A historic vessel which spent almost two decades moored in Ellesmere Port has been restored to her former glory.

The Daniel Adamson, then the Ralph Brocklebank, was built at the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead in 1903 to tow barges laden with goods from the inland towns of Cheshire and the Potteries to Liverpool, today’s Daniel Adamson Preservation Society records.

A small but incredibly powerful canal tug, the 150 ton twin screw, coal-fired steam vessel is now unique in being the last surviving steam-powered tug to be built on the Mersey and is believed to be the oldest, operational Mersey-built ship anywhere in the world.

In her early days she also carried passengers between Ellesmere Port and Liverpool, a service that continued until 1915 while the First World War also saw her in service as an unarmed patrol boat with the Royal Navy around the Liverpool coast.

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In 1922 the tug was acquired by the Manchester Ship Canal Company for just over £3,000. As well as towing duties she started to carry passengers again between Manchester and the canal entrance at Eastham.

Steam Ship Daniel Adamson first moves towards restoration as the 1903 steamer leaves Albert Dock. Photo by Colin Lane
Steam Ship Daniel Adamson first moves towards restoration as the 1903 steamer leaves Albert Dock. Photo by Colin Lane

The vessel was also used to take visiting VIPs around Manchester’s famous inland docks and along the ship canal with eminent visitors ranging from King Amanullah of Afghanistan to the Sultan of Zanzibar.

In 1936 the Ralph Brocklebank was chosen to become the ship canal company’s official director’s launch with a radical refit and a name change to that of the ship canal’s founding father Daniel Adamson.

A subsidiary of Belfast shipbuilders Harland & Wolff Ltd, which had experience of fitting out the interiors of some of the grandest liners in the world, was brought in and the interior of the tug was transformed into a miniature version of an Atlantic passenger ship.

The stalwart tug sailed on in her dual role through the post-war years but by the 1960s her towing duties became less frequent. Though still in demand for hospitality, she was now seen as a valued tradition rather than an integral part of the working life of the ship canal.

By the 1980s, the octogenarian vessel was nearing the end of her era and in 1984 the ship canal company decided to withdraw her from service. Arrangements were made in 1986 for her to be towed to the Boat Museum in Ellesmere Port, the very place where she had started her working life 83 years before.

At the museum her unique combination of steam engine and stylish Art Deco interiors drew admiring visitors but she soon fell victim to funding cuts and maintenance became too expensive to carry out.

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By the early 1990s the Daniel Adamson was starting to show signs of neglect and over the next decade her condition deteriorated and she was vandalised and partly set alight.

In 2004, despite being a unique century-old maritime survival, she was earmarked for scrapping but within days a decision to try and save her was taken.

The campaign was spearheaded by Mersey tug skipper Captain Dan Cross who formed the preservation society with the help of Tony Hirst, a former director of the museum on Ellesmere Port’s waterfront.

Mr Cross bought the vessel from the ship canal company for £1 and the campaign was underway.

Daniel Adamson vessel sailed into Canning Dock tonight after sailing across the Mersey from Cammel Laird
Daniel Adamson vessel sailed into Canning Dock tonight after sailing across the Mersey from Cammel Laird

Supporters started to emerge and ships’ surveyors and engineers, pipefitters, plumbers, joiners, electricians and many more, retired and still in employment, all offered their services free of charge. Original members of the crew also turned up.

Grants started to be raised culminating in February last year when the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £3.8m to restore the vessel to full working order.

From a vandalised wreck days away from the breaker’s yard, the Daniel Adamson has now sailed into the elite ranks of the National Historic Fleet, the maritime version of a Grade I listed building, alongside vessels of national significance such as the Cutty Sark, HMS Victory and SS Great Britain.

This month she sailed into Liverpool’s Canning Dock after firing her furnaces and crossing the Mersey from Cammell Laird, Birkenhead where for the last year a team of volunteers and shipbuilders at the shipyard has been lovingly restoring the vessel.

Mr Cross, chairman of the preservation society, said: “It’s fantastic that the Danny has been restored to its former glory.

“We are immensely proud of all our volunteers and workers and for managing to restore the ship on Merseyside at the shipyard where it was first built.

“Around 100,000 hours of volunteer labour has gone into refurbishing the ship.”

He added: “It was an incredibly proud moment to see her leave Cammell Laird and head back to the Albert Dock where our project began.”

Mr Cross believes that without the ‘massive’ backing of hundreds of volunteers and supporters the vessel would have been consigned to history years ago.

Help has come locally from Cheshire West and Chester Council and the Boat Museum along with Ellesmere Post based training organisation TTE.

‘The Danny’, which can take 100 passengers, is now available for private hire for everything from meetings to special occasions such as wedding receptions.

People will be able to cruise on the vessel along the Mersey, the Weaver and the Ship Canal or hire the ship when she is moored in Ellesmere Port and other locations.