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In Pictures: Missing the boat

The Royal Iris meets an indignant end far from home. Angie Sammons on a party long over

Written by . Published on February 15th 2010.


In Pictures: Missing the boat

LONG GONE and long forgotten. She was the best looking and hardest working girl on the Mersey – and when it came to a party there was no one to touch her.

The proud master could barely contain his delight as he recalled the thrill of how Tower Bridge had opened to allow her through, up from Greenwich. Given her petite stature, it was a tip-of-the-hat gesture, I suspect

Now here lies the body of the MV Royal Iris [III], scene of many a disco, concert and student bash. One of the best nights out in the city.

We took her for granted as she sailed up and down the Mersey carrying a whole partygoing generation. People who couldn't have given a flying fig about her proud history, her livery, her fish-and-chip-boat folklore or Gerry (who?) and the Pacemakers.

Here, pictured, William Denny's classic diesel electric ship, completed for Wallasey Ferries in 1950, is sucked into the black mud, captured by the Kent RNLI. An undignified end, but one which, I am very sorry to say, comes as no surprise.

The obituary notes go like this: The Royal Iris entered service on May 5, 1951, with a passenger certificate of 2,296 for ferry services and 1,000 for cruising. She was refurbished by the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive in 1972 and, eventually, when needing repairs totalling £4m, was sold out of service in 1993 for use as a night club in Cardiff. Following refusal of planning permission for such a risque use, she was moved to the River Thames, at Woolwich, in 2002. Last week her rotting hull took on water at the appropriately named Gravesend.

I confess to a soft spot for the Royal Iris. As a teenager, I found myself, somehow, at the helm of a small arts team working for Merseyside County Council. It was 1985, when the authority was about to be abolished, and we were ordered to organise a real caper: to sail the Iris down to another Pool - the Pool of London - to showcase Liverpool culture, commonly known as “bands and that”.

She was berthed, looking like a children's bath time toy, next to the huge, grey hulk of HMS Belfast, for a week of gigs. Even days after she arrived for her engagement, the proud master, who steered her all the way down the St George's Channel, could barely contain his delight as he recalled the thrill of how Tower Bridge had opened to allow her through, up from Greenwich. Given her petite stature, it was a tip-of-the-hat gesture, I suspect.

The sound check to Saturday's main event, May 11, took place as the horrific spectacle of the Bradford FC fire disaster was playing out live on TV. The port authorities, in an eleventh-hour health and safety panic, first ordered us to call it off, and then relented and made the entire audience of London music bigwigs come across onto the vessel in tugs.

Punks queue to board the Royal Iris. Pic by Francesco MellinaPunks queue to board the Royal Iris. Pic by Francesco Mellina

Those who did swallow their pop cool - and who made it aboard, undeterred, to watch rising stars like Ian McNabb's Icicle Works - had never seen anything quite like her. Perhaps they thought it was a permanent rock n roll boat circling the coast of Britain, a ready made music venue, with a proper stage and lights, which took to the seas while the music flowed.

In the last few years, critics and fans alike have asked why wasn't the Iris being brought home, welcomed back like a long lost runaway, and refurbished as a centrepiece of Capital of Culture year.

Cost permitting, would a boatload of drinking revellers have been allowed out in the middle of a dark choppy river in the newly-cautious and highly litigious 21st century?

Perhaps we lament purely the time of the Iris. After all, it was no Eric's or even Cavern in popular folklore. But she was a big part of the fabric of what likes to think of itself as a great maritime city – that means your Cunards, White Stars AND much loved floating venues - and it should never have come to this.

Am I naïve? Is the real reason for her demise simpler? That you can't do everything?

One thing is for sure, the ongoing slow terminal illness of the Royal Iris has been briskly chatted about since 2002, and by those who, arguably, could have made a difference.

And, just like this week, when her fate looked finally and surely sealed, the words, “yes, isn't it sad?” were always used to signal that any further conversation on the matter was over.

Sad is an easy, easy word. Some would go further and say she was sold down the river.

