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Conservators make Blitz survivor rise again

16 October 2019 by Jen

Conservator Dave Parsons hard at work on Arandora Star - 40.26

Conservator Dave Parsons hard at work on Arandora Star – 40.26

Here at National Museums Liverpool we’re lucky to be the keepers of some long held collections. The Merseyside Maritime Museum may only have opened its doors in 1986 but our collection goes back much further than that. In fact the Maritime Museum grew out of the old Liverpool Museum (now known as World Museum).

A collection this old and vast always has more surprises waiting for us and sometimes an object’s history with the museum can be just as exciting as its time before it joined us. Our museums and galleries have led some pretty exciting lives themselves, especially the older ones, and of all of them the World Museum has been welcoming visitors through its doors for the longest. The building’s got a fascinating history and so have the collections it has housed, including many of the older ship models in the Maritime collections. Read more…

The Caul, an object of sailor’s superstitions

17 September 2019 by Jen

Folded piece of amniotic tissue known as a caul.

1986.72.1 – Caul from the Merseyside Maritime Museum collections, still folded up as it would have been carried by a seafarer. This will be on display in our new Seafarers gallery in 2020.

17 September 2019 marks the 79th anniversary of the sinking of child evacuee ship the City of Benares She was sunk mid-Atlantic by a German u-boat with catastrophic loss of life, particularly amongst the young evacuees she was carrying. The Royal Navy rushed to rescue survivors but, after a dangerous dash through the night, arrived to find that many of those who had survived the torpedo had perished in the freezing conditions. Only a handful of the hundred children on board were amongst the survivors.

Utterly unexpectedly, eight days after the sinking, Lifeboat number 12 was found containing another 45 survivors, and amongst them were a further six of the children. Read more…

Merchant Navy Day

2 September 2019 by Rebecca

Ships painted in geometric dazzle patterns on the Liverpool waterfront

Dazzle painted ships in the Mersey, off the Liverpool waterfront by Leonard Campbell Taylor, about 1918.

Tuesday 3 September marks Merchant Navy Day when we honour the brave men and women who made many sacrifices to keep Britain alive during both World Wars, and appreciate the UK’s modern day seafarers who are responsible for transporting most of our every day items, such as food and fuel. On this day the Red Ensign, the official Merchant Navy flag, will be flown across the UK.

In the Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Battle of Atlantic gallery and on our website you can find out more information about the Merchant Navy’s vital role in keeping Britain going during these very difficult times. From 1939 the Battle of Atlantic lasted six years and was the longest campaign of the war. Liverpool was Britain’s most important port during the war as the UK depended on its vital North Atlantic shipping routes for food and other imports, which therefore made the city a major target.

Liverpool’s merchant seafarers, ships, dock workers and sailors played a major role to ensure Britain’s survival. Liverpool registered ships were part of Britain’s ocean going merchant fleet. Between 1939 and 1945 the Port of Liverpool handled more 75 million tons of cargo. The Liverpool Pilotage Service was responsible for guiding ships amongst an unlit Liverpool waterfront, whilst also contending with enemy mines and air raids.

It’s fitting on Merchant Navy day to recognise the sacrifices made by seafarers in the First World War as well. In 2012 the museum acquired the painting, ‘Dazzle painted ships in the Mersey, off the Liverpool waterfront’ by Leonard Campbell Taylor which shows camouflage ships with these patterns during the First World War, the main ship we believe to be the Cunard line ship Mauretania. The painting on display in the museum’s Lusitania gallery, is a reminder that even during times of conflict, the Port of Liverpool and its ships and seafarers continued to work to keep the country supplied with food, fuel and other cargo, just as they do today.

Crew lists

5 August 2019 by Sarah Starkey

example of crew list from 1903

Part of a crew list of Rhynland, for a voyage from Liverpool to Antwerp. Showing crew born in Norway, Liverpool, Madras, New York, Russia and Bristol (Maritime Archives and Library reference P/SL/41)

A lot of our role at the Maritime Archives and Library is pointing people in the right direction. We spend just as much time talking about sources we don’t hold as those we do.  Sometimes the explanation of where the records are held is so complex and convoluted that people think we are making it up as we go along. A good example of this is crew lists. So, deep breath, Read more…

My favourite ship in a bottle

27 June 2019 by Jen

Bottle containing small figure seated at a table making a ship in bottle

My favourite ship in a bottle from our collections. MMM.1998.72.16

There are so many beautiful ships in bottles (and indeed in lightbulbs, matchboxes, globes and other interesting alternatives) in our collections that picking a favourite isn’t easy. However there is one in particular that stands out to me which has just recently gone out on display. We have dozens of ships in bottles in our collections but the majority of them come from one source, a gentleman who collected and made these fabulous objects, Arthur George Maltravers (‘Jo’) Dashwood-Howard. It was one of his own creations that particularly caught my eye, a ship-in-a-bottle-maker in a bottle.

Model of a man making a ship in a bottle

Close up of the miniature model maker.

