ago and they have re-enacted the spectacular parades that took place in Chester for hundreds of years, which were originally based around the famous Mystery Plays which were organised by the old local ‘City Guilds’.  These parades featured fabulous creatures and giants and the modern event celebrates this heritage by putting on show with a cast of giants, fantastic beasts, musicians and dancers in a colourful display around Chester’s city streets.

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The famous Wirral giants included Old Mother Redcap.  She was ‘Poll’ Jones an infamous innkeeper in the 1770s of an inn between New Brighton and Egrement in Wallasey.  Poll Jones always wore a red hood or cap and this gave the inn its nickname ‘Mother Redcap’s’.  The inn was on the coast which was cut off from the rest of Wirral by Bidston Moss and it became a notorious haunt of smugglers and their contraband. Underground passages were reputed to link it with different parts of New Brighton. It was well known for its strong, home-brewed ale and the sailors trusted Old Mother Redcap to look after their wages while they were at sea. They also used to hide here to escape the Press Gang. It was rebuilt in 1888 and demolished in 1974 as it had become badly vandalised.

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Another Giant was Lottie Dod was born in Bebington into a wealthy family who made a fortune in the cotton trade.  She was an outstanding sportswoman. She won the Wimbledon Ladies’ Singles Championship five times, the first one when she was only fifteen in the summer of 1887.  She remains the youngest ladies’ singles champion.  She also won the British Ladies Amateur Golf Championship, played twice for the England women’s national field hockey team (which she helped to found), and won a silver medal at the 1908 Summer Olympics in archery. The Guinness Book of Records named her as one of the most versatile female athletes of all time.

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John Laird whilst being born in Scotland was a true local giant.  He moved to Birkenhead in 1824 where his father William Laird established the Birkenhead Iron Works which manufactured boilers.  John Laird joined his father to found William Laird & Son a shipbuilding company.  John Laird realised that the techniques of making boilers by bending iron plates and riveting them together could be used to build ships and he was one of the first to use iron in the construction of ships.  The business was taken over by his sons and it merged with Charles Cammell & Co to form Cammell Laird in 1903 as it is still known today.  He was the first mayor of Birkenhead and was chairman of the Birkenhead Improvement Commission which was appointed to erect a market, to light and clean the streets and to maintain a police force in the town.  When Birkenhead became a Parliamentary Borough in 1861, he retired from shipbuilding to become its first Member of Parliament. He served from 1861 to 1874 as a Conservative. He contributed a great deal to the continuous improvement of the town as a generous benefactor.  He made donations for the erection of Saint James Church, the Borough Hospital and the Laird School of Art.  He died at his home at 63 Hamilton Square following a riding accident and he is buried in the grounds of Birkenhead Priory, next to his yard and his statue now stands in Hamilton Square.

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The final local giant represented a priory monk.  The monks formed one of the earliest communities in the Wirral.  Birkenhead Priory is the oldest standing building on Merseyside.  It was founded in about 1150 by Hamon de Masci, 3rd Baron of Dunham Massey for the Benedictine Order.  The Priory was visited twice by Edward I due to its strategic importance being close to the borders of Wales and the Irish Sea.  In 1318 the monks from the Priory were granted ferry rights by Edward II. The monks of the monastery looked after travellers for nearly 400 years and supervised the first regulated ferry across the Mersey.  They would provide travellers shelter if the weather was too bad for the ferry to cross the River Mersey.

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The Deputy Mayor of Wirral Councillor Steve Foulkes visited the volunteers and their Giants.

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The rain managed to keep away whilst I was there but I’m told by the afternoon the heavens opened.  I’m not sure if this event is happening again next year but it did bring the crowds into the historic Hamilton Square in the heart of Birkenhead and I lost count of the number of Queen Elizabeth IIs who were on the parade.

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HMS Edinburgh visits Cammel Laird for one last time

On the evening of 23rd May HMS Edinburgh sailed up the River Mersey to join the Spring Bank Holiday 70th Anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic celebrations taking place on the Liverpool and Wirral waterfronts.  The events took place from Friday 24th to Tuesday 28th May.  All the other ships taking part in the event were berthed on the Liverpool side of the river.  HMS Edinburgh was, however, returning home to the shipyard where she was built some 30 years earlier.

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Cammel Laird is one of the most famous names in British shipbuilding during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  The firm was formed following the merger of the shipbuilder Laird, Son & Co. of Birkenhead and Johnson Cammell & Co. of Sheffield who made metal products particularly for the railway industry at the turn of the twentieth century.  The yard had a long and illustrious history but in 1993 Cammel Laird’s then owners announced the closure of the yard.  Other companies took on the yard and after a number of ups and downs in 2007 Northwestern Shiprepairers & Shipbuilders, acquired the rights to the Cammell Laird name and they have rebuilt the business.  In recent years Cammel Laird has taken on a role in ship repairs and building the infrastructure for wind farms used in offshore electricity generation.  They have also won contracts to build new ships once again.

