History of Wallasey Ferries

The First World War

The First World War brought many problems which affected the smooth running of the ferries. Many skilled staff was lost to the armed forces and there were a restriction on supplies. Also more people were put to war work so there was an increase in peak hour travel.

The staff shortages and costs were dealt with by reducing services as far as possible on the northern ferries. From 18th January 1915 services on Sundays finished at 9.15 pm and from 8th November the 20-minute service was reduced to 30-minutes, saving one boat, with a daily last sailing at 9.15 pm.  As a result two thousand fewer contracts were sold at Egremont in December 1915, compared with the year before, as passengers travelled to Seacombe by tram which was more convenient. The 10-minute Seacombe service was reduced to 15-minute off-peak though an attempt to maintain this frequency with one boat was soon abandoned.

New Brighton ferry pier in its heyday.

Wartime inflation was to see increases in fares. The annual contract for Seacombe went up to £1. 10s. 0d. (+33%) and New Brighton annual to £2 (+60%). Much worse however was to come. The ferries had now reached the limit of their charging powers under their enabling Act and were forced to apply to Parliament for a new maximum tariff. The Royal Assent was obtained on 16th May 1918 and ordinary fares went up the next day to Seacombe 1½, Egremont 3d and New Brighton 4½d. However travelling before 8.00 am workmen’s tickets at 1d single and 2d return replaced the early morning 1d returns which had been issued for many years but had been confined to Seacombe since 1st January 1913. The new ticket available at all ferries at first which would have given a reduction for users of Egremont and New Brighton but it, too, was soon limited to Seacombe. From 1st January 1913 reduced fares for children were introduced. Children under seven travelled free and after that the full fare but this was changed a year later to under 3 free, 3-7 years half fare and full fares thereafter.

The landward end of New Brighton pier on a busy summer's day with the tram terminus on the right.

The war generated a great demand for vessels of all types. The Corporation received their first order in 1916 for the requisitioning of two paddlers, ‘John Heron’ and ‘Pansy’ which were wanted to carry munition workers on the River Thames to Woolwich Arsenal. Both of these vessels were regularly used on the northern passages. In December 1916 John Farley, Chairman of the Ferries Committee and the manager went to the Royal Dockyard at Woolwich to try and prevent the loss of them. The Admiralty agreed to buy the ‘Pansy’ for £4,800. On 20th January 1917 Pansy left the Mersey with her decks heaped with coal. The seas were quite rough and by the next day she ran aground on the rocks in Bull Bay, Anglesey, and broke her back. The War Office Transportation Administration Board paid £5,119 as compensation for her loss. Within five days of the loss of ‘Pansy’, ‘John Heron’ was dispatched to replace her and eventually reached the safety of the Thames. The Corporation were paid £4 per working day for her hire which equalled to £511 per year. For the first time since 1822, the ferries were without paddle-steamers.

In early 1918 the ‘Iris’ and ‘Daffodil’ were requisitioned by the Admiralty. They were selected for their shallow draught which enabled them to pass through minefields unscathed and their water-tight compartments made them virtually unsinkable.  Both vessels were renamed – ‘Iris II’ and Daffodil IV’ and both were prepared for their mission and the journey to Dover by Ferries Staff. Armour plating was fitted to vulnerable parts fore and aft and all the passenger equipment was removed.  On 12th February, painted in battleship grey, both slipped out of the river crewed by the navy with ferries staff manning the engines.  Their destination was an attack on Zeebrugge.

Iris and Daffodil at anchor with a tug after their return from naval service in 1918

The purpose of the attack was to block the entrance to the Bruges canal by sinking three hulks thereby by denying the German access to their submarine base at Bruges. ‘Iris’ and ‘Daffodil’ landed troops on the mole protecting the harbour and came under heavy fire. There was considerable damage caused to their superstructures and Cdr. Fry persuaded the Admiralty to allow them to be repaired by Ferries staff in Liverpool under naval supervision.  On 17th May 1918 they were given a tremendous welcome when they returned home. The Council learned on 28th May that the King had “acceded to the prayer of the petition of the Corporation” and had commanded that the ferries steamships ‘Iris’ and ‘Daffodil’ should henceforth be named ‘Royal Iris’ and ‘Royal Daffodil’.

Whilst ‘Iris’ and ‘Daffodil’ were absent, the ferries were left with only four passenger steamers – ‘Lily’, ‘Rose’,  ‘John Joyce’, and ‘Snowdrop’.  Even with this depleted fleet day trips to New Brighton by ferry increased, a fine summer bringing almost 5 million in 1916-1917 but the following year was an all time record with 31.8 million, of which 4.7 million used Egremont and almost 7 million New Brighton, record traffic being carried on both Whit Monday and August Bank Holiday 1917.

Pansy, sister ship of John Heron, was requisitioned by the Admiralty in 1916 but ran aground and was wrecked of Bull Bay, Angelsey on 21st January, 1917.

To discourage non-essential travel by rail all ferry-railway tickets were withdrawn from 1st June 1918. However, on 17th August 1918, the ferries were called upon to transport thousands of American and Canadian troops from Liverpool to New Brighton for a charity baseball game.  The sporting event brought thousands of soldiers to the Tower Grounds. After the match the New Brighton pubs did well.

Coal shortages were causing a serious operating problem even before the war’s end. From 4th November 1918 all peak hour services were suspended to and from New Brighton, a single vessel steaming hourly to New Brighton between 10.00 am and 12 noon and 2.00 pm and 5.00 pm and all day Sunday.  At other times one vessel maintained a half-hourly service to and from Egremont to which New Brighton contract-holders were taken by an augmented tram service paid for by the Ferries. This proved very unpopular and the normal winter service was restored from 1st December 1918 at one days’ notice which caused friction between the Tramways and Ferries departments.