Manchester Liners

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Manchester Liners ran ships to such exotic places at the Philadelphia (U.S.A.), Mediterranean, Montreal (Canada) and Boston, U.S.A. Other ships operated were the Manchester Progress, Manchester Enterprise, Manchester Port, and Manchester Merchant. There was war involvement for the Manchester Miller (1903) and Manchester Civilian (1913), helping to supply naval ships. Manchester Commerce (1899) was sank on the 26th October 1914 by mine. The first such ship to be sank by a mine in the Great War. The Manchester Trader was sunk by U-Boat on the 4th June 1917 in the Mediterranean. Manchester Engineer marked another loss on the 16th of August 1918. Manchester Division bucked the trend by ramming a German submarine and sinking it not far from the resting place of the Manchester Engineer. Typical Mancunian thing to go ramming an attacker with a ship.

Ship_Canal_Cartoon_PunchThis small but active shipping firm was gathering international recognition long after Manchester Spinner carried coal out of Sydney, Nova Scotia (Canada). In 1923 it carried aid to the Great Kanto Earthquake victims, from the U.S.A. The Manchester Regiment sailed in 1922. It could get to Quebec (Canada) in around seven days and nine hours. For all the pomp and ceremony, the years leading up to the Great Depression and the ones that followed forced Manchester Liners to scrap and sell many ships. As things improved, World War II erupted.

Manchester Liners’ ten ships would see varied action. Manchester City was at first a minelayer, then sent to the far east to act as a naval auxiliary ship. Many lives were lost and many ships sank. One of Manchester Liners’ ships rest-off the coast of Juno Beach Normandy having acted as a breakwater (Manchester Spinner); the Manchester Citizen, on passage to Lagos was sank by U-Boat. Manchester Merchant, sank was sank by U-boats in the Atlantic. Manchester Brigade, sank by the north of Ireland, having been torpedoed.

ship canal

Manchester Division would rescue beached passengers in Namibia. Peacetime resumed after the conclusion of World War II and Manchester Liners, much like the rest of the world counted the lost lives. Manchester Exporter, Manchester Shipper, Manchester Prospector, Manchester Vanguard, Manchester Venture, Manchester Faith and Manchester Fame are just some of the other great names. Look out for Manchester Commerce in the movie A Taste of Honey.

Some interesting stories surround Manchester Liners. Firstly, Captain F. Struss survived two ships that had been sank across The Great War and World War II. Then there is the huge ten-engine U.S. Air Force RB-36 Peacemaker that crashed off west-Ireland. Here the inbound Manchester Shipper, and the outbound Manchester Pioneer came to the rescue, in harsh weather, of the four surviving crew members. In another incident, a ditched Flying Tiger Line Lockheed Super Constellation landed in the Atlantic west of Shannon, Ireland. 48 passengers survived thanks to the works of temporary-rescue ship Manchester Faith and temporary-radio ship Manchester Progress. Heavy seas claimed 28 people that day. Another point to mention is that the chairman of Manchester Liners, a Robert B. Stoker, retired after 47 years with the company. That was in 1979. He left as his industry expanded to larger shipping company capacities, dockyard strikes, shipping, a decrease in profitability and a radically global market with corporations and investments networking far beyond regional and national gain.

Furness Withy were once part-owners of Manchester Liners but in 1970, they purchased the remainder of the company. In 1980, barely teenaged Orient Overseas Container Line snapped up Furness Withy. The company once owned by C. Y. Tung (董兆荣Dǒng Zhàoróng) was sold on again in 1990 to German multinational company Dr. Oetker (they make cakes, breakfast cereals and bakery stuff). All ships had been sold on by 1985.

There were firsts, the Manchester Challenge, was Britain’s first built and operated container ship. It would be joined by sister ships, Manchester Courage, Manchester Concorde and the Manchester Crusade. Not only that, like some of their early sister ships, this group of ships could break ice like the best of them – which was just as well, because Canadian water had plenty of ice. As the small shipping company expanded through Italy, Greece, Lebanon and Syria it acquired Manchester Dry Docks Ltd in the 1970s.

