History of Wallasey Ferries

Egremont : 1761 - 1861

The Liverpool Harbour Master, John Askew, built a fine villa about one mile north of Seacombe and named it Egremont after his birth place in Cumbria. The name was gradually applied to the whole district. Askew was 'pulled across daily in his galley' to reach his work in Liverpool and by 1823 he was allowing friends and others (on payment of fee) to use the landing place at the bottom of garden. Concerned at these developments, the Smith Trustees accused Askew of infringing the Seacombe rights of passage and started court proceedings aimed at preventing Askew using his private landing for public use. The judgment went against the Trustees, the court ruling that 'the owners of the Seacombe passage exercised no rights over the strand to the north'.

With his position apparently secure, Askew purchased the ferry rights from the Commissioners for Woods and Forests for £3,000 and leased the shore line. He planned to build an iron pier, purchase a paddle steamer and start a regular ferry service with a view to opening up the district for industrial and residential purposes, financing the erection of a two-storey hotel with gardens reaching down to the water's edge. The site was hardly ideal for a ferry as the river bed was very flat, fallings 3 feet 10 inches in every 100 foot so to provide the depth of water for a paddle steamer to approach at low tide, a pier needed to be at least 750 feet long. Such a structure was unlikely to be approved by the River Conservancy so Askew decided to build a shorter structure to be used by steamers only when it was absolutely safe to do so. It was 200 foot long, and built entirely of wood, stakes being driven deep into the rocks. It ran out from a stone concourse protected by a high quay on which stood a ferry house and several small workshops. To warn shipping, three tall masts, each carrying an enormous storm lamp, were mounted on the end of the pier. Construction was hampered by foul weather and the official opening was delayed until the summer of 1830.

Askew purchased a second-hand paddler, 'Loch Eck' in August 1830 and a service commenced. It was evidently sufficiently for Askew to order a similar but larger new paddler 'John Rigby' which entered service in 1831; a third vessel, the second-hand 'Hero' was added to the fleet in 1832. In that year, Gore's Directory listen an hourly-service from North Pier, George's Dock Basin either by steam or sail. The latter would have been used at low tide when the pier was inaccessible to steamers or when they have been withdrawn for towing becalmed sailing ships, generally a more lucrative proposition. In 1834, shelters were provided on the pier and a mercury clock mounted on the hotel front to regulate the sailings.

The service was frequently suspended without warning when towing work was on offer; this was one of the charges which Askew faced during a Public Inquiry into his involvement with the Wallasey Pool conversion scheme. As an employee of Liverpool Corporation, he was ordered to disclose details of all his business activities as his employers were angry that he had given moral and financial support to a scheme which was likely to damage their interests; this was a direct contravention of an undertaking made to the Corporation as part of his conditions of service. Ferry users criticised the poor management of Egremont ferry and questioned the morality of the Harbour Master dispatching his privately-owned vessels to rescue becalmed ships. Askew retained his job until 1841 but was required to relinquish control of Egremont ferry. He sold to assets to the Egremont Steam Company, formed in October 1835 with a capital of £15,000. Askew retained ownership of the land on which the ferry buildings stood and on 22nd February 1836 renewed his lease to the shore line. agreeing to pay the Commissioners of Woods and Forests £50 per annum for 31 years. As a placatory gesture, Askew undertook to finance a 50 foot extension of the existing wooden pier.

The Egremont Steam Company, with a view to improve the service, constructed the extended landing stage and bought an iron paddle steamer. 'Ennishowen' which was delivered in July 1836. She was an early example of iron construction attracted considerable attention but was severely underpowered. In October 1837 a second iron paddler, 'Egremont' was placed in service and, with more then twice the power, completed the crossing in 12 minutes. 'Thomas Royden', named after her designer and builder, was built of wood and joined the Egremont fleet in 1837. Despite these innovations, the Egremont Steam Company was not financially successful and was dissolved in 1838; it was replaced by the Egremont Steam Packet Company which met with no more success. Even with the extension stage and four steamers, the ferry continued to be worked by a mixture of steam and sail; suspensions continued and public confidence was further eroded.

The Steam Packet Company was wound up in 1845, the assets being bought by Mary Sharples who was managing the hotel. She quickly disposed of the ferry business to John Owen Sothern who had been a friend and partner of John Askew. As part of the transaction, Sothern purchased land south of the ferry on which, in 1847, he established a small shipbuilding yard known as South Bank with facilities by which boats could be launched during the Spring tides. By 1846 Egremont was already quite a thriving area with brickworks either side of the ferry using clay from the neighbouring cliffs. They worked day and night and their products were mainly distributed throughout Merseyside by vessels which used the ferry pier.

In 1843 'Ennishowen' was laid up and in 1845 she was scrapped. The 'Egremont' had been relegated to a last-resort stand-by leaving on 'John Rigby' and 'Thomas Royden' in regular use. Sothern had an iron paddler 'Duke' which he used while he built in his yard to his own design a new steamer 'Wallasey'. She was made of wood but included some modern features and could carry 650 passengers. She cost £2,500 and was launched in October 1847, probably the first launch from the yard; several men engaged in her construction, Messrs. Anson, Cartwright, Evans and Pye were later to find employment as masters and engineers.

However, before 'Wallasey' was launched, Sothern sold the ferry for £18,000 or £19,000 (reports differ) to John Fletcher of Toxteth who assumed control on 28th July 1847 having first negotiated a new 75-year lease at £50 per annum for the considerably reduced area of land occupied by the ferry. The Agreement covered 'the terrace, stone and wooden pier, coal yard and long strip of land running in to the river'. In less than a year Fletcher sold the lease to the New Brighton owners, the Coulborn brothers, provided they entered into a strict covenant 'to ply with steam boats at regular intervals'. The brothers secured 'the public ferry with tolls for 20 years' and on 1st September 1849 purchased from Fletcher all the ferry land and property for the same price as he had paid for it.

However, from 1st October 1849 they closed New Brighton pier for winter, obliging their passengers to use Egremont which was, of course, less affected by the weather. This saved working expenses and enabled them to lay up two vessels, employing their crews on maintenance and repair work. When they reopened New Brighton the following Easter, the New Brighton and Egremont services were combined, establishing a pattern which was to survive with minor variations for 90 years. They established their headquarters at Egremont and in 1850-56 spent £5,500 on several capital projects. The upper pier was extended to 238 feet and the slipway carrying the extension stage to 798 feet. A large stationary engine and boiler were installed to move the heavier stage, the old equipment being held in service. Offices were improved, new stores for oil and tallow were built and an open yard for 6,000 tons of coal laid out. Plans to extend the running-out stage a further 20 feet were shelved as the estimated cost was £1,800, Edward Coulborn pioneered the use of gas lighting in the town, when, in 1850, he laid supply pipes under Tobin Street and erected gas lamps throughout the terminal area.

On 1st August, 1861, all three ferries passed from the Coulborn's to the Wallasey Local Board and so ending private ownership of the Wallasey ferries.