Letting off steam on the Weaver

The Daniel Adamson – also known as ‘the Danny’ – recently started its passenger cruise programme following a £5 million restoration. Janet Richardson joined one of the River Weaver trips.

I arrived bright and early at Ellesmere Port for the cruise to Acton Bridge on Friday, June 16 but could already see steam rising from the Danny’s chimney as the volunteers who make up the crew prepared the former Mersey tug to receive its passengers.

Soon the almost empty National Waterways Museum car park began to fill and people started to make their way along the waterfront to Telford Quay, some first enjoying a drink in the museum cafe.

Daniel Adamson Preservation Society trustee Les Green told me that more than 100,000 volunteer hours went into the restoration of the 1903-built steam ship – originally named the Ralph Brocklebank – with its Art Deco interior. However as the day was bright and warm, promising later sunshine, most of the 84 passengers opted to stay on deck to enjoy the sights.

Working in the boiler room are engineers Bernard Whitley, left, and Bob Findow, a former tugman on the Manchester Ship Canal who served on the Danny as fireman and later as assistant engineer.

After casting off we made our way along the Manchester Ship Canal through an industrial landscape with views across the Mersey to the Liverpool skyline, wind turbines and electricity pylons towering above us while sheep grazed the marshes undisturbed. Railway-type signals in the ‘up’ position showed the entrance to the Marsh Lock and the Weaver Navigation, a Canal & River Trust lock keeper waiting to see us through.

Once we passed a chemical plant, the countryside began to open out into meadows with cattle and sheep grazing and the seagulls and oyster catchers were replaced with Canada geese and swans.

Passengers could enjoy a drink or a beverage from the onboard bar as well as a bowl of local delicacy Danny Scouse – a meat and potato stew – served with red cabbage and a bread roll. ‘Gongoozlers’ and other boaters took photographs as we passed – the Danny with bunting making a colourful sight on the river where the like hasn’t been seen since the 1970s.

Swing bridge

I was lucky enough to briefly join the crew on the bridge as we approached Sutton Weaver Bridge which recently underwent a £4.5 million restoration; traffic queued on either approach as the bridge swung open for us.

As we passed through waterside meadows filled with buttercups and woodlands, the Danny’s chug was the only sound apart from birdsong. I even had the thrill of seeing the flash of blue as a kingfisher darted past. Our arrival at the Dutton Lock was not without an element of drama as the lock keeper and bystanders watched as the Danny could not stop in time to avoid bumping the top gates.

The Art Deco saloon.

The Canal & River Trust tug which had been following us then came alongside and took the Danny with her 10ft draft under tow for a short distance to avoid grounding in a shallower stretch of water. Acton Bridge then came into sight where we disembarked before being bussed for a visit to the Anderton Boat Lift before returning to the National Waterways Museum car park.

The Danny stayed on at Acton Bridge for the weekend, during which people could look around the 1903-built tug now converted to a moving visitor and museum attraction following restoration with the help of a £3.8 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Les Green told me afterwards that the day had been a record breaker, the 84 passengers being the highest number to date resulting in record takings at both the onboard retail and catering outlets. Stewards assisting passengers off the vessel said that they had nothing but complimentary remarks about their experience.

Regional flagship

The last surviving steam powered tug in the UK, the Daniel Adamson was named after the leader of the ship canal movement and first chairman of Manchester Ship Canal Company.

Relaunched in April, the Danny is offering 39 cruises this year, other routes including Manchester Ship Canal: Liverpool to Salford Quays and Liverpool to Ellesmere Port.

The Danny was recently awarded the North West Regional Flagship Award by National Historic Ships UK for her commitment to education and engagement with the region’s maritime heritage.

Les Green writes: “The Daniel Adamson Preservation Society or DAPS for short is the volunteered charity behind the £5 million restoration project that has returned the Danny back to operating service.

“The achievements of the volunteers have been amazing with the vessel fully restored back to original condition as at 1936 when it left John Brown’s Shipyard and returned to service all within 12 years of acquisition.”

Now chairman of DAPS, Dan Cross was the impetus for the bid to save her. A skipper of a powerful modern tug currently at Milford Haven and with an interest in many aspects of heritage, he canvassed fellow tug enthusiasts. The result was an approach to owners Peel Holdings who, rather than see this historic vessel scrapped, sold her for the princely sum of £1 to DAPS.

He said: “She will now become a new tourist attraction for Liverpool, Cheshire and the North West.”

From the initial group of tug enthusiasts with some professionals from the maritime industry, DAPS has progressively grown its membership to more than 600.

Members from all sections of the community, including former ship canal workers, IT specialists and power station operatives, sharing a common purpose have swelled the membership and worked hard to achieve the vessel’s return to service.

*This article was previously featured in the August 2017 issue of Towpath Talk

The Danny 2022 Cruise Schedule