The line operated a flag with a red oval, over a white background and white lettering for ML. Their funnel was red and black. Some ships were painted red. I shouldn’t like anything to do with this red-loving shipping line, but Manchester Liners have a fascinating history, and all because in 1894, somebody opened a canal, 58km/36 miles long from the sea. Who is laughing now Punch magazine?

In memory of those who died in service for Manchester Liners.

Bypassing Liverpool since ’94

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This week Liverpool F.C. won the Premier League. Well done to them. There has been some boasting [19?] and gloating [mainly aimed at Man Utd and City]. James Milner, now a Champion at Liverpool F.C. had left Manchester City for pastures new and ended up in Anfield. He could have taken a train, car or even a ship to his new club.

Manchester by the Sea may sound like a crap funfair placed by a pond in Heaton Park, but it is actually a title of a movie by Kenneth Lonergan released in 2016. It won awards for acting and stuff like that. It has a soundtrack that doesn’t feature Oasis, The Charlatans or the Happy Mondays. Is it worth seeing? Not a clue. I’ll get round to it, but this movie set in the seaside town, first settled in 1629, of Manchester, Essex County, Massachusetts hasn’t got me yet. No hard feelings Casey Affleck.

Mark Vincent Collins, of The Charlatans, was born in Barton-on-Irwell, which is almost Manchester, but we call it the City of Salford. The Barton Swing Aqueduct allows a canal to pass over a canal. This Roman invention of the Aqueduct was modernised to become a moveable navigable aqueduct. It was a first at the time and many believe it is still the only of its kind. It opened in 1894, year of Manchester City’s naming, and remains working now Built to last by a Derbyshire firm from a plan by Sir Edward Leader Williams. A proper leader he was. So much so, few, if any have followed.

Birmingham may be the city of canals with more miles (56km/35 miles) of canals than Venice (42km/26 miles) but Manchester started the modern canal trend. The Bridgewater Canal runs from Runcorn to Leigh via Manchester. There was no river or stream. It was all dug in deep and long. Since 1761, steamboats, barges and small boats have utilised this modern canal. Used to ferry cotton goods and materials from the sea by Runcorn to Manchester and beyond, and vice versa, the canal was a great innovation. But, after over a hundred years if use it got mucky and couldn’t handle the traffic. Small ships could no longer navigate the near-impassable rivers Mersey and Irwell. The Irish Sea was an awfully long way away.

So, Manchester, faced with the problem of low rainfall, an expensive and limited railway cargo network and rivers ‘hopelessly choked with silt and filth’ (Owen, David, The Manchester Ship Canal, Manchester University Press) removed the barriers. Liverpool’s excessive goods fees had made it cheaper to head east to Hull for goods. That wasn’t good. On October the 7th, 1882 Punch magazine illustrated that Manchester’s idea to bring the sea inland was laughable, “MANCHESTER-SUR-MER. A SEA-DUCTIVE PROSPECT.” Proposals, legal matters and paperwork were underway, and within five years the ground for a new canal was broken.

ship canal

Opened a few days after completion, on the 1st of January 1894, by Queen Victoria, the Manchester Ship Canal was 58km/36 miles long. It is now the 10th longest ship canal in the world. At the time of opening it was second only to the Suez Canal (193km/120 miles) in terms of length for ship canals. Setbacks such as the lead contractor dying, harsh weather, floods (in a dry canal!), and serious money shortages, it was a miracle the canal had been completed. The Pioneer, a steamer, owned by the Cooperative Wholesale Society unloaded sugar that first day. Rouen, Normandy (France) and Manchester were connected and the Stereo MC’s weren’t around to record it.

There’s a great bleak and brown looking landscape by Benjamin Williams Leader (brother of lead engineer Edward Leader Williams) entitled ‘The Excavation of the Manchester Ship Canal: Eastham Cutting with Mount Manisty in the Distance’. Short names for paintings were evidently being rationed around the Long Depression era. The scarred Mount Manisty, Cheshire (a 30m/100’ tall hillock from earth extracted to form the ship canal) sits over the canal in present day and with its coating of trees, it looks to have been there forever. Manchester Liners used to pass this point and their ship the Manchester City, launched on the 27th October 1898.

