The story of Manchester Liners from 1898 to the company's diamond jubilee year of 1958 has already been told by Mr R. B. Stoker in articles published in "Sea Breezes" in May 1948 and July 1958. Now Mr Stoker has written an account of the company's subsequent 25 years, packed with some of the most exciting and far reaching developments in world shipping. It is reproduced here from Volume 58 No. 467 November 1984 & 468 December 1984 and Volume 59 469 January 1985 & 470 February 1985 of "Sea Breezes" with their kind permission.
By Robert Burdon Stoker
In the Beginning
Having spent three months in West Hartlepool, Mr. Stoker opened an office in Newcastle upon Tyne for the start of the Furness Line to North America. The American railways were expanding and there were westbound cargoes of pig and bar iron from the Tees, Tyne, Stockholm and Gothenburg, plus coal from the Tyne and South Wales. Homeward cargo included grain, flour, apples and live cattle.
Within two years the Furness Line was operating 10 ships: the New York City, Boston City, Durham City, Newcastle City, Wetherby, Gothenburg City, Stockholm City, Ripon City, Lincoln City and Calcutta City. Within four years three more vessels had been added, the Washington City, Ilunda and Damara, on charter.
With an established and profitable line behind him, Christopher Furness was able to buy a controlling interest in shipbuilders Edward Withy and Company, of West Hartlepool.
In 1890 R. B. Stoker was asked to go to London to open an office to take over operations there, which had been looked after by Adamson and Ronaldson. By this time he also owned a 3,500-ton tramp steamer named the Sydenham and later the steamer Knutstord.
In 1981 Furness, Withy and Company was formed with Christopher Furness as chairman, R. B. Stoker as ship director, Edward Withy and R. W. Vick as shipyard representatives, plus Thomas King and G. L. Wooley.
Christopher Furness's godson, Frederick Lewis (later Sir Frederick) was sent to the London office for training as a junior. He had much ability and business acumen, as was demonstrated during an important meeting in London when Christopher Furness was asked the state of Furness Withy's finances.
Furness called in young Lewis and asked, "Freddy, what is our bank balance?
" £10,000, sir", was the prompt reply. That was the figure in the red. The response was in keeping with the spirit of shipowning at the time.
The novel "Grand Hotel, Babylon" by Arnold Bennett is said to be based on an apocryphal story told about Sir Christopher Furness. On being cheeked by the head porter at the Grand Hotel, Harrogate. Sir Christopher is reputed to have bought the hotel and sacked the porter. Certainly R. B. Stoker used to stay at the hotel on favourable terms.
In 1896 he went to New York to buy the Philadelphia Trans-Atlantic line, returning after six months. During this period, events had been moving at Manchester where, led by Daniel Adamson, a group of businessmen had been building the 35-mile long Manchester Ship Canal, turning the inland city into a major port. It was officially opened to traffic on January 1, 1894, an opening ceremony being per-formed later, on May 21, by Queen Victoria, who sailed through the waterway in the Royal Yacht Enchantress.
Manchester, as recounted in "Sixty Years on the Western Ocean" (Sea Breezes, July 1958) decided it would have to operate ships of its own. For two years Furness, Withy and Company had sent a few ships in from Canada and Sir Christopher agreed to take up £50,000-worth of ordinary shares in a new local company if Manchester interests could raise £200,000.
Two directors of the Manchester Ship Canal, Company, Sir Bosdin Leech and Alderman Southern, visited Canada, receiving promises of a subsidy of £8,000 a year from the Canadian Government and support from big shippers, including the Canadian Ministry of Agriculture, the Canadian Pacific Railway and a Mr Swift, of Chicago.
On May 5, 1898 the prospectus of Manchester Liners Ltd was announced, with a total issuable capital of £1 mn. The directors were Sir Christopher Furness, as chairman; Mr C. Schiff, who had big South American interests; Alderman Southern and Sir Edward Jenkinson, KCB, directors of the Manchester Ship Canal Company; and Sir Richard Mottram, of Salford.
Mr R. B. Stoker resigned from the board of Furness, Withy and Co. Ltd. to become the first managing director of Manchester Liners Ltd.