In this beautiful object we can see a little man sat at a table in a workshop, a tiny ship in bottle being worked on in front of him and a larger ship model on the workshop floor. If you look very closely, there’s even a tiny ditty bag bearing the initials ADH (Arthur Dashwood Howard), suggesting that the model is in fact a wonderfully unusual form of self-portrait. Dashwood-Howard has used his skill to portray himself at work on one of his wonderful miniature creations. Read more…

Volunteers Week spotlight – Mike from the Maritime Archives and Library

3 June 2019 by Rachel O'Malley

Mike wearing his volunteer pass

Volunteers are an integral part of National Museums Liverpool, and without them, important work would not be able to take place. To celebrate Volunteers Week we are meeting more volunteers as part of a bumper Volunteer Spotlight series so we can really celebrate the different contributions that our amazing volunteers make.

This month, I met with Mike who volunteers with the Maritime Archives & Library at the North Street Warehouse. Mike has a fascinating back story and holds so much knowledge; I can see why he is a vital part of the department! Mike’s journey with National Museums Liverpool started in the 1980s as a Friend of the Merseyside Maritime Museum and following his retirement, he began volunteering with us in 2012 as a Tour Guide on the Edmund Gardner and has gone on to volunteer with the Education team and now the Archives team. Mike has been more than prepared for his volunteer roles: he has specialist knowledge acquired from his career in ship building and engineering design.

When he started as a Tour Guide on the Edmund Gardiner, Mike explained that he was terrified of public speaking and he was even more terrified after he had undergone his training! However, following the applause that he received after his first tour, he was hooked! Read more…

Remembering Lusitania

3 May 2019 by Ellie

Seafarer in uniform on board ship

James Wallace wearing his Cunard uniform. Image courtesy of Kath Kavanagh

Tuesday 7th May 2019 marks the 104th anniversary of the sinking of RMS Lusitania. Each year we hold a commemorative service alongside the Lusitania propeller on our quaysides, starting at 1.45pm. Everyone is welcome to join us to remember the 1191 men, women and children who lost their lives, as well as the survivors and families affected.

Kath Kavanagh will be attending our commemoration this year and has kindly shared her thoughts about her Great Uncle who was on board Lusitania when she was torpedoed:

“My Great Uncle James Wallace joined Cunard in 1912 as a second class waiter on board Lusitania. When the ship was attacked 3 years later, James was just 21 years old. He jumped into the water with his friend George Thomas (assistant officers’ mess steward) who drowned. Uncle Jim couldn’t swim but managed to stay afloat for approximately 5 hours before being rescued by the Julia patrol boat. I believe he was in hospital in Queenstown (now Cobh) for a while before heading back to Liverpool.

He continued to serve with Cunard for 46 years, becoming the youngest man to hold the position of chief deck steward when he was promoted in 1919. Read more…

Through the roof in 2018!

27 March 2019 by Laura

Terracotta General

Terracotta General © Mr. Ziyu Qiu

No two ways about it, 2018 was a blockbuster year for National Museums Liverpool.

In figures released today by ALVA it was revealed that World Museum was the most visited museum in England (outside London) last year. Read more…

The other Plimsoll – Samuel’s ‘untiring coadjutor’

8 March 2019 by Jen

Gold edged historic document with elegant calligraphy in gold, red and blue

“Honour to whom honour is due…” Testimonial address to Samuel Plimsoll, Maritime Archives collections DX/1110

“I like to think that the Plimsoll line should be regarded as a commemoration not just of Samuel Plimsoll, but of his wife Eliza Plimsoll, whose idea it was originally that he should initiate his campaign for the defence of sailors, and who was definitely dedicated to the cause as he was.” – Nicolette Jones lecture, 2008

As a society we are becoming more aware of the vast swathes of people whose stories have been excluded from, or side-lined within, the historical narrative. This includes (but is certainly not limited to) women, people of colour, the disabled and LGBT+ people. It can be difficult to combat this when a lack of acknowledgment from their contemporaries has often been compounded by the way history books, and museum collections, have, in previous years, focussed on the privileged and powerful. It is important we remember though that just because these stories have not been told does not mean that there is nothing to tell. Read more…

John Holt and post colonial development in West Africa

19 February 2019 by Charlotte Murray

Large ship

‘Jonathan Holt’ ship, built 1910, John Holt & Company. Copyright unknown. Maritime Archives & Library

While the Maritime Archives & Library was recently closed for refurbishment, a lot of work was going on behind the scenes. At our reserve store, which houses the archives of various local businesses, I have been cataloguing collections previously inaccessible to the public.

Here I’d like to highlight just one of the fascinating collections that are now available for the first time. Read more…



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Welcome to the National Museums Liverpool blog! Written by our staff and volunteers, we’ll give you a peek behind the scenes of our museums and galleries.

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We try to ensure that the information provided on our blog is accurate and that appropriate permissions to use images have been sought. The opinions in each blog are very much those of the individuals writing.