New Brighton Ferry Faces Competition
The Ferries & The Railways
The railways regarded New Brighton as a potential source of traffic as the resort grew in popularity but the lack of a branch line limited their options. The Local Board in August 1878 endorsed an agreement with the Cheshire Lines Committee for the issue of through tickets between stations in the Manchester area and New Brighton throughout the year, passengers making their own way between Liverpool Central station and the landing stage. In July 1879 a similar arrangement was made with the London and North Western Railway for the month of July 1880 only, no further arrangements being made with that company for many years. Some bookings involved two ferry trips, from Woodside to Liverpool then to New Brighton. In 1889, by which time there were amenities at New Brighton, the management were pressing the railways and agreements were made with other companies, including the Liverpool Overhead Railway with whom through tickets were offered in both directions as the round trip on the ‘Overhead’ giving unrivalled views of ships in the docks was a popular pastime with Wallasey people. These were the first through fares to be reinstated in 1922 after wartime suspension. The success of these through bookings depended on their promotion by the railway companies in the inland towns and the Local Board in some cases agreed to contribute towards these costs. The ferries’ share of through ticket was usually 4 old pence. Revenue from through railway passengers was given as £1,278.50 which represents 76,710 return journeys but unfortunately it is not clear what period this covered. Through tram ticket from St.Helens, involving two trams each way, were introduced in 1905 and continued until 1939.
From 1st July 1900 special summer only tickets between the three Wallasey ferries and Eastham were offered at 6d, 7d and 8d. In the first month 1,184 were sold but patronage gradually declined and the agreement lapsed in 1913. Through tickets were issued including admission to various attractions at New Brighton such as the Tower Ballroom, the Palace and the Promenade Pier.
Competition for New Brighton ferry
Although there had been plans to build railways to both Seacombe and New Brighton in the 1850s and 1860s, these had lapsed and it was not until 1881 that the Seacombe, Hoylake and Deeside Railway obtained parliamentary powers to construct a line from Bidston to Seacombe, following this is 1882 and 1886 with other schemes for Wallasey and New Brighton. These lines were not a threat to the ferries until three interconnecting lines were brought into use on 2nd January 1888. These were the Mersey Railway’s branch from Hamilton Square to Birkenhead Park, the Wirral Railway’s Birkenhead Park-Docks line and the Seacombe, Hoylake and Deeside line thence to Wallasey which was extended to a station at Atherton Street, New Brighton on 30th March 1888. Connecting trains with some through carriages brought New Brighton to within 25 minutes of the centre of Liverpool. The original plan to bring the trains down to Rowson Street was never carried out, because of the gradient and shortage of funds, so the station was inconveniently situated for many residents.
The Mersey Railway had deprived Woodside and Tranmere ferries of many thousands of passengers since its opening in February 1886 but, although it was unaffected by the weather and took passengers further into Liverpool, it had certain disadvantages, mainly the sulphurous fumes from the locomotives in the tunnel which gradually worsened over the years despite all kinds of expensive ventilation measures taken by the company. Furthermore, not all trains had through carriages and connections at Birkenhead Park (which was dubbed Pneumonia Junction by sufferers) were not always maintained. After the Wirral and the Mersey Railways fell out for a time in the 1890s, the through carriages ceased altogether.
The ferries had been experiencing a slump in revenue before the railway had opened. The takings in 1885-1886 being £2,000 below the previous year’s. In both 1887-1888 and 1888-1889 revenue at about £44,000 was £5,000 down on 1884-1885. New Brighton, which was dependant on good weather, fell from £27,000 in 1886-1887 to £20,500 in 1889-1889, 24% down, much of it due to railway competition. Wallasey ferries implemented various economy measures which included a reduction in manning levels in June 1886 and halving of the bonuses paid to masters and engineers. Holidays were reduced from two weeks to one week and the manager’s salary was cut from £425 to £350 per annum.
‘Express’ boats were introduced to run direct to and from New Brighton in anticipation of the competition from the railway. The boats ran from February 1887 between 7.15 and 9.50am and 5.00 and 7.00pm. In January 1888 a monthly contract was offered at 7s 6d (37½p) and other fare concessions were made. However, the cost of these measures exceeded the benefits and the direct boats had all been withdrawn by August 1888. From 1st October to 1893 to 28th February 1894 the experiment was repeated with no more success and again from 1st May 1899 when a half-hourly all-day direct service was started and lasted until the end of summer 1900. The experiment was never revived. Over 1.5 million passengers deserted the ferries for the trains and it was 11 years before the revenue fully recovered. However, the worst of the financial crisis had been overcome by February 1890 when holiday, salary and bonus cuts were restored in full. Some passengers came back from the railway to the ferry but they had a difficult choice. In the winter they could either freeze at ‘Pneumonia Junction’ and suffocate in the tunnel or face the full fury of the river at its most malignant.
New Brighton Terminal Problems
The growth of seasonal traffic at New Brighton by 1879 swamped the facilities and at Whitsuntide the crush was so great that some boats had to be sent back to Liverpool without unloading the passengers. Four boats were hired on this occasion as well as 2 tugs, the Woodside streamer ‘Liverpool’ and a Tranmere vessel for beaching as a stage extension at Egremont. The Board accepted plans by the well known engineer, Dowson, in October 1879 for a new stage measuring 240ft by 55ft and a second passenger bridge for £6,500. But there was a backwash from ratepayers and the Board were obliged to cease with the plans for the time being, instead spending a small amount on repairs to maintain the existing conditions.