Coaster kings

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Bow of a ship model in a case

A builder’s model of the Coast Lines’ motor vessel Ocean Coast of 1935. Image courtesy Liverpool Daily Post and Echo. 

The idea of taking a slow boat to China is very appealing to me but the company would have to be good and the surroundings congenial.

Travel should be enjoyed as a part of a wider experience rather than just as a means of getting somewhere. Between the ages of 16 and 24 I went on many walking holidays, savouring the people and places I encountered.

Sea travel offers similar experiences as events unfold gradually so we are able to adjust better to our surroundings. It is also much more comfortable and relaxing than air or road travel, for example.

More than 70 years ago people could take a cruise from Liverpool to London, stopping at a number of ports on the way.This was still a comparatively leisurely age with large numbers of people being carried across the seas and oceans. Air travel was in its infancy as passenger aircraft were only capable of carrying small numbers of passengers.

Aerodromes were the provinces of the very rich – everyone else going abroad took to the waves. Likewise road travel was still a big adventure. Before the Second World War, lorries were only permitted to travel at slow speeds.

They would frequently break down and had great difficulties going up hills. Roads crawled through every town and village on tortuous routes across the country before the age of the bypass. It is not surprising, therefore, that some people still preferred to travel by sea between British ports – as they had for centuries – if they had the time and money.

Coast Lines grew into the largest coaster company in the world after being formed in 1913 from the merger of three Liverpool coastal shipping companies. Business declined in the 1950s largely due to the growth of road transport.

At Merseyside Maritime Museum’s World Gateway gallery there is a builder’s model of the Coast Lines’ motor vessel Ocean Coast of 1935 (pictured). She ran a regular cargo service between Liverpool and London.

The 1,700-ton Ocean Coast carried general cargo and up to 10 passengers. The round trip took about 10 days and made an unusual cruising holiday.

Ocean Coast was withdrawn from service in 1964 and she was sold to a Greek company. A smaller half model in the Life at Sea gallery shows how mixed cargo was stowed on the Ocean Coast.

Most cargo vessels carried a wide range of goods. The Merseyside Maritime Museum holds the Coast Lines archives (see our Archives section on our main site).

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1.50 p&p UK).