The oldest proper canal is the Grand Canal of China (大運河 A.K.A. 京杭大運河; Jīng-Háng Dà Yùnhé or the Beijing–Hangzhou Grand Canal). It was started in the 5th century before what is known as the common era. Since then, this now UNESCO World Heritage Site, has ran over 1,794 km (1,115 miles). This Chinese mammoth of a canal is mostly improved rivers, watercourses and some extant diversions of rivers. Merchant Marco Polo, scholar Ibn Battuta, Italian priest Matteo Ricci and Scottish tea-hunter Robert Fortune went to the Grand Canal. The Grand Canal was intended for barges and not shipping.

By comparison, the Panama Canal, opened in 1914. It is 82km long and now is the 8th longest ship canal in the world. The Port of Manchester was once the U.K.’s third-busiest port. Just as the Panama Canals fortunes flagged then raised again, so did Manchester’s Ship Canal. Following slumps from the 1950s to 1960s, the Manchester Ship Canal almost faded away. Nowadays the city’s ship canal ends in Salford and is home to Media City (IV, BBC, Coronation Street, Blue Peter and CBBC), the Imperial War Museum and other leisure facilities, such as The Lowry Centre. You can still take a cruise to the sea – by way of leisure on regular excursion boats (take the Snowdrop from Irlam Locks). The Port of Manchester closed in 1982 and it wasn’t until regeneration kicked in around Salford Quays in the 1990s and then a greater rejuvenation in the decades that follows that the Manchester Ship Canal experienced a new wave of glory.

Far from the times when the Manchester Blitz saw bombs rain down on Trafford, the Manchester Ship Canal and the Port of Manchester, the sights now are much more of green banks and pleasing on the eyes. There’s prosperity around the wharfs, Detroit Swing Bridge, and the National Waterways Museum sits by the Ellesmere Port branch of the Shropshire Union Canal. There’s still a heart beat to the old ship canal yet.

Peel Holdings owns both the Manchester Ship Canal and the Port of Liverpool. Port Salford and the Atlantic Gateway may arrive by the year 2030. The locks, sluices and weirs of the old Manchester Ship Canal are far from closed yet. Ships will continue to sail under the high-level Acton Grange Railway Viaduct, as Network Rail work overhead on the West Coast Main Line, and the dramatic Queen Ethelfleda Viaduct Britannia Bridge (Runcorn Railway Bridge). The linear port has been accessible for over 125 years now and the once nick-named dirty ‘big ditch’dug by navvies is synonymous with the name of Manchester.

In memory of those who died creating the Manchester Ship Canal.

Ronald Lindsay Johnson (24 September 1889 – 29 May 1917)

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Ronald Lindsay Johnson (24 September 1889 – 29 May 1917)

I knew of the Ronald Johnson Playing Fields long before FC United of Manchester went slicing into the earth around it. Located on Broadhurst Park, in Manchester’s Moston, I always recall the red brick cycling track within a fenced compound adjacent to the passing St. Mary’s Road. Discovering the Western Front Association website, I recently read about Ronald Johnson. Together with a profile on the Friends of Broadhurst Park, I started clicking left, right and centre.

Like many that saw battle in the horrors of The Great War, Captain Ronald Lindsay Johnson (picture courtesy of the Altrincham Guardian) died in action. He was just 28-years old. His shares at Johnson, Clapham & Morris engineers were put to use in creating a sports ground. Initially for employees it became a public ground in the 1930s following Johnson, Clapham & Morris’s move to Trafford Park. It has since seen cricket, football (notably Moston Juniors F.C.), school sports days, car boot sales, fun fairs and life.