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21 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

DegsyFebruary 11th 2010.

She could have gone in Sefton Park lake

HelenFebruary 11th 2010.

Very sad. Don't know why this ferry is so special, but I have a photo of my sister and I, resplendant in Womble T shirts on our Grandad's knee around 1975 on the Royal Iris.

pommypatFebruary 11th 2010.

fond memories - the first being an overindulgence of Pernod and lemonade in1974 and the last my friend Pam's hen night in the mid 80's. Whatever happened to the Clubship Landfall - a haunt of some of my nursing colleagues in the 70's - the dirty girls!

1 Response: Reply To This...
MikeOctober 18th 2014.

I remember the Landfall from a ships visit to Liverpool 1974 ,l think, I was on HMS Hecla a Navy survey ship. We had a great time there and l to remember the lovely nurses.

JoanFebruary 11th 2010.

oh, it's so sad. I'm a New Brighton girl originally so all the ferry boats have a very special place in my heart - the Iris always seemed something apart from the Mountwood, Woodchurch and Overchurch - something out of the ordinary. It's a pitiful sight but is typical of the seemingly almost wilful neglect of our beautiful things by our dear leaders...the Iris, the Pier, the Baths, Victoria Rd as was...the list is endless....I'm stopping now because I can just feel a wave of melancholia washing over me...

AnonymousFebruary 11th 2010.

the royal iris is what liverpool ordinary people related to

DaveyFebruary 11th 2010.

Someone get on to Mike McCartney and see what lead he could take on this and speak to Macca about giving some dosh. This is part of Liverpool history too good to be flushed down the Thames. HELP !

liverbirdFebruary 11th 2010.

yer, what that dig said. bring the old girl home.

Blue PeterFebruary 11th 2010.

Could she have been saved with the public money the Council wasted laying fancy, new, expensive pavements and tearing them up again shortly after, such as in Bold Street, Williamson Square, etc., and laying expensive pavements which were almost immediately smashed to bits by demolition and building work such as in Lime Street, Duke Street, etc., etc. and then laying newer, fancy expensive payments again?

Sailor BillFebruary 11th 2010.

I see the Echo have got an ingenious plan to put some artefacts from the Royal Iris in the museum. What, like a bench?

AnonymousFebruary 11th 2010.

My friend Beryl and I worked /partied in New York for 2 years in the 60's , but missed the ferries along with other "scouser" things! we would play "Ferry cross the Mersey" on the juke boxes in the bars over and over!!!

Crystal DazeFebruary 11th 2010.

VERY well said Rusty

landlubber IIFebruary 11th 2010.

sorry copied Landlubbers name by mistake, great minds.

Roger the cabin boyFebruary 11th 2010.

Wasn't the Crystal Day on there as well, when Echo and the Bunnymen took everyone on a wild goose chase around Liverpool with the Tube filming it for channel 4. Several times I went to parties on the Iris. Always the smell of stale ciggies, beer and puke. Loved it.

landlubberFebruary 11th 2010.

The ship is iconic but how many tricks have we missed. The landing stage she tied up to, designed by IK Brunel's father Carl, the original Cavern, the little streets like Cases Street the yanks would die for, the ships chadlers where the Lamb first was, etc etc. So sad !

Grant WisemanFebruary 11th 2010.

what, with the trollies?

Devout Beatles' fan from BasingstokeFebruary 11th 2010.

Surely she can be salvaged and fully restored, what about a lottery grant to do it. After all it is certainly cultural and steeped in Liverpool folklore: Gerry & the Pacemakers' Ferry 'Cross the Mersey.

LandlubberFebruary 11th 2010.

Very good piece there. The Icicle Works opened the set with Pretty Vacant, as I remember.

DigFebruary 11th 2010.

Beautiful. Bring the girl home. This isn't an appropriate end.

HarveyFebruary 11th 2010.

I had some great times on the ferry as a kid. It's so sad to see the state she is now. There are few amazing pics of her here. It looks like they were taken recently http://www.flickr.com/liverpoolpicorial

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