Lock, Dock and Two Smoking Vessels

Lock, Dock and Two Smoking Vessels

Restoring Steamships and Maritime Heritage in the UK – Lock, Dock and Two Smoking Vessels

By Maryann Soper


Thousands of people across the UK are actively saving our maritime heritage by supporting one of the many organisations set up to restore vessels or promote careers in maritime. As we know, our little island has a rich seafaring past and is littered with historic ports. Thankfully, many of them are seeing a revival as top quality regeneration and investment has seen remarkable success. Coastal docks, such as The Royal Albert Docks in Liverpool are absolutely thriving with fairground rides and an upbeat vibe, since the heritage-led regeneration; and as such plays a crucial part in the World Heritage Site designation. We also have recent success in Hull, where £23m has been pledged to regenerate the maritime heritage of the region.

Albert Dock, Liverpool 11 © GooseyGoo


Liverpool’s Historic Docks © Copyright Maryann Soper

Then we have glorious historic docks snuggled inland, like those at Gloucester, with a more subtle and sedate retail and leisure space. The Sharpness Canal ran ships inland from the River Severn and Gloucester was a major trading centre. And so we are bestowed with iconic warehouses, still proudly adorned with their names.

Gloucester Historic Docks © Copyright Chris Allen and licensed for reuse under CC by SA 2.0


Gloucester’s Historic Docks © Copyright Chris Allen and licensed for reuse under CC by SA 2.0

Staying in the Southwest, we must mention Brunel’s Bristol Docks; they too have been subject to a successful regeneration programme, with education and discovery in maritime and industrial heritage at its core.


SS Great Britain (1) by GooseyGoo


The SS Great Britain at Bristol © Copyright GooseyGoo

These are scenes where current culture is enjoyed while maintaining and honouring the fabric of the culture that shaped us. It’s a perfect blend for a sustainable future, which is why society’s such as the Steamship Freshspring Society are adopting a heritage-led, education-focussed, commercially viable, community-based plan.

Advice from the experts in the Heritage Lottery Fund remind us frequently that they invest in robust long-term plans, rather than plug holes in projects with cash, so we can see the wisdom in their logic in the regenerated historic docks around us.

The Freshspring Society are not the first to be operating in this way and we must look to our friends in Liverpool for inspiration and council, those from the Daniel Adamson Preservation Society. The Steam Tug Daniel Adamson is very comparable to the ss Freshspring; it is of a similar size and technology and was also saved from the brink of disaster.


Steam Tug Daniel Adamson © Copyright Chris Allen and licensed for reuse under CC by SA 2.0


Daniel Adamson © Copyright Chris Allen and licensed for reuse under CC by SA 2.0

Daniel Adamson was the engineer who had the original vision for the Manchester Ship Canal, which has been described as one of the greatest engineering projects of the 19th century.

The twin screw, coal-fired steam tug was built at the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead and is a remarkable survivor from the steam age and a most unusual vessel. It was built in 1903 to tow long strings of barges laden with goods from the inland towns of Cheshire and the Potteries to the seaport at Liverpool. The Danny had been laid-up and neglected with no funding for even basic maintenance since 1984. Dan Cross was the impetus for the bid to save her. Dan, a skipper of a powerful modern tug currently at Milford Haven and with an interest in many aspects of heritage, canvassed fellow tug enthusiasts and bought the tug for £1.

The Daniel Adamson Preservation Society or DAPS, formed in 2004 and it took 12 years to get the tug ship-shape. The objective of the society is quite simply, “To conserve and restore to full working order, the steam powered tug tender and to operate her in and around the Mersey Estuary for public benefit”.

They started off by getting a free tow out of Ellesmere Port to Liverpool for her restoration there, which sounds rather familiar to the Freshspring’s restoration journey, thanks to Keynvor MorLift Ltd.

