History of Wallasey Ferries

New Brighton : 1761 - 1861

In 1768, as a result of public protest, Liverpool Town Council discontinued the practice of allowing loaded gunpowder wagons to pass through the city streets en route from the port to the Powder House on Brownlow Road (near where Clarence Street is today). They purchased a plot of land near to the safe anchorage lying between Mother Redcap's Inn and Rock Point and built the Liscard Magazines. Every vessel entering the river had to off-load her powder for storage in the magazines until departure and during the unloading, some of the crew would be rowed across to Liverpool. As shipping used the port increased so the patronage of the Magazines grew and by 1820 a thriving passage had developed, much of it unconnected with the storage of gunpowder. Pleasure seeking Liverpudlians came to sample the unspoilt beaches and a hotel was built together with a number of exclusive residences. The hotel eventually became a school numbering among its fee-paying pupils Menotti and Riciotti Garibaldi, the sons of the Italian patriot. Anyone wanting to conduct business in the vicinity would agree to meet at the ferry. Gore's Directory for 1822 advertised a regular service of sailing packets and in 1826 a newly opened Liverpool-Hoylake service, worked by the paddle steamers 'Hero' and 'Paul Pry', called at the Magazines en route. This service survived until 1832. The absence of a pier at the Magazines ensured that as the other ferries at Egremont and New Brighton were established, the regular service ceased though there were intermittent sailings until the magazine closed in 1851. The gunpowder was transported up river to floating hulks anchored in the Mersey between New Ferry and Eastham. All traces of the stone slipway disappeared during the construction of the new promenade between Holland Road and New Brighton in the 1890s.

New Brighton ferry owed its origins to a Liverpool businessman James Atherton, a retired Everton builder and his son-in-law, William Rowson, a Prescot Solicitor, who advocated the establishment of a ferry service from Liverpool as part of a plan to encourage prospective residents. Situated at the exposed mouth of the Mersey, New Brighton was hardly an ideal location from which to operate an all-year, all tides ferry for it could suffer from high winds and mountainous seas and at low tide the water receded some 650 foot from the shore. Undeterred, score of prosperous Liverpudlians migrated across the water to build comfortable villas with unrivalled views of the Mersey approaches.

In 1833, part of the foreshore was leased from the Commissioners of Woods and Forest and the first wooden pier, which was completed in March 1834, was a curiously-shaped structure extending some 500 foot from the shore. Built of heavy timbers embedded in the rock and supported by a diagonal brace and cross beams, it was 9 feet wide and 30 feet long at its outer extremity. The first 135 feet of the pier was angled north-west; at the river end there was a further 40 foot long structure running due south at which boats could load at high water.

At extreme low water, passengers were forced to wade to and from the steamers but, in 1835, they were carried in a flat-bottomed landing craft which was hauled up and down by a horse-powered windlass. Access to the pier was through a toll house at the shore end or by two flights of steps leading direct from the beach. No formal lease from the Commissioners of Woods and Forests to work the ferry was obtained until April 1851. This extended for 75 years at a rent of one guinea per annum and a grant of 100 yards on each side of the ferry was made on 4th October 1859 for a further guinea per year.

Despite having only one vessel, Atherton advertised an hourly service using a second-hand Scottish-built paddle steamer. 'Sir John Moore'. The journey time for the 2.75 mile crossing was 25 minutes which left little time for turnaround or inclement weather. To provide additional revenue and to supplement the summer schedule, other vessels were permitted to disembark passengers at the pier on payment of a small toll. This practice continued for some 70 years.


In 1838, ownership was transferred to Antherton's two sons who placed the Tranmere-built paddle steamer 'Elizabeth' on the station in 1840. In 1845, they disposed of their interest for £2,000 to the Liverpool firm of Lodge, Pritchard and Co. of which two of the directors were the Coulborn brothers.

Atherton's vision of New Brighton as a suburban Utopia failed to materialise though a few of his fine houses still survive today. Although the ferry had been intended as a residents' link with their workplaces, the facilities tempted droves of working class people to cross at weekends to enjoy a relatively inexpensive day by the sea. Recognising that New Brighton catered for two different types of clientele, the Coulborns purchased a former gentlemen's yacht 'Queen of Beauty' to provide a superior residents' only service in summer as well as offering elegance and luxury during the winter. She was followed in 1846 by the Liverpool-built 'James Atherton', which, with a capacity of 529, catered for the fluctuations in loading in the summer. Over the next 5 years, the Coulborns spent over £3,000 on improved facilities. Various extensions to the pier brought passengers to within 80 feet of the low water mark and the old flat bottomed boats were replaced were replaced by a crude version of the running-out stage which comprised a wooden platform running on rails attached by spikes. This clumsy contraption could be raised and lowered over a distance of 200 feet. Sometime in 1848 part of the shore end was damaged by a gale. During the rebuilding, a shack selling anything from tea to wine was erected near the toll house and rented out at £35 per year. Local residents were outraged by this open invitation to imbibe strong liquor and were increasingly concerned by the unchecked growth of the 'Devil's Nest', a row of huts and stalls hugging the high water mark which sold alcoholic drink.

Special constables were sworn in to control the rowdy elements among the day trippers and for over a century many residents resented their influx, feeling that they lowered the tone of an otherwise select neighbourhood.

Following the acquisition of the Egremont ferry lease by the Coulborns in May 1848, they established their administrative headquarters at Egremont and suspended the New Brighton sailings from 1st October 1849 to Easter 1850 to the disgust of regular users. New Brighton residents were advised to walk along the shore to Egremont. The combination of the two passages resulted in considerable savings in staff and coal and, in winter, doubled the prospective clientele. The Coulborns received a new lease of the ferry from the Commissioners for Woods and Forests for 75 years from 1851 at a rental of £21 per annum and a grant of 100 yards on each side of the ferry on payment of 21 shillings per annum on 4th October 1859.