Saturday, 25 January 2014


Tall ships on the Mersey

I’m a great fan of Michael Portillo’s railway journeys on BBC2 in which he travels to places with a Bradshaw Railway Guide in hand. I never realised how famous Bradshaw was and how popular his guide during Victorian times and into the early 20 century.  

     Authors have used it in their books. Dracula consulted a Bradshaw when planning his trip to Britain in the famous novel by Bran Stoker and Sherlock Holmes also quotes it in THE VALLEY OF FEAR by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and it even gets a mention in a crime novel I read recently set in Victorian times by Ann Granger.

    Last week the Liverpool ECHO treated its readers to a special feature pullout about Liverpool’s once famous Overhead Railway. Immediately I squirreled it away in my desk drawer because in the first chapter of the novel I’m working on it features.

    Known as the Ovee or the Dockers’ Umbrella I have wondered if it would have appeared in Bradshaw’s Guide if it been around during his life time. I’m pretty certain that Michael Portillo would have been a great admirer of this very special railway which closed at the end of 1956. Despite having a book on the subject of the Ovee, I’m certain that the ECHO’s offering will provide me with even more information as well as pictures.

    Knowing how your characters are going to find their way from A to B or Y to Z can be a bit of a worry when your story is set in the past. There is also the matter of knowing how long even the shortest journey will take. So I’ve done a fair amount of travelling here and there to check places out. If I can’t make a journey, then family and friends have helped. My niece Linda, who lives in the Essex countryside and has her own horse was of help when writing one of my medieval books. As a last resort when they haven’t been able to help I’ve consulted travel books and autobiographies.

   In the first of my novels set in Chester I have Alice travelling with her father to Liverpool in Edwardian times to catch a ferry to the Isle of Man. I was aware that at that time the ships would be powered by steam and I also knew a little about the vessels because my brother, Don, was a marine engineer years ago and worked for the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company. He lent me a couple of slim volumes about the island and towards the end of the sixties I visited Port Erin for a diving weekend with my husband, three month old baby and John’s diving friends.

      I wish I had known at the time that one of my 3 x times great-grandfathers came from the Isle of Man. John Cain was born on the island around 1801 and by 1821 he was living in Liverpool. Now he would have travelled by sailing ship. He worked as a mariner and also in the building trade. He married a girl called Ann, who gave him several children and his daughter Ann was born in Liverpool. She made a living as a dressmaker, lodging with the Brookes family in Frederick Street which ran between Paradise Street and Canning Place where the old Customs House was situated close to the docks. No wonder it was bombed during WW2.

     Ann Cain was to marry George Brookes, who was a whitesmith, a worker in tin. In Liverpool the firm of Cain’s was famous for brewing beer but so far I haven’t made a link with them to my ancestors. George and Ann’s son, George Henry Brookes, was to marry Jane Percival, whose daughter was my grandmother, Flora Brookes, who wed into the Milburn family.

     My only ancestor to travel from Ireland was weaver William Walker who settled in Manchester and he, too, would have come by sailing ship.

     I have a book in my collection that I bought from Liverpool Maritime Museum called FALLING STAR about the misadventures of ships of the White Star Line. It proved extremely useful when I was writing FLOWERS ON THE MERSEY which was set in the early 1920s and involved travelling by ship between Ireland, Liverpool and America. Whilst much is known about the Titanic disaster, I was moved to tears by other disasters in the book. One which involved women and children being swept by enormous waves from a ship, never to be seen again.

    It took an enormous amount of courage and hope to set on a journey in the old days, especially when it involved uncharted seas or territory. Although there has always been a certain amount of danger travelling at home or away. No wonder the thought of there being a Saint Christopher to turn to for travellers is still popular with some.

    I suspect it will always be a mystery to me how my Norwegian great-grandfather Martin Nelson died at sea in the early 1870s but I’ll keep on looking.  


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