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The yard has a contract with the Ministry of Defence to maintain a number of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) vessels.  The RFA flotilla supplies fuel, munitions, food and other ship’s stores to the Royal Navy fleet while on operations at sea. Whilst HMS Edinburgh was in the yard RFA Fort Rosalie was in an adjacent dock undergoing repair work.

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Over the last 185 years the shipyard has launched more than 1350 ships.  During World War II alone the shipyard produced nearly 200 vessels both commercial and military in support of the UK war effort.  This equated to a ship being completed every 21 days with its workforce of 12,000 – a staggering statistic.  Royal Navy ships build during this time included HMS Rodney, HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Ark Royal.

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Cammel Laird kept on this proud tradition and HMS Edinburgh was built at the yard during 1980 to 1983.  She was launched on 14 April 1983 by Mrs Anne Heseltine wife of the then ‘Minister for Merseyside’ in Mrs Thatcher’s government.  A number of the workforce who built the ship in the 1980s still work at Cammel Laird and they were proud to welcome her back for the last time after many years of distinguished service with the Royal Navy.

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As part of the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic commemorative events she was moored at the shipyard’s Wet Basin which was open for the public to tour the ship.  Having gone along to the Pierhead on Saturday morning to see the main attractions, I left the Liverpool waterfront travelled back to Birkenhead on the Wirral and joined the queue at Cammel Laird to go on board and have a tour of HMS Edinburgh.  After an hour and half wait I got on board.

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HMS Edinburgh is known as the ‘Fortress of the Sea’ and she is the last remaining Type 42 destroyer which were regarded as the workhorses of the Royal Navy.  The ship’s pennant number ‘D97’ is painted in large letters on its hull.  It has a displacement of 5,200 tonnes, measures 141m in length and 15.2 m beam, has a top speed of 30 knots and a range of 4,000 nautical miles.  She has a complement of 287 personnel, and has 26 officers.

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Following being commissioned in December 1985 her first deployment was to the Gulf in 1987, escorting numerous merchant ships safely through the region.  The following year HRH The Duke of York joined as one of the ship’s officers, serving on board during a six-month round-the-world deployment.  In 1996 HMS Edinburgh rescued the crew of a crippled sailing boat while on patrol in the Gulf. She despatched her Lynx helicopter to rescue all nine Pakistani crewmen from the vessel after it took on water in stormy conditions and eventually sank.

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HMS Edinburgh took part in the second Gulf War in 2003, supporting Royal Marines ashore and acting as escort to the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean. The following year Edinburgh was deployed to the Mediterranean and was involved in Operation ‘Active Endeavour’, monitoring sea lanes as part of the war on terror.

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And in 2008 during operations in the Gulf she seized a drugs cargo – stashed on board a sailing boat – worth several million pounds.  HMS Edinburgh entered refit in 2010 and spent most of the following year in the South Atlantic before returning there during her final overseas deployment which ended in March 2013.

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HMS Edinburgh was the 14th and final Type 42 to enter service. Earlier in May she departed her homeport of Portsmouth to undertake her Farewell Tour of the UK visiting London, her affiliated city of Edinburgh, and the town where she was built, Birkenhead.

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HMS Edinburgh is the Royal Navy’s largest Type 42 Destroyer but she will be decommissioned later in June with the new Type 45 ‘Daring’ class destroyers taking over her duties.

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In allowing visitors into the basin Cammell Laird were breaking a 20 year ban on members of the public entering the Birkenhead shipyard so that they could bid farewell to HMS Edinburgh before she sails back to Portsmouth to be decommissioned.

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A petition has been launched to bring the decommissioned warship back to its namesake city, Edinburgh the capital of Scotland, as a “floating museum” next to the Royal Yacht Britannia which is also berthed there.  A navy veteran who served on the ship has mounted the campaign which has had support from MSP Margo MacDonald who raised the idea in the Scottish Parliament.

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The ship, which has clocked up almost 800,000 miles in its 30-year career has now returned to Portsmouth Naval Base following its farewell tour.  HMS Edinburgh’s White Ensign will be lowered for the final time during a decommissioning ceremony at the naval base on June 6.

Battle of the Atlantic – 70th anniversary Liverpool 2013

To mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic, Liverpool hosted a series of commemorations and events over the Spring Bank Holiday last weekend from Friday 24th to Tuesday 28th May.

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The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest continuous military campaign of the Second World War lasting for 2,073 days of the total of 2,075 days that the war lasted.  The Battle of the Atlantic began on the first evening of the war on 3 September 1939 with the sinking of the liner Athenia north-west of Ireland as it sailed from Liverpool to Montreal in Canada and ended on 6 May 1945 with the capture of U-boat U.881 to the east of Newfoundland two days before Germany’s unconditional surrender.

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The Battle of the Atlantic was pivotal to the overall success of the allied forces.  During the campaign some 90,000 people lost their lives defending the UK and over the weekend there were many veterans proud to wear their medals and share their experiences from this historic period in twentieth century history.  Many were on the Pierhead close by the statue of Johnnie Walker who was the most successful anti-submarine warfare commander during the Battle of the Atlantic.  He died in July 1944 of a cerebral thrombosis at the Naval Hospital at Seaforth aged only 48; his death was attributed to overwork and exhaustion.