I can still recall the damp earthly smells of the ground that measured around 8-acres, sandwiched between a primary school and number 335 St. Mary’s Road. The recreation area was in memorial to Captain Ronald Lindsay Johnson and opened on the 17th June 1922 (or 1925), with Ronald Johnson’s mother present. The cycle speedway track was unique to the area – and existed long before the Manchester Velodrome was created in anticipation of the 2002 Commonwealth Games. I wonder if any cyclist transitioned from there to the often named ‘medal factory’ in Clayton.

By 2011, F.C. United of Manchester were offered the land and their 4,400-seater stadium (for £6.5 million) followed. The name Broadhurst Park was naturally fitting, following a brief period as the Moston Community Stadium. The all-weather pitch has seen a Benfica B team all in a stone’s throw from what was once Moston Hall, and residence to local industrialist Sir Edward Tootal Broadhurst. The park itself a World War One donation to recognise victory.

The New East Manchester and Manchester City Council development, once the home of a metal working and fabrication business team, had been resisted by local residents. The loss of public open space coupled with inadequate parking provision seemed to be the main problems. 2,226 letters of objection (mostly locally sent) were beaten back by 5,635 letters (many outside of Manchester) of support. Manchester Council plodded on with a success at the Court of Appeal in March 2013. The covenant on the land has always been recreation – and for the people of Moston. The one thing I find upsetting is that there isn’t a plaque or statue to honour that for almost 90 years these fields held a different name – but perhaps it hasn’t been made yet, or notified well.

Significant contribution was made by the Football Foundation Community Facilities Fund, Sport England, F.C. United Community Shares scheme, fundraising, Manchester City Council loan and the Football Foundation Football Stadia Improvement Fund amongst others. F.C. Ted (see the link for reasoning about the name) moved in eventually. At an Annual General Meeting of FC United, 10 April 2014, the Ronald Johnson Ground was one of seven names proposed for the new ground. Sadly, the historic Ronald Johnson Playing Fields seemingly vanished. F.C. United played Benfica B to mark the date of Man United’s 1968 European Cup Final, the day Ronald Johnson ceased to live.

Ronald_Lindsay_Johnson

Ronald Lindsay Johnson (24 September 1889 – 29 May 1917)

Family: His parents were William Henry Johnson, died 1914 and Agnes Morton Johnson née Brown. Brother, William Morton Johnson, educated in Cambridge, died July 1916 (in military action, aged just 34 years old). Mother, opened the playing field in June 1922. Ronald was the youngest of six children.

Raised: Woodleigh on Bradgate Road in Dunham Massay

Studied: Summer Fields School, Eton. BA Classics (posthumous MA awarded), @ King’s College, Cambridge.

Lived: Australia, 1912 until August 1914 (at the Sydney branch of Messrs Johnson, Clapham & Morris)

Partner/Chairman: Johnson, Clapham & Morris’ Wire Works (engineers)

Served: As a junior in the Cadet Corps; then Officer Training Corps at Cambridge. Enlisted (2nd October 1914) in the 23rd Division [103 Brigade RFA], Royal Field Artillery. Commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant.

Rank: Acting Captain and Divisional Trench Mortar Officer (DTMO). Entered the theatre of war from 27th August 1915 (landed Boulogne).

Medals: 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal

Responsibilities: co-ordinating the targeting and positioning of mortar batteries

Notable events: Survived a rifle bullet to the ear, 19th September 1916. Evacuated by H S Dieppe (hospital ship) but returned to service by 11th December 1916.

Cause of death: Pre-Battle of Messines (Flanders, Belgium) preparations. Hit by a German shell, near Zillebeke Lake by ‘Hill 60’. He died in transit on the way to the Field Hospital near Brandhoek.

Place of Rest: Brandhoek Military Cemetery, Belgium (Plot II, Row D, Grave 1).

Commemorated: Dunham (St. Mark’s) war memorial and the Kings College, Cambridge War Memorial.

Other than the Ronald Johnson Playing Fields, he was honoured with the naming of the Johnson Chemicals Labs, Adelaide University, Australia. He is also mentioned in the Cambridge University Book of Honour.

Further reading:  Who was Ronald Johnson ? (David O’Mara, Western Front Association (WFA))