River tug restored to glory
slipping through calm Cheshire waters, lovingly restored river boat, the Daniel adamson stands out among pleasure cruisers
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.
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.