City of Liverpool Fire Boats

Tugs were at first used to convey manual engines to a ship on fire in the River, e.g.; SV ‘Isaac Wright’ 1858.

1858 May - A newspaper report mentions the Cunard Line fire barge attending the fire on-board the ‘James Baines’ in Huskisson Dock

1879 - Following the introduction of luggage boats, an agreement was made with Birkenhead Corporation for the use by the Liverpool Police Fire Brigade [LPFB] of their vessels in an emergency

1903 - The MD&HB salvage & mooring vessel ‘VIGILANT’ entered service; she was fitted with a fire pump and a monitor.

1909 - A second vessel ‘SALVOR’ was commissioned, if available both could be used by the brigade qv

1939 May - A fire float for use on the Leeds-Liverpool canal was approved by the Emergency Committee (EC) designed by HO staff & the sum of £600 was set aside

Sep - Two canal fire floats were delivered, they were former ships lifeboats purchased for £49 each and fitted to carry a 1,000 gpm pump fed via suction hose through holes cut in the sides. Propulsion was via hose jets. They were
kept at Chisenhale St, Council Depot. At night this was unmanned and the key to the wicket gate was kept at Pall Mall with the licensed warehouseman of the Canal Transport Co, a duplicate was now put at Hatton Garden for brigade use

Oct 05 - Demonstration of the 2 Fire Floats. Later named ‘J C CROSS’ and ‘E J DEANE’ after Chairmen of the Watch Committee

Oct - 2 motor craft acquired for use as fire floats in the docks, one hired for the duration loaned by Mr W B Lewis, 312 Queens Dv, Liverpool the other purchased for £409-0s-0d. Named ‘SILVER FOAM’ and ‘MORAG’

1940 -The 4 craft now mounted a total of 3 heavy and 2 extra heavy pumps, with a combined output of around 4.400gpm,

Destiny 1944.
Destiny 1944.
1941 May - Report to the WC, ‘MORAG’ had capsized and sunk in Huskisson Dock due to the explosion of large bomb close-by her on the night of May 03.

Aug - The remaining fireboats were taken over by the National Fire Service

By 1948 all but 2 of the NFS craft had been returned to their owners or sold. The remaining vessels went into reserve when the City of Liverpool FS [CLFS] was formed.  One was a Thames class and the other an Estuarial class. In 1947 prior to Liverpool deciding to purchase the seagoing fireboat ‘WILLIAM GREGSON’ the HO Fire Dept had planned to send a second Estuarial fireboat to the Mersey in place of the smaller Thames class ‘FIREBOAT 391’

There was no allowance in the brigade’s establishment for men to man the 2 craft and in any event with the ‘WILLIAM GREGSON’ commissioning in 1949, they had no role. They became somewhat uncared for with one being declared to be unfit for use in 1953 due to rot. They rolled heavily & were unsuitable for the river except on the calmest of days. 

The boats envisaged role was as part of a plan that in the event of a Russian attack on the UK they and other craft would be assembled in the River Dee and then despatched as required. The introduction of Transportable Water Units [TWU] also known as ‘Bikini’ by the AFS meant these craft were of less potential use, Liverpool AFS receiving a TWU in 1957.

The cost of maintenance and the lack of use at fires saw the demise of the ‘WILLIAM GREGSON’ soon after the new CFO, Frank Taylor took command in 1962, she was sold  in 1963 with the vessel  ‘FIREBOAT 401’ following in 1965

FB 391 – Thames class
Wooden hull, carvel built with a common cabin enclosing engines & pumps, the steering position was exposed towards the after end
Length 40’ 6’’, beam 12’ 4’’, draught aft 3’ 9’’ draught forward 1’11’’, speed 10kts.
Propulsion: 2 Ford Parsons V8 30hp petrol engines. Bunkers 2 x 45g.petrol tanks
Fitted with 2 Leyland Gwynne petrol driven Extra Heavy pumps, nos AA 93 &   AA 119, each stated at 1,175gpm capacity [1,200-1,400 gpm officially], 7’’ suction, a monitor and 6 deliveries.