They also got the tug listed as a nationally important vessel by its addition to the coveted National Historic Ships Register. This vital proof shows the potential funders that the ship is special even though it is in a sorry state. Other great names on the register include the SS Great Britain and the Cutty Sark! Well, this too has been the course of the Freshspring.

The DAPS workshop at Sandon Dock, used by the engineers, includes a machine shop filled with donated equipment and was vital to the project, with training facilities donated by the Llangollen Railway group. The Freshspring Society have and are making partnerships with the local railway groups in North Devon to form a heritage engineering pool of resources and experts to raise the progress of industrial heritage preservation in the region.

The team at DAPS were very active in their fundraising activity and early in the project were supported by grants from charitable foundations such as Esmee Fairbairn, Garfield Weston and PRISM, which acted as “seed corn” to get the project underway. The much bigger grants came later; from the HLF amounting close to £4 million and a landfill tax funded grant of £75k via WREN for the art-deco areas.

Wrapped in plastic sheeting and with her paintwork clearly the worse for wear, being in the public eye during the events at Liverpool, she was able to attract 13,000 visitors, who donated £11,000 for her restoration! This helped to provide evidence for the HLF award that the public wanted the vessel to return to operational service. Freshspring’s strategic positioning in Bideford allows the general public to see her and thus footfall will also contribute to  fundraising applications and evidence that she is being adopted the people.

Meanwhile, the big bid to the HLF was being worked on and gaining momentum behind the scenes.

The DAPS application gained the support (in writing) from major museums, MP’s , councils and organisations. It had to prove it was a sustainable investment for the benefit of the community, so revenue streams had to be determined and justified.

And then there’s the matter of match funding!

DAPS had to raise another £175,000 in matched contributions. After restoration, revenue is generated by the pleasure trips, but up until that point other strategies were implemented, such the “Danny” ale, a 4.2% hopped bitter, sold throughout the North west paying royalties to the DAPS. And Freshspring too will follow suit and develop multiple creative revenue streams to pay for the running costs and contribute to that crucial match-funding.

When the HLF bid was successful, the restoration contract was put out to tender and Camel Lairds of Birkenhead were the successful bidders. Once again it was a Svitzer tug that was to be involved in towing her into the Birkenhead dry dock, literally yards from where she was built in 1903!

£3m was spent, thanks to the Heritage lottery Fund, to recreate this superb and unique art-deco boat.

So the DAPS’ 12 year journey, of endless effort, looks a little like this:

  • Pioneering People – keeping the vision strong
  •  Paperwork – obtaining charity status
  •  Proof of Provenance – National Register of Historic Ships
  •  Freebies and Favours by Corporations – essential help, such as, towing and engineering works
  •  Prominent People – profile building and social clout!
  •  Practical People – All hands on deck! Do what you can, but properly!
  •  Paperwork People – The major fundraising campaign – behind the scenes
  •  Plain Sight – being in the public domain provided valuable evidence for grant applications
  •  The HLF and Restoration – Submitting the application and sending the ship away for restoration
  •  Delivering the Dream – operating the vessel and generating revenue


The Steamship Freshspring is in year four of turning its life around and major strides have already been made, thanks to a close involvement with the right people from the very start. They have the Pioneers, the paperwork, proof of provenance, freebies and favours, prominent, practical and creative friends and she is sitting proudly in public view in Bideford, North Devon, so they’re really in the final two stages of delivering the dream!


The Steamship Freshspring on her way to Bideford, 2016.

Meanwhile, a dream came true for our friends in Liverpool – on the 22nd of April 2017, enthusiasts gathered at Latchford Locks to witness the Daniel Adamson make its first voyage to Salford along the whole length of the Manchester Ship Canal, since 1984. Everything was going feel until they got to Latchford Swing Bridge, which stubbornly refused to open.

They say that Daniel Adamson would have been turning in his grave, but I think he would have been proud of the marvellous maritime success stories in the UK; lock, dock and vessel.

11th July 2017Comments Off, ,

Comments are closed here.