In those days owners had to rely on ships' masters to perform many tasks later carried out by agents. Furness was keen to meet and assess potential appointees to Manchester Liners, frequently doing so at West Hartlepool, the town for which he had just proudly become Member of Parliament.
A master seeking a job with Manchester Liners arrived at the West Hartlepool office to be asked by Furness: Well, captain, what do you think of West Hartlepool?"
An honest — but ex-prospective — ML master replied: "Well, sir, I think it is a bit of a dump!"
In 1900 Sir Christopher, with his North East Line, his London-USA Line, and a big slake in Manchester Liners, also decided to go into insurance. With Mr. Stoker and Mr. Guthe, head of the West Hartlepool Steam Navigation Company, he founded the Economic Insurance Company, which remained part of the Furness empire until it was sold in the 1970s.
In 1912, on the death of Lord Furness, as he had become, Mr. Stoker was elected chairman of Manchester Liners, remaining in office until he died in 1919. He lived in Knutsford — and had served as Member of Parliament for the Rusholme Division of Manchester.
Mr. Stoker was succeeded in the chair by Sir Frederick Lewis (later Lord Essendon), who died in 1944, being succeeded by Mr Ernest (later Sir Ernest) Murrant.
It was in 1919 that Mr Kenneth Stoker, son of R. B. Stoker, became a director of Manchester Liners. He was appointed managing director in 1932, succeeding Mr F. E. Vaughan, and became chairman in 1965.
Mr Kenneth Stoker retired in June 1968 at the age of 82 after 49 years as a director and became the company's first honorary president. Still fit and active — he was a notable golfer and skier — he attended at Manchester Liners House in 1975 to present his chairman son with a gold 40-plus years' long service wristlet watch. He remained honorary president until his death in October 1979 at the age of 92.
Mr. R. B. (Rob) Stoker joined the company in 1932 as a youth of 18 working in the dock office. He was appointed executive director in 1951, succeeded his father as managing director in 1965 and as chairman in 1968, retiring 11 years later at the age of 65 after 47 years of service.
On the retirement of Mr Stoker. Mr W.A.L. (Tony) Roberts became chairman, continuing as managing director.
Mr Roberts, son of Manchester Ship Canal chairman Sir Leslie Roberts CBE, joined Manchester Liners in January 1948 as a management trainee after service as a company commanding officer in the Grenadier Guards. He started in the dock office and moved on to serve in all the company's departments as well as studying the company's business during two years in Canada, including travelling as a salesman.
In April 1960 he was appointed a director with particular responsibilities for North Atlantic freight, as deputy managing director in 1965 and as managing director in January 1968.
In the 1960s development of the container concept was his special responsibility and he is recognised as a leading authority on the subject.
At the time of Mr. Stoker's retirement. Sir Errington Keville, a national shipping figure, also retired, being succeeded as chairman of Furness, Withy and Co. Ltd. by Mr. James A. MacConochie, who joined the Manchester Liners board.
St. Lawrence Seaway Opens
MANCHESTER LINERS had pioneered trade into the Great Lakes, operating the first British service in 1952, responding to the needs of Canadian exporters and importers. Fast, small vessels were utilised, of some 1,600 gross tons, able to navigate creeks, rivers and locks. A service to Churchill, Manitoba, handled grain and other cargoes and in 1956, a service to Chicago was added.
Also ordered, from the Sunderland yard of Austin and Pickersgill — who had a ready berth — were the Manchester Faith and Manchester Fame. These versatile ships, able to go through the Seaway, were additionally designed as fruit carriers to serve the Canary Islands or Mediterranean countries. Lard had been successfully carried, so special epoxy-lined tanks were fitted to hold edible oils.
The Manchester Faith was soon to achieve fame. When the St Lawrence Seaway was officially opened in 1959 she was the first into the Seaway, beating a large assembly of vessels.
Prior to the official opening of the Seaway the master of the Manchester Faith has brought his ship alongside a small passenger vessel on board which were many of the VIPs. They included Mr Kenneth Stoker as chairman of Manchester Liners and the chairman of Canadian Pacific who was so impressed by the ship that he ordered some similar vessels.
