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Preston Docks, tank landing ship and ferry service

Posted on - 21st May, 2023 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - History, Preston Docks, Preston News
Preston Docks in 1981, on the cusp of massive change
Preston Docks in 1981, on the cusp of massive change

Just after World War II, an ex-tank landing ship was brought into service to transport loaded commercial vehicles to Northern Ireland. The first trip was well patronised with over 80 vehicles onboard. However by 1981 trade had declined and Preston Docks was slated for closure.

Preston Docks last saw a non-leisure ship in 1981 when the Preston-based dredger Hoveringham V left for the last time. Ironically it was the cost of dredging that had led to the port’s demise. The above photo was taken in 1981 and some demolition work had already begun. If you compare the photo above to the modern image below, you can see the massive changes that have occurred over the last 40 years.

Preston Marina today Pic: Google Earth
Preston Marina today Pic: Google Earth
The MV Sea Rhine, the last ship to unload at Preston Dock, in October 1981 Pic: Preston Digital Archive
The MV Sea Rhine, the last ship to unload at Preston Dock, in October 1981 Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Preston Docks later history

Preston Docks was busy during the post war period, from 1960 to 1972. However, after that, trade declined as the motorways and road transport took over. Containerization was also becoming more common and this needed large ports to be viable. Another factor was dredging, which was required to keep the route open, and was expensive. An act of Parliament was passed in 1981, allowing the port to be closed.

The Northern Ireland ferry

A ferry service to Northern Ireland had started in 1948, but this was ended in the early 1970s. The original ferry was a converted tank landing craft, named Empire Cedric. There is a video on the inauguration of the service below and on YouTube. The ship was used to transport loaded commercial vehicles.

Screen grab from the Preston Docks ferry service film Pic: Preston Film Archive
Screen grab from the Preston Docks ferry service film Pic: Preston Film Archive

The relatively small vehicles of the time, just about fit under the bow doors. 80 vehicles were on the first sailing including a new Leyland Bus vehicle for Belfast City Corporation.

Another screen grab from the Preston Docks ferry service film Pic: Preston Film Archive

The Docks railway

The Docks railway in 1969 Pic: Preston Digital Archive
The Docks railway in 1969 Pic: Preston Digital Archive

There was once an extensive network of rail lines at Preston Docks. They are now all gone, apart from the steam heritage line. The image above was taken in 1969, although it looks much earlier. At the time this steam crane was still in operation and towed its own coal supply. The apparatus at the top right is a grain unloading suction pump.

Preston Docks today

Preston Marina Pic: Fishing in Lancashire
Preston Marina Pic: Fishing in Lancashire

Today Preston Docks is also known as Preston Marina basin, and is a hub for leisure boating. It is one of the more successful urban regeneration projects, and in fact the steam railway has also made it a tourist attraction. There is a marina and boatyard as well as boat sales. 

As of yet there are no leisure boat trips from Preston. However Preston Marina are promoting this as a business opportunity. Boat trips would make a good complementary service to the steam railway.

Follow Geoffrey on Twitter for more Preston history.

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