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Ships’ cargo

24 August 2009 by stepheng

A large barrel in a museum

A hogshead barrel at Merseyside Maritime Museum. Image courtesy Liverpool Daily Post and Echo.

The Beatles’ song ‘Being for the benefit of Mr Kite’ is particularly evocative for me because of the seaside fairground memories it conjures up. I think the organ sounds create images of garish 1950s roundabouts and hot dog stands. John Lennon’s words were inspired by a 19th century poster but the musical arrangement is pure New Brighton.

John would have visited Liverpool’s own seaside resort on a ferry across the Mersey where his senses would have been bombarded with the sights, sounds and smells of the fairground surrounding the Tower Ballroom.

The Beatles sang about Mr Kite challenging the world with his act featuring acrobats, the Hendersons, leaping through “a hogshead of real fire”.

A tobacco hogshead on display at Merseyside Maritime Museum (pictured) makes you appreciate the bravery of the Hendersons.

This huge round barrel is more than four feet tall and about the same diameter. It was found in the Albert Dock warehouses – now housing the museum – where tobacco was stored on arrival (there’s more on the history of the dock and it’s warehouses on our main site).

Although today most goods within Britain travel by road and rail, ships carry some cargoes between British ports. In particular, it can be more convenient and profitable to use ships for goods carried in large quantities such as petrol and aviation fuel.

Two hundred years ago, before proper roads and railways, it was often easier and cheaper to carry goods by sea or on rivers and canals.

There are exhibition models of coastal vessels in the museum’s Life at Sea gallery. The three-masted Liberty and Property was built in Whitby in 1752.

One of the largest coastal trades in the 1700s and 1800s was carrying coals from Newcastle and other ports in the north east of England to London. The expression “Carrying coals to Newcastle” means a pointless action. There was a huge demand for coal in London and south east England, mainly as a household fuel.

A modern coastal vessel is the Mersey Fisher which was added to the fleet of James Fisher & Co in 1998. She carries liquid petrochemicals to ports in the UK and north west Europe. The model was commissioned with the generous support of the Sir John Fisher Foundation as a reminder of the firm’s long association with the port of Liverpool.

Among the museum’s ship collection housed on the Historic Quaysides is the De Wadden, an auxiliary schooner based in Arklow, Eire, from 1921 to 1961. She was the last sailing ship to trade in and out of the Mersey.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1.50 p&p UK).

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