1948 Apr - By now she was berthed in Coburg Dk near to the fire station, not in use

1951 Sep - She was now moved to a berth by the old South entrance to Princes Dock, it was intended she be used for AFS for training together with FB 391. Meanwhile she stood in for the ‘GREGSON’ whenever she was unavailable.
Around now a covered wheelhouse was fitted towards the for’ard part of the boat in place of the open conning position aft shown on the plans.

1953 - Inspection carried out by StnO Ashton. This revealed her hull had extensive dry rot, due in part to green wood having been used in her construction and also to a lack of maintenance. The CFO wrote to the HO proposing she be scrapped.

1953 Jan 25 - Attended the TSS Empress of Canada fire Gladstone Dock, Bootle

1955 - Her hull was scrapped and her machinery and pumps sold.

FB 401 - Estuarial class
Officially stated as designed by the Ministry of Works she was one 10 built by James Taylor (Chertsey) Ltd of Shoreham, Sussex 10 more were built by Frank Curtis of Looe, to a design by the latter’s Naval Architect Mr Thomas. C Letcher; assisted by London FB’s Mechanical Engineer Mr F Dewhurst.
Budget cost £4,500 each.

Propulsion 2 x 70-75hp Chrysler Crown RM7 petrol engines producing 115hp, twin shafts powering twin screws. Fitted with Hyland reversing gears controlled by telegraph from the conning position. Speed about 8 knots.
Length 52`, beam 13’ 3’’, draught forward 2’ 6’’, draught aft 4’’, weight c22t
Carvel hull with pitchpine planking on oak frames and an oak keel; main frames 3’’ x 2½’’, intermediate frames 1½’’ x 1 ⅜‘’ and having an oak keel 12’ 9’’ long, two watertight bulkheads
Electric power & lighting via a Stuart Turner HD generator with 4 heavy duty 6 volt batteries.
Crew of 5
The aft peak contained 2x50g petrol tanks & her fuel consumption was about 6g per hour
In the covered forward pump room were 4 Leyland Gwynne heavy petrol driven pumps 700/900gpm nos A4/2212, A4/2213, A4/2165 & A4/2166, later reduced to 2. There were10 deliveries and single monitor supplied by 4” pipework.

1955 - A major overhaul to allow her to be used for AFS training was undertaken
2 of her pumps were removed, a new wheelhouse was fitted located slightly further back than the original, the windscreen was varied and a door fitted in the main bulkhead to provide access and a means of escape. Some of the parts came from the scrapped FBT 391.

1956 Mar 20 to Jly 09 - For the first time since 1948 she was fully manned to stand in for the William Gregson,

1957 - May 31 to Jly 15 - She was again fully manned to stand in for the William Gregson for 6½ weeks

1962 Sep 22 to Dec 19 - Stood in for the ‘GREGSON’, 10 weeks the last occasion she undertook this duty.

1965 Feb 07 - The Home Office  agreed to her disposal as the AFS no longer had a requirement for fireboats following the introduction of the Transportable Water or ‘Bikini’ Units.

Mar 02 - The Fire Service Committee approved her sale. She was offered to brigades across the UK but none had a requirement for her.

1966 - Sold to D D Ambrose (Marine) Ltd, Ships Brokers of 81 Dale St, later of 283 Rose Lane, L18 for £1,500.

