Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The Best Little Museum in Canaldom

We finally managed to get to the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port and what a little cracker it is.

In our cruising, we have visited the London Canal Museum and Gloucester, but this one is the jewel in the crown.

Ellesmere Port was basically a transhipment port.

It sits between the Manchester Ship Canal and the Shropshire Union Canal. The location is only a few miles from the tidal River Mersey with the great port of Liverpool a few miles downstream.

Beyond that, the World.

Cargo would come in to Liverpool or the ports on the ship canal, in large ocean going vessels and get transhipped into wide beam barges or Mersey sailing flats.

Smaller coastal ships or the wide beam barges would enter the lower basins of Ellesmere Port and then their cargoes would be transhipped into working narrowboats in the upper basins.

Once loaded, the narrowboats would travel the canal network, reaching potteries, coal mines, factories and so on. Of course, it would also work the other way round, with British exports originating in the heart of England, being shipped to the colonies and the world market.

Transhipment was achieved by cranes and railway trucks around the dock.

The museum is huge - the waterways are still intact, but some of the transhipment quay buildings and warehouses have been replaced by sympathetic modern buildings like apartments, offices and even a Holiday Inn Hotel. The British Sub-Aqua club have their offices in the modern part of the complex.

In the photo above, you can see how the port looks when entering from the Shropshire Union.

You can see the Whitby Locks (well the lower ones anyway), which allow narrowboats to enter the lower basin.

"Ferret" is shown here. Built by Yarwoods at nearby Northwich in 1926, she is a motor and would have towed an unpowered butty. The building behind is the old dock office.

Bacup is one of the last Leeds and Liverpool Canal motor short boats to be built (1950).

One of the saddest things about the museum is the fact that so much of it is undergoing restoration. It must cost an absolute fortune to keep the buildings in a good state of repair and to renovate the boats. They have done a fantastic job and there were lots of busy volunteers in attendance, working on the boats, surveying, tending the gardens, etc.
There are, however, a lot of boats in very poor condition. Some I imagine are too far gone and some are work in progress.
There is a beauty in their decay and even in death, they still have the power to excite the true boat enthusiast.

"Mendip" is a case in point. They were hard at work on her.
She was an F.M.C boat, also built at Yarwoods and was the fifth boat of six ordered, being
delivered in 1947.

These workers cottages are open to the public. Built in 1833, they had no running water, electric or even gas. They had a shared earth toilet out back. Although this seems primitive now, it was pretty normal for the time.

This boat caught my eye. Amaryllis is a 1954 motor cruiser with mahogany planking on oak frames. Powered by a Morris Vedette engine, she still turns heads with her curvy bilges.
Below is her cockpit - I love the speaker !!

Don't miss part 2 of the Best Little Museum in Canaldom, where I plan to go into some more detail about the basins and lock arrangements and show a few more pictures of boats and wrecks.

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