Liverpool Port’s Boom Times Revealed – In Shipwrecks.
Above Photo: the shipwreck of the Ionic Star, Liverpool. (© Liverpool Echo/Colin Lane)
The action in my ‘70s-‘80s Punk and New Wave memoir, Bombed Out! takes place in Liverpool, a port city then in brutal decline. This decline was in part due to changing international trade patterns, but it was exacerbated by the then-British government’s economic policies which hit the whole city hard.
The former greatness of Liverpool’s port is firmly woven into the narrative of Bombed Out! both in terms of locations (late night walks along the deserted Dock Road), the magnificent commercial buildings of the city centre (where I was hanging around and romping at night), Liverpool’s public buildings built with donations from wealthy merchants, such as the library, which plays a significant role in the book.
I also mention the devastation of the Dock Road hinterland, where I worked at the time and I even mention former Eric’s Punk Club, New Wave record shops, restaurants, pubs and rehearsal space for 1980s Liverpool bands all being located in disused warehouses in the city centre.
So whenever I read port-related stories I’m always fascinated by them, and in two recent shipwreck stories, I glimpsed the former greatness of Liverpool docks’ commercial history.
The first story relates to a ship called the Star of Hope that was wrecked in a storm in January 1883 as it approached the mouth of the River Mersey. The Star of Hope was a sailing ship 120 foot long and 25 feet wide which was employed in the transatlantic cotton trade.
Unfortunately, when the ship approached Liverpool in 1883, she was caught in a storm and strong onshore winds pushed her into treacherous sandbanks off the coast as she tried to navigate her way up the narrow Mersey channel. As she only operated under sail, there was little the ship could do to avoid its fate. The ship fired flares and a rescue boat was sent out to take the crew from the stricken vessel.
When the Star of Hope was wrecked it was nearing the end of a long voyage from Wilmington, North Carolina USA, with a cargo of raw cotton. When these ships safely arrived at the port, their goods would be offloaded and transported by barge up the Leeds and Liverpool Canal to the cotton mills of East Lancashire. (The Leeds and Liverpool Canal receives many mentions in Bombed Out! too, but definitely not for reasons of commerce).
Now the shipwreck lies buried in sand and appears and disappears with strong winds and low tides, a gently rotting reminder of Liverpool port’s former greatness and the danger of storms in an age of sail.
The Ionic Star
In October 1939 the Blue Star Line lost a ship called the Ionic Star, which was also wrecked on the same dangerous sands as the vessel approached the River Mersey.
The Ionic Star was a refrigerated ship with a cargo of meat, fruit and cotton and was nearing its journey’s end, having set off from Rio De Janeiro and Santos in Brazil to Liverpool.
All the crew was rescued and the cargo eventually taken off. Partially salvaged, the ship was then used as target practice during World War
Sometimes called the “Ghost Ship” because it appears only when there are extremely low tides, it was again recently uncovered by exceptionally low tides, when a Liverpool Echo photographer, Colin Lane, took the accompanying photos of what remains of the ship at Formby beach.
Buy a signed copy of Bombed Out! here: http://www.bombedoutpunk.com/buybook.php
For more on these and other Liverpool wrecks see: http://www.martyngriff.co.uk/
And for more superb photos of the Ionic Star see: http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/solar-eclipse-ships-revealed-hidden-8904260