William Gregson Bell.
William Gregson Bell.
1970’s - She was now berthed at Conway

FBT WILLIAM GREGSON ex Wimaisia ex Duchess of Abercorn

Displacement: 309 grt,
Length overall: 119` 7’’
Beam: 27’ 1”
Draught loaded: 12` 6 and 11` 3`` light
Engines: Twin 8 cylinder Burmeinster & Wain diesels at first later, twin `Harlandic` diesels developing 1,600 I.H.P. giving a maximum speed, via twin screws, of 14kts
Passenger Certificate for 208 persons
1 x Merryweather 10`` 3 stage turbine salvage / centrifugal fire pump with an output of 3,000gpm driven by a 300hp electric motor. Water was delivered via 6” pipwork to a delivery valve chest and a monitor, 12” pipework for salvage use was also fitted
1 x S Dixon (Leeds) 3’’ monitor which had a capacity of 200gpm @100lbs

Destiny 1930s.
Destiny 1930s.
1936 - Laid down by Harland & Wolff Ltd for the Belfast Harbour Commissioners as a tug tender and fire float
Oct - Launched and named ‘DUCHESS OF ABERCORN’

1941 - She was requisitioned by the Admiralty for use as a fireboat & ferry with 6 cabins constructed in the lower lounge

1946c - She returned to Belfast but was considered as too expensive to run

1948 - Renamed ‘WIMAISIA’ her port of registry was now Glasgow. She was not a success as a passenger cargo vessel trading between Glasgow & Campbeltown as she did not have enough saloon accommodation. There was also too little tender work available in the Clyde to make this a viable option.

After looking at the MV ‘LENAMIL’ which was found to be too large, the LFB now decided to paid the full £60,000 asking price for the ’DUCHESS of ABERCORN’.

1949 Apr 05 - The date of her Bill of Sale, she had to be re-named as part of the purchase agreement and was later named for a former Lord Mayor and the Chairman of the Fire Service Committee Alderman William Gregson
CFO Joe Clitherow and one of his son’s George sailed down with the 8 man passage crew from Glasgow on her delivery voyage.

When delivered she had some engine faults which required attention, hence she didn’t enter service for a little while. She was re painted and had her fuel bunkers reduced to 59t. The former aft fuel tanks became a store for 500g of foam. She was fitted with a drencher system at main and boat deck levels.

In addition to her single Dixon monitor she also carried 2 x 2¼ ‘’ KCM Ground Monitors and could work 12 x 1” small swivelling monitors mounted on the gunwales, the brackets having been made in Workshops.. There were 24 delivery outlets, arranged 12 on each side. 8 x No 10 & 4 x No2 foam making branchpipes and 6 Inline inductors were carried along with 8 BA sets and 4 smoke helmets. In all she could deliver about 4,000gpm

Her Berths were in West Waterloo Dock when tidal or weather conditions did not permit her to be alongside the S Georges Landing Stage. The stage gave easier access in connection with her port health duties & avoided having to lock out to get into the River. This end berth had, pre-war been used by the Eastham paddle ferry service since discontinued.

In performing duties for the Port Health Authority she replaced the much smaller MV John Moyles 20t and this accounted for by far the main part of her `sea` time.

The other `riparian` brigades Cheshire, Birkenhead, Wallasey & Lancashire were asked to contribute towards annual running costs of £21,000 at a late stage but were reluctant to do so, the figure being much larger than had previously been anticipated, even though the 3 Borough’s had given tentative approval to a fireboat the projected costs were a lot lower..  The government met 25% of this cost and Liverpool was looking for a 40% contribution from the others, they got about 14%. In March 1949 Bootle pointed out that there had only been 5 river fires in the previous 23 years, most during the war and that they believed the fireboat was uneconomic. After a meeting to which Liverpool was not invited to send a representative Bootle offered £500, Wallasey followed with £800 and Birkenhead with £1,000. Lancashire and Cheshire refused any monies. 

William Gregson Throwing Gun.
William Gregson Throwing Gun.
1950 Mar 02 - She attended the fire on-board the SS ‘BASIL’ in Kings Dock and assisted by pumping
Jne 21 - She attended the fire on-boar the SS ‘FULANI ‘in Brunswick Dock and assisted by pumping
Nov 06 - She attended the fire on-boar the SS ‘TREVELYAN’ in Sandon Branch 2 Dock, her services were not required.