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Liverpool’s waterfront saw a number of vessels from several countries navies berthed in the various docks some of which were open to the public as well as a whole range of events including fly pasts by a range of military aircraft, static displays of helicopters, artillery, planes and other exhibits.

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Over 20 naval vessels were berthed on the Mersey from many of the allied countries’ navies.  At the cruise liner terminal was the Russian destroyer Vice Admiral Kulakov 626, the Canadian destroyer HMCS Iroquois and the Polish frigate the General T Kosciusko.  The amphibious assault ship HMS Bulwark and the Belgian frigate Louise- Marie were berthed at Alexandra dock in Seaforth.  HMS Pembroke was berthed at Canning half tide dock and the German minehunter the Groemitz was moored in Canning dock.   Some of the fleet of eleven patrol ships were berthed in the Albert Dock along with the Jack Petchey training ship.  HMS Edinburgh was berthed in the wet basin at Cammel Lairds shipbuilders across the river in Birkenhead where she was built and launched.  Five of the ships were open to the public and the queues were very long.

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I went down to the Pierhead on Saturday.  It was absolutely packed with people many having travelled from all parts of the country to see the spectacle.  It was estimated that on Saturday alone some 120,000 members of the public thronged the waterfront with around 250,000 over the whole weekend.  Saturday was a glorious sunny day.

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The celebrations marked one of the most important battles of the Second World war.  The German high command knew that Britain as an island nation relied heavily on supplies of food, clothing and vital equipment being shipped to our shores.  The plan was simple Germany would through its U-boat fleet attack the allied convoys of ships laden with supplies.

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The Battle of the Atlantic was fought to ensure that sea routes were kept open not just across the Atlantic but also to ensure supplies could reach our forces in other campaigns such as in North Africa.  It was also fought to ensure that equally vital supplies of US food, armaments and medicines could reach another of the allies the USSR.

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The Battle of the Atlantic claimed the lives of 36,200 sailors from the allied navies, 36,000 merchant seamen and some 30,000 German sailors.  3,500 merchant ships and 175 allied warships were lost and 789 German submarines were destroyed. 174 U-boats were taken over by the allies and most were destroyed.  The last U-Boat to leave Germany before the war ended, U-534, was sunk by depth charges dropped by an RAF Liberator bomber whilst sailing towards Norway on 5 May 1945.  Maintaining the Merseyside connection the U-boat was raised from the sea bed in 1993 and in 1996 she was brought to the Warship Preservation Trust’s museum in Birkenhead Docks until it closed in February 2006.  She now is on display at the Woodside Ferry terminal in the town.

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In the afternoon there was a fly past by a Spitfire and a Hurricane these two planes were crucial to Britain winning the Battle of Britain, the air campaign waged by the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe, against the United Kingdom during the summer and autumn of 1940.  The name came from the famous speech delivered by Prime Minister Winston Churchill that: “the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.”

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The objective of the Luftwaffe campaign was to gain air superiority over the Royal Air Force (RAF).  It saw the largest and most sustained aerial bombing campaign that there had been with the Luftwaffe bombing coastal shipping, ports, RAF airfields and aircraft factories and sites of industry.  The failure of Germany to achieve its objectives of destroying Britain’s air defences and forcing Britain to negotiate an armistice or an outright surrender was a turning point in the Second World War.  By preventing Germany from gaining air superiority, the battle ended the threat that Hitler would launch Operation Sea Lion, a proposed amphibious and airborne invasion of Britain.

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During the Second World War these two British fighter planes took on the Luftwaffe’s Messerschmitt Bf 109E fighter planes and Bf 110C fighter bombers.  The key aim of Fighter Command was to stop the Luftwaffe’s bombers; in practice the tactic was to use Spitfires to counter German escort fighters, particularly the Bf 109s, while the Hurricane squadrons attacked the bombers.

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The Spitfire and Hurricane made three fly- pasts along the River Mersey and the Pierhead before flying down to London for another event later in the day.

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During each of the three days the armed forces carried out an enactment of a rescue of a vessel from modern day ‘pirates’.  In the enactment the ‘pirates’ captured a ferry boat and Royal Marines boarded the ship from a zebra striped camouflaged Sea King helicopter followed by Royal Navy assault ships and patrol craft.

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There a number of memorials along the waterfront in Liverpool.  This plaque was erected at the Pier Head Liverpool to commemorate the fact that over a million US soldiers passed through the port on their way to take part in D day and many American seaman on cargo ships sailed into Liverpool as part of the Battle of the Atlantic.

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The whole of Merseysdide and beyond seemed to be at this event and there was a great deal of coverage in the local newspapers and as one article in the Liverpool Echo concluded that it is the last time we will be able to see anything like this again.  Many of the servicemen are now in their nineties and some of the British ships were going on from this event to be decommissioned.