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Ferry History

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.

The Liverpool Dock Registers held by the Merseyside Maritime Museum confirm that railway carriages were carried to Ireland in 1926 by a luggage boat, and show that she made two such sailings. The vessel in question was the Old Oxton, which had been built as the Oxton in 1879. She was the first luggage boat ever to be built for service on the Mersey. She took her second name in 1925, to free the name Oxton for a new luggage boat being built by Cammell Laird, and was sold for breaking up after the new vessel had entered service.

It appears that the Old Oxton had been delivered to the breakers before the charter was arranged. She returned from New Ferry to Princes Dock, in Liverpool, on 16th June, and then crossed over to Birkenhead docks. She loaded her cargo at Cavendish Quay, in the West Float. The Dock Register describes her cargo as "railway carriages", but the photograph shows that they were two Pullman cars. She departed for Dublin on 19th June, and was back at Cavendish Quay on 23rd June, to load more "railway carriages", which must have been the remaining two Pullman cars. She left on the following day for her second crossing to Dublin, and was back at Cavendish Quay on 29th June. Her agents for the two crossings were E J Hughes & Co. but, on her departure on 30th June, her agents had changed to Robert Smith & Sons, who were local shipbreakers. Her destination was Tranmere beach, which implies that she was to be broken up there.

The reason for the lack of any reference to the voyages in the minutes of the Ferries Committee appears to be that the ship had already been sold by the Corporation, which was therefore not involved in the arrangement.

It appears from the dates that the photograph in question was taken with the first two Pullman cars to be delivered. As the Old Oxton did not arrive back at Birkenhead for her second load until 23rd June, it would hardly have been possible for any photograph taken then, or more likely on 24th June, to appear in a magazine dated 25th June.

The Mersey ferry Mountwood crossed over to Dublin in July 1996 to act as a tender to the visiting U.S. aircraft carrier, John F. Kennedy. It was reported that she was the first Mersey ferry ever to sail over to Dublin from Liverpool. In fact, her sailing happened just after the 70th anniversary of the first crossings between the two ports by a Mersey ferry.

I am grateful to the Board of the Trustees of the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside for making the Dock Registers in the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board Archives available to me, and to David Le Mare for his help in finding the relevant Registers.

Copyright © 1997

Malcolm R McRonald