1951 Jan 29 - She attended the fire on-boar the SS ‘FINLANDO in S Wellington Dock, her services were not required. This was her last call for 4 years

1955 Apr 06 - She attended the fire on-board the SS ‘CRESSINGTON COURT’ in SW Toxteth Dock and assisted by pumping
Dec 23 - She attended the Hopper ‘SITA’ which was in difficulties in the river, her services were however not required. This was her last call for 4½ years.

1957 Sep 14 - She put on a pumping display to mark the occasion of the departure of Liverpool’s last tram from the Pier Head.

1960 May 18 - A tender was submitted to supply 3 x 2,000gpm @100psi, Merryweather Marine fire & salvage pumping sets, 8’’ inlet & 6’’ outlet, at a cost of £3,685 per set in a new aft pumproom. Each pump incorporated a C6 SFLM 12litre Rolls Royce 6cyl marine diesel engine; this increased her output to 10,000 g.p.m. The suctions for the fire pumps were fed by 2 inlets in the hull.

June 18 - She attended a fire on-board the SS ‘SUE LYKES’ in N Sandon Dock her services were not required.

June 22 - She pumped water from the Pier Head to supplement the mains supply during the fire at William Henderson’s on Church St

July 05 - She attended a fire on-board the SS ‘MALATYA’ in E Toxteth Dock and assisted by pumping

Aug 26 - She attended a fire on-board the SS ‘PLAINSMAN’ in S Kings No 2 Branch Dock, her services were not required.

Oct 24 - She attended a fire on-board the SS ‘CUZCO’ in S W Canada Dock,
Dec - The first of the new pumps arrived in Brigade Stores, her services were not required

Dec 14 - She went out to the MV ‘LOCH GARTH’ which was on fire in the River, escorting her into Canada Dock; no fire fighting assistance was required.

Dec 16 - She attended her last fire, on-board the SS ‘EURYVIADES’ on N Queens Dock and assisted by pumping.

William Gregson 1961.
William Gregson 1961.
1961 - The new pumps were fitted. In the final event they were run for just 30 hrs and were ‘as new’ when she was sold. At the same time the old wheelhouse which was in parts rotten, was removed & replaced with an extended structure including a chartroom and officers cabins. The towing eye was also removed as were the two companionways leading from the boat deck to the aft part of the ship. The overall cost was £7,565 the work being undertaken by Rollo & Clover Docks Ltd.

1963 - Her spiralling cost, she had never been cheap to operate, but now the annual survey, repairs and upkeep could no longer be justified and it was proposed by the new CFO, Frank Taylor, to the Council and later ratified by the Riparian Authorities that she be disposed of. The Authority’s representatives were told on 4 Mar that she would be sold back to civil use.

May 31 - The Gregson was laid up;

Aug 08 - After being re-advertised widely, seven tenders were received and she was sold to David D Ambrose (Marine) Ltd, Liverpool as agents on behalf of Douglas Arnold, White’s Shipyard, Southampton for £12,000.
- She was sold on by White’s to Collins Submarines Pipel she remained on the British register; her new owners renamed her ‘COLLINSTAR’

1965 Feb 11 - She used by a company mining diamonds on the Skeleton Coast in Chamis Bay, Orange River Delta, on the border between SW Africa and Angola, when a freak accident occurred during a storm. She was towing the 250` long mining pontoon ‘COLPONTOON’, when the tow line between the pontoon and another tug parted. There were some 80 men on the pontoon which was drifting towards the shore. She went alongside to help but the parted tow rope became entwined in her prop shaft and she was left without steerage. A large wave carried her first up onto the pontoons’ deck and then back off, this capsized her and all 6 of her crew drowned. Her wreck remains submerged in the river.


About Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service Heritage and Education Centre


Merseyside has a 180-year proud tradition of firefighting and has often been at the forefront of innovation and new technology during that time.

The service has memorabilia, machines and equipment from generations of firefighting and one of the largest photographic archives of any UK fire and rescue service including more than 80,000 digitised files and pictures. Why not visit our Heritage and Education Centre.

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