It was not known at the time whether grain cargo would flow from inland ports such as Chicago or whether the railway export rates from the interior to the sea water ports of the Gulf of St. Lawrence would prevent this. Both the Manchester Faith and Manchester Fame were able to go up through the Seaway but without enough deadweight for the grain.
Another new service was established from Manchester, up to the head of the Great Lakes, to test whether the grain cargo market would be successful from there. The grain did start to flow.
This service was probably launched years ahead of its time. The first vessel had less than 50 tons of cargo for Port Arthur, but, over the years the service made Manchester Liners a household name in the prairie provinces. For a long time it was the only service from the UK and Europe to Duluth.
When the grain started moving, the Lakes vessels became bigger and bigger and, for a time, there was the spectacle of Liberty-type vessels in ballast, suffering from "windage" problems seeking a bonanza in the new trading area — for which they had neither the equipment nor the experience. A great deal of damage took place, and the vessels were also delayed by bunching and congestion.
Underwriters consequently put very heavy premiums on Great Lakes trade and this soon produced a very different picture
As a result of trading by Manchester Liners to Duluth a tank farm for edible oils was built there. The Manchester Progress took the first cargo of edible oils out of Lake Superior in 1960.
During 1960 there was an unofficial seamen's strike, which lasted for six weeks, from July to September. The effects were particularly severe in Liverpool and on the North East Coast and among the stewards of passenger liners.
It is noteworthy that Manchester Liners were able to sail every single vessel throughout the six-week period. If short of crews, the vessels were sailed to other anchorages and crews recruited - or flown over as soon as they were available. In one case, a vessel sailed by signing on the pickets.
It was a great credit to the devotion of the officers, the marine department and the Shipping Federation that vessels were able to get away so successfully. The sixties did seem the decade for strikes. In 1961 there was a long dock strike in Toronto. Another problem in the same year came in the Manchester Ship Canal when the large sand-hopper Mary P. Cooper was in collision near Warrington, sinking to the bottom. It was extremely difficult to get her up again.
It was suggested to the canal company that she should be blown up but there were fears for the windows of neighbouring houses. Eventually, with the aid of salvage "camels'", she was hauled away after a month's work. The Manchester Progress which had been waiting laden with cargo at Irlam and all the other trapped vessels were at last able to proceed.
It had been hoped that the Manchester Fame and Manchester Faith would be able to spend their winter months in the Canary Islands trade carrying tomatoes and bananas. Agreement was made with Yeoward Bros. Liverpool, for this, but problems were encountered with the Spanish authorities, including their putting up the speed requirement for carrying tomatoes to 16 knots. As a result the company had to withdraw from its association in this trade with Yeoward, who then became agents for the Spanish Aznar Line.
The question of the trading of the company's smaller vessels had become a problem. The Manchester Explorer was fitted with a heavy derrick and found a useful job on charter to the Chimo Shipping Company, trading in the summer months from Montreal. Only British ships were allowed to trade coastwise.
Her voyages after the opening of the Seaway were probably among the most adventurous of any fleet. The list of her ports of call (if port they could be called) sounded like the exploration of the North West Passage— Port Chimo in Ungava, Frobisher Bay in Baffin Land, Coral Bay in Cape Dorset in the North of Hudson's Bay, and back to Goose Bay.
At all these remote ports in the North the cargoes were landed on to barges and taken ashore. The crews and the Eskimos worked together to discharge and load the cargoes.Capt Fred Downing was succeeded as commodore by Capt E. W. Espley, who made his flagship the Manchester Miller on the Montreal rather than the Great Lakes run.
In these years of expansion Manchester Liners not only assisted the development of commerce in the Great Lakes but also in the lower St Lawrence. Machinery was carried for a new Canadian and British aluminium company in Bale Comeau; the first consignment of aluminium was brought back to the UK and regular calls continued. Newsprint was also carried.
