History of Wallasey Ferries

Under The Local Board : Reconstruction of Egremont

Elaborate plans of proposed new embarkation arrangements at Egremont were drawn up in 1862 on behalf of the Local Board by Furness and Kilpin at Lawton Street, Liverpool. An ambition scheme envisaged a railway 517ft long being laid on the river bed with a steam-operated locomotive carriage on stills, capable of carrying 215 passengers and some freight, which would have connected the land with a movable stage, also using the same railway. This structure included jacks and a screw device to keep it in position but, as it is not clear whether it would have been moved along the track by the locomotive carriage or by the boat. The railway terminated in a short tunnel under the quay and there were lock gates creating a dry dock behind which the carriage and stage could be parked at high tide when the boats would have tied up at the quay. The carriage measured 36ft x 16ft and power was supplied by two 7 hp engines mounted on each side of the vehicle. Two 7ft wide doors, one each side, would have enabled loading and unloading to take place simultaneously at the landward end, passengers transferring to the movable stage by an end gangway. The height of the deck above rail level was about 15ft and above water level about 5ft. An endorsement on one plan notes that it was provided to accompany an application to Admiral Evans, Conservator of the River Mersey on 22nd August 1862. The railed contraptions would have been totally unstable in bad weather conditions and might well have been overturned by a fast-running tide and it is not surprising that nothing more was heard of this scheme.

A survey in 1871 showed that the Egremont pier, slip and walls were in need of urgent attention and the Local Board decided that the provision of a complete new infrastructure would give the best value for money in the long term. The problems were formidable as the landing stage needed to be 750ft from the shore to provide sufficient depth of water at low tide but the river conservancy would sanction a structure no longer then 360ft.

Carson and the ferries engineer, James Lea, were entrusted with superintendence with Charles H. Below as engineer-in-charge. Beloe was to be involved with tramway development in both Liverpool and Wallasey and with several railway and shipping projects.

The ferry was closed after operation on 12th January 1874, contract holders being free to use either New Brighton or Seacombe. The old movable stage and its machinery were sold for £300 and most of the works buildings were demolished. Carson’s plan was for a pier 275ft long to be built 35ft above low water level. 85ft beyond the pier’s outer end, a dolphin consisting of two groups of wrought iron columns, filled with concrete up to high water level was arranged as a tripod. This dolphin was connected with the pier by a bow string wrought iron bridge, hinged to the pier and supported at its outer end by two hydraulics rams by means of which the height of the bridge could be adjusted according to the water level. A gangway, worked by a small hydraulic ram, was placed at the end of the bridge and between the half-tides and high water passengers were embarked by lowering the gangway directly on to the deck of the steamer.

A movable carriage 370ft 6in long and weighing 80 tons traversed the slipway under the pier, with heavy cast iron wheels running on three rails. It was moved by means of winding gear driven by the same Brotherwood 3-cylinder hydraulic engine which powered the hydraulic rams. It was run in or out between the half tides and low water to form a pier extension to which the vessels tied up.

During the construction period there were several spells of bad weather as a result of which work was delayed and the new terminal was not reopened until 12.00 noon on March 1875, with much civic ceremony. New offices, workshops and a booking hall were built at the shore end and Egremont was established as the headquarters of the Ferries Department. The works cost £14,000.

On 29th September 1875 the boiler in the hydraulic engine house exploded and the building collapsed, rendering the movable stage immobile. The stage was out and was caught by the swiftly rising tide. Two vessels moored themselves to it hoping that their added buoyancy would help to move it up the ramp but they failed and the extension was derailed. From 1st October the ferry operated only 6½.hours during high tide and this situation continued for some time until the boiler was repaired. A duplicate engine and boiler were installed to avoid a future problem of this kind and in a belt-and-braces exercise, a powerful crab winch with a steel wire rope, worked by a capstan and handspikes was also installed. A dozen men could thus move the extension by hand. The whole structure was coated with a preparation of crude brown glycerine and water at a ratio of 1:4 and, following some accidents, a gong was sounded before the stage was moved. Ferry staff had their cut out to catch fare dodgers who raced across the beach and climbed on to the extension to reach the boats.

Unfortunately some of the work turned out to have been shoddy and extensive repairs were made to the slipway in July 1878. A demand by passengers for a waiting room at the end of the pier was rejected but it was eventually built in 1888. An ambitious scheme in 1878 for installing a hydraulic lift capable of raising a 250-ton ship above the high water high mark was finally rejected as impracticable and a plan to build a £4,500 graving dock south of the pier in 1880 was also abandoned. The objective was to eliminate the use of the Great Float for major repairs to the Board’s vessels as heavy dues were payable to the Dock’s Board. Minor repairs continued to be done on the gridiron at Egremont or by beaching at low water.

The problem at Egremont were not entirely solved by the new pier and landing difficulties continued. In February 1879, a strongly worded letter was sent to the Dock Board complaining of the practice of dumping mud dredged from the docks along the coast between Egremont and the Magazines and it was decided to seek authority for a 35ft extension of the slipway but the Board of trade, successor to the Commissioner for Woods and Forests, would not agree on the grounds of interference with navigation. Although Egremont was the headquarters of the Ferries Department, the accommodation was cramped and inefficient and it was said that a move to Seacombe would save £200 per year in wages and cartage charges. Despite the department’s financial problems, a plan to modernise the existing workshop at Egremont for £500 was rejected in favour of building a new workshop at Seacombe to cost an estimated £1,557. Two months after the contract was awarded it was rescinded as the Local Government Board would not approve the full loan requested for the various capital projects then in prospect.