History of Wallasey Ferries

New Boats For The 20th Century

In September 1904 the manager was instructed to prepare specifications for two new ships with three-cylinder triple-expansion engines, each capable of carrying 1,700 passengers at a speed of 12½ knots. The order was initially awarded to Scott of Kinghorn at £19,000 per vessel but the Council negotiated some sort of reduction. On the second of two occasions when the builder attempted to reopen negotiations on the price, the Council cancelled the order which was given to Stephensons & Co. of Hebburn-on-Tyne. Names proposed were ‘Iris’, ‘Mayflower’ and ‘Speedwell’ but ‘Iris’ and ‘Daffodil’ were eventually chosen.

Several of the older boats were in need of expensive repairs and ‘Sunflower’ of 1879 was offered for sale in October 1904. There were no takers and she was broken up by the ferries staff. ‘Thistle’ received an expensive overhaul, all her deck planks which had worn to less than half the stipulated 2½in, being replaced. In April 1905 ‘Primrose’ was given only a six-month passenger certificate and at the end of the season was sold to R. & D. Jones, a firm running short cruises. She was used by them for two seasons and broken up in 1908. ‘Crocus’ went to the Merseyside Trading Co. , who used her on a Rhyl-Llandudno service until the end of the 1907 season; the following year she sank off Rhyl. ‘Tulip’, which had been offered for sale at the same time, was reprieved when a six-week charter for the Port Talbot railway at £50 per week was secured. At the end of the 1908 season, she and ‘Daisy’, which had no takers when offered for sale, were given minimal overhauls to enable them to work for one more summer season. However, ‘Crocus’ was sold to Robert Smith & Sons of Chester in June 1909.

Iris Daffodil

On 24th March 1906 ‘Iris’ was launched by Mrs. Martin, wife of the ferries manager, followed by ‘Daffodil’ on 20th April and both were towed to the Mersey via the English Channel to be finished at Rollo’s yard. They had to sets of triple-expansion engines, supplied with steam and from two boilers. They embodied improved features which became standard for the Wallasey ferries fleet for the next 30 years. The promenade decks, surmounted by a raked funnel and tall foremasts, extended to the full width of the vessels and flying bridges right across the upper deck gave their masters uninterrupted views from the two fully-enclosed lookouts. The main deck had three separate saloons. Despite their wrangle with Scott’s over the £19,000 price, Stephenson’s final account was for £20,850 each. The section between the gangway doors had square windows instead of portholes. ‘Iris’ easily achieved her contractual speed of 12.5 knots at her trials on 28th May and entered service as a stand-by vessel on 2nd June with a single crew, coming into all-day use on 12th June. ‘Daffodil’ was less successful, failing a trial with experimental propellers on 13th June. Soon after a propeller was damaged and had to be replaced. Then solicitors for the Myers Screw Propeller Syndicate claimed that the propellers fitted by

Rollo’s infringed their patent and the Council agreed to substitute Myers steel propellers of the same design for the cast iron ones. These had been patented in 1889 by Charles Myers of Manchester and the Woodside steamers ‘Mersey’ and ‘Wirral’ were the first vessels to have them fitted. All subsequent Birkenhead Corporation passenger steamers were so fitted. ‘Daffodil’ achieved a speed of 12.51 knots on 18th July and entered all day service on the 30th. A central covered wheelhouse was added to the bridge in March 1911. As a result of experience with these vessels, both ‘Lily’ and ‘Rose’, were given a longer funnel to create more draught and improve performance; they were equipped with the Scarab oil-burning system in 1921 and both were withdrawn in 1927 being sold to Irish owners.

In 1918, ‘Iris’ and ‘Daffodil’ were extensively altered for naval services and subsequently given a ‘Royal’ prefix because of their wartime exploits. They were returned to normal condition in 1919 and ‘Iris’ was the cruise boat from 1923, being withdrawn and sold in 1931 to Cork harbour Commissioners who renamed her ‘Blarney’. In the guise she survived until 1961. ‘Royal Daffodil’ became a cruise boat in 1932-33 with grey hull but retained her white funnel. She was sold in 1934 to the New Medway Steam packet Co. for £1,000 and broken up at Ghent in 1938. As cruise boats, both vessels had metal frames and canvas awnings over the after promenade deck. Unfortunately the ferries’ management failed to protect the names and it was many years before they regained control of them.

John_Joyce Snowdrop II
John Joyce
Snowdrop II

In December 1908, the Council approved the purchase of two further vessels and the contract was awarded to Cammell Laird & Co., Birkenhead in May 1909 at £38,890. The vessels were to be very similar to ‘Iris’ and ‘Daffodil’ but they had very rounded sterns and, surprisingly, they were two feet less in the beam, the innovation whereby the promenade deck extended for the full width of the vessel not being repeated, except for the section between the gangways. It was proposed to call them ‘Bluebell’ and ‘Snowdrop’ and both were launched under those names. However, the Board of Trade rejected the name ‘Bluebell’ and subsequently also disapproved of ‘The Bluebell’. ‘Bluebell’ started her trials on 16th August 1910 under her ‘illegal’ name and initially failed to reach her contractual speed, 12.107 being finally achieved on 1st September. She was renamed ‘John Joyce’ after the chairman of the Ferries Committee. ‘Snowdrop’ had no such problems completing her trials on the 5th and entering service on 10th October 1910. Both vessels had two sets of three-cylinder triple-expansion engines. They were placed on the New Brighton service where their speed was almost useful.

In March 1910 both ‘Daisy’ and ‘Thistle’ were offered for sale. The former, the last of the two-funnellers with 31 years ferry service, was sold for scrap in May but, when it was clear that the new vessels would not be ready for the seasons, the much younger ‘Thistle’ was retained for another summer being sold for scrap in January 1911.