The history of the Edmund Gardner

A punt with pilots approaching the Edmund Gardner c1960s. Collection no MDHB/EG/7/11/14

The Edmund Gardner was built in Dartmouth by Philip and Sons Ltd, who also built ferries and lightships for the Mersey. The Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, who were responsible as the Liverpool Pilotage Authority, had her built as the second of a new generation of large diesel-electric powered cutters to replace the pre-war steam cutters. The Edmund Gardner and her two sister ships were all designed by naval architects Graham and Woolnough of Liverpool. Following tradition, all three were named after chairmen of the Board, the other two were the Sir Thomas Brocklebank (No 1) and Arnet Robinson (No 3).

The work of the pilot ships

The role of the pilot vessels was to guide the steady stream of ships entering and leaving the Mersey. The cutters worked a rota of one week on station at the Mersey bar, one week on the outer station off Point Lynas, Anglesey and one week either serving as a supply boat and tender to the boats on station, or under maintenance in the docks.

Wooden motor boarding punts, manned by the apprentices, were used to ferry the pilots from the cutter to the ship requiring their services on the inward journey, then back to the cutter again once the visiting ship had left port. If extreme weather made it impossible for the pilot to board a ship from the punt then the cutter herself would lead ships across the Mersey bar.

A busy career

The constant traffic to the docks kept the Edmund Gardner extremely busy. For example, in under 8 hours on the afternoon and evening of 15 April 1960 she boarded ten pilots to inward bound ships, picked up another six from outward bound ships and took stores to No 3 cutter. The ships served that day included the liners Sylvania and Reina del Mar, two tankers and six cargo liners.

During her career in the pilotage service she carried out her duties without major incident. She was considered a particularly good ship in heavy weather and could remain on station in conditions up to storm force 11. During the 1954 dock strike she regularly delivered mail and newspapers to shipping at anchor at the bar. On several occasions she provided assistance for injured seamen on incoming ships and for yachtsmen.

In 1963 she had a lucky escape when involved in a collision with the ore carrier Iron Horse.  After a steering gear failure in the Mersey the Iron Horse hit the Edmund Gardner on the starboard side, rolling the ship over heavily and damaging the bridge deck and hull plating. Fortunately there were no injuries to the crew and no serious damage below the water line, although the resultant repairs are apparent.

A historic ship

Port side view of the Edmund Gardner on station, off the old landing stage c1950s-60s. Collection no MDHB/EG/7/2/8

The Edmund Gardner was launched in July 1953 and was in service as a pilot vessel from December that year until April 1981, when she was one of the last two remaining large cutters on duty.

The Merseyside Maritime Museum purchased her in 1982 and she is now conserved in dry dock as a very good example of a British ship built in traditional style. Many of her features, for example the control and navigation equipment on the bridge, parallel typical equipment on larger 20th century merchant ships.

Having been bought straight from service, Edmund Gardner is entirely in original condition and is one of the only two large pilot boat preserved worldwide (the other one is in Australia). Only the lifeboats and boarding punts have been replaced on display with replicas in order to protect the original boats from the harsh effects of the weather.

The images on this page are from the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board collection in the Maritime Archives and Library|. Accession number for both images is MMM.1982.53