River tug re­stored to glory

slip­ping through calm Cheshire wa­ters, lov­ingly re­stored river boat, the Daniel adamson stands out among plea­sure cruis­ers

Landscape (UK) - - Contents -

a s the RiveR Weaver winds through the Cheshire salt marshes, near to where the river joins the Manch­ester Ship Canal, a sin­gu­lar ship stands out on the tran­quil wa­ter. Along­side pop­u­lar plea­sure craft mak­ing the most of the May sun­shine, the Danny is dif­fer­ent. For she is a pas­sen­ger-car­ry­ing steam tug ten­der, built more than a cen­tury ago. The tug has been painstak­ingly re­stored by scores of ded­i­cated vol­un­teers, af­ter fall­ing into dis­re­pair. Her over­hauled Ed­war­dian en­gines are well oiled, and her pol­ished brass catches the sun’s rays. The Danny, short for Daniel Adamson, is work­ing as smoothly as she did on her launch day in Au­gust 1903. She cuts sur­pris­ingly swiftly through the wa­ter, as she is tall for a tug and the big­gest ship to use the Weaver. A new bridge, or wheel­house, added in 1936, gives her a some­what top-heavy look. Her height from the wa­ter­line to the top of the mast, known as the air draft, nar­rowly un­der­cuts the max­i­mum of 59ft (18m) al­lowed on the Weaver. At ap­prox­i­mately 380 tons, with a length of 110½ft (34m) and beam of 24½ft (7½m), her pow­er­ful bow wave is just con­tained be­tween the banks of the nar­row river. The fun­nel, painted black with two crisp white stripes, belches black smoke. Dis­tinc­tive acrid smells of oil and coal min­gle, catch and waft away. De­spite the roar of the boiler at full steam and the low rhyth­mic rum­ble of the en­gines, the sheep on the sur­round­ing salty marsh­lands graze on, un­per­turbed. Soon the Weaver opens out to low-ly­ing fields and farm­lands, green and gold un­der blue skies. Pink va­le­rian and ragged robin, clumps of teasels, tall net­tles and yel­low rag­wort scram­ble to the wa­ter­line. The bird­watch­ers on board are peer­ing through their binoc­u­lars at lap­wings, with their dis­tinc­tive

green-tinged head feath­ers. The egrets and cor­morants, seem­ingly guard­ing the river­bank, gaze im­pas­sively back as the Danny steams on.

Built for work

As the last re­main­ing sur­vivor of her type of work­ing steam tug in the UK, the Danny’s restora­tion is tes­ta­ment to Bri­tain’s in­dus­trial mar­itime her­itage. Pos­si­bly the old­est op­er­a­tional Mersey-built ship in the world, she has a well-earned place on the Na­tional His­toric Fleet list un­der the Na­tional His­toric Ships Reg­is­ter. This con­tains the elite of the reg­is­ter and is sim­i­lar to a building be­ing Grade I listed. Re­stored with a £3.8 mil­lion Her­itage Lot­tery Fund grant, the pres­ti­gious ten­der now op­er­ates as a leisure at­trac­tion and learn­ing re­source on the wa­ter­ways of the North West. Orig­i­nally known as the Ralph Brock­le­bank, af­ter a di­rec­tor of the Lon­don and North West­ern Rail­way Com­pany, the Danny was built to tow barges across the River Mersey from the Shrop­shire Union Canal. Then, canals were still a cru­cial mode of trans­port. Af­ter the First World War, the canal com­pa­nies lost out to road and rail, and their wa­ter­craft were sold off. The Ralph Brock­le­bank was built as a small but pow­er­ful tug with a twin-screw de­sign: two com­pound steam en­gines driv­ing two pro­pel­lers. This meant she could pull barges many times her own weight. In 1922, she was given a new lease of life as part of the Manch­ester Ship Canal Com­pany’s (MSSC) fleet. Her build meant she was able to adapt to tow­ing cargo-car­ry­ing ships along the canal. Her job was to guide and nudge these much larger ships along the nar­row stretches and through the locks of the canal, usu­ally at the stern of the ship be­ing towed. Hav­ing two en­gines en­abled her to slow the big­ger ship down and steer at the same time. From the start, the Danny was li­censed to carry 100 pas­sen­gers, and as well as her tow­ing du­ties, she took pay­ing pas­sen­gers across the Mersey be­tween Liver­pool and the Wir­ral. This tra­di­tion con­tin­ued when she moved to Manch­ester, where she was used as a launch to take vis­it­ing dig­ni­taries and com­mer­cial clients round the city’s in­land dock sys­tem. The Aus­tralian cricket team, King Fuad of Egypt, King Faisal of Iraq and the Sul­tan of Zanz­ibar were just some of the em­i­nent visi­tors who boarded her in the 1920s and 30s. In 1936, a su­per­struc­ture was added, pro­vid­ing the new bridge, two stylish sa­loons and a prom­e­nade deck for pas­sen­gers. The MSSC di­rec­tors wanted more lux­u­ri­ous pas­sen­ger ac­com­mo­da­tion for their vis­it­ing guests and trade part­ners. In hon­our of the man who was the driv­ing force be­hind the in­cep­tion of the ship canal, she was re­named the Daniel Adamson. Now an amal­gam of Ed­war­dian en­gi­neer­ing and Art Deco style, the Danny was trans­formed into an ocean liner in minia­ture. Her work­ing days came to an end in the 1980s, when the canal com­pany con­sid­ered steam power to be too costly. The Danny spent the next 20 years berthed at Ellesmere Port Boat Mu­seum,

now the Na­tional Wa­ter­ways Mu­seum. But it was un­able to raise funds for her up­keep, and the rot set in. Van­dal­ism ex­ac­er­bated the creep­ing wa­ter ingress. With lo­cal peo­ple com­plain­ing about the Danny be­ing a mag­net for anti-so­cial be­hav­iour, and the di­lap­i­dated tug fast be­com­ing an eye­sore, the breaker’s yard beck­oned. Then the close-knit mar­itime com­mu­nity heard of the Danny’s im­mi­nent demise. Word spread that the last re­main­ing steam tug ten­der in the UK needed a saviour.

Pas­sion­ate sup­port

At this junc­ture, Mersey tug skip­per Dan Cross heard about the Danny’s plight. Af­ter a last-minute cam­paign to save the ves­sel, he suc­ceeded in buy­ing his name­sake in Fe­bru­ary 2004 for the nom­i­nal sum of £1. As a re­sult, the Daniel Adamson Preser­va­tion So­ci­ety (DAPS) was formed, with Dan as its chair­man. Mem­ber­ship quickly grew, with vol­un­teers drawn from all walks of life, many bring­ing en­gi­neer­ing skills and mar­itime knowl­edge. A large num­ber of vol­un­teers who worked on the Danny’s con­ser­va­tion are now part of her crew. Sev­eral, such as Colin Leonard, had worked on the Danny in her canal days. Colin, the Danny’s mate, is a link back to the tug’s work­ing days on the Manch­ester Ship Canal. As a boy

The Danny makes its way un­der the Dut­ton rail viaduct, a route it took on its maiden voy­age fol­low­ing its ren­o­va­tion.

The gleam­ing brass bell with the ves­sel’s name en­graved on it. A ship’s bell reg­u­lated the tim­ing of duty watches.

Vol­un­teer Colin Leonard work­ing the ropes in his new role as crew mem­ber.

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