Calls were made at lumber ports down river from Quebec — St Anne des Montes, Rimouski, Black Cape, Chatham, Newcastle and Campbellton, using chartered vessels after the smaller vessels had been sold.
The Furness Warren Line was introduced into the trade to and from St John's, where Manchester Liners held berth rights.
The Manchester Faith and Manchester Fame became part of a deal with the Cairn Line. The latter ship had just spent the winter on a very attractive cruise as far as the crew were concerned with KNSM out in Jamaica.
For the next two years the Manchester Faith became the Cairnesk and the Manchester Fame the Cairnglen, trading as Cairn Line vessels out of the Tyne and Leith to Montreal. In return, Manchester Liners received the bigger Cairn Line vessels Cairngowan, which became the Manchester Engineer and the Cairnforth, which became the Manchester Freighter. These vessels continued to trade with Manchester Liners right up to 1969.
In the meantime, modernisation of the fleet was taking place. Early in 1964, in April, Capt W. G. Oliver took the Manchester Renown up the Lakes, followed in August by Capt J. T. Jones in the Manchester City. This meant that Manchester Liners was able to give a very fast service through to Chicago.
By 1964 Canadian Government ice-breakers were operating in the winter, breaking up the ice to prevent flooding. Manchester Liners seized the opportunity to establish a year-round service, ordering the first of the company's ice-strengthened vessels, the Manchester Port and Manchester Progress.
The background to this move was the fact that while, for many years, Manchester Liners had almost traditionally sailed the first vessels into Montreal after the winter season, the Danish Lauritzen Line, assisted by the work of the Government ice-breakers, had established a winter service. through to Montreal.But Manchester Liners refused to be left behind. The Manchester Port and Manchester Progress were not only designed to go in the winter to Montreal but also to carry lard from Chicago in vertical tanks in large hatches. Equipped with 30-ton cranes they were fast, with twin Pielstick engines, highly automated down below and fitted with remote control from the bridge.
By 1966 Manchester Liners had a fleet of 20 ships owned or chartered which operated on the North Atlantic or the Great Lakes. It was possible to run a year-round service to Montreal.
It was in that same year that another strike took place, called by the National Union of Seamen, lasting for 47 days from May 16 to July 1 and causing the Prime Minister to declare a State of Emergency. As the ships returned to the UK the crews left them and went on strike.
The Manchester Merchant was fortunate in that she left 24 hours before the strike for Canada. Unfortunately, there was also a strike of stevedores in Montreal, plus a strike of Seaway lock-gate men, so she spent two months in Montreal. The Manchester Freighter also spent 38 days in Toronto.
There seemed no point in settling the proposed terms in Canada as on the return of the vessels to the UK the men would have gone out on strike anyway. Finally, the Canadian Government insisted on a settlement.
The official strike of seamen had other repercussions. For decades the Anchor Line had shared the whisky business to New York from Glasgow with United States Lines. Suddenly, their ships were out of action. Into the gap came Sea-Land. offering containers — and the security which containers could provide. The days of the Anchor Line on the North Atlantic were numbered.
Glasgow was traditionally the home of the Donaldson Line, a family firm which also operated out of Bristol. Their main cargo was whisky for the Canadian Liquor Commission. A deal was made for the Cairn Line to withdraw Leith sailings and to have a share of the Glasgow trade with the Donaldson Line, who had teamed up with the Head Line, the latter acting as Glasgow agents. Manchester Liners, as successors to the Cairn Line, came into the Clyde.
In the meantime, the Manchester Progress — before being sold to the Yugoslavs for breaking up — carried in her last year the rather quaint cargo of 1885-vintage narrow-guage six locomotives from Penrhyn Quarries, destined for a miniature railway museum in Virginia. She was replaced by the Manchester Port.
In 1968 Capt Lobban, master of the Manchester Engineer (ex-Cairngowan), on charter to Manchester Liners, not only received a "first" barometer at Port Arthur but also was greeted in Duluth by Miss Minnesota.
The Prince Line vessels had been run rather like yachts with a lot of passenger space, the best cargo space being taken up by accommodation. By chartering smaller ships and "creaming the trade it was possible to make money. The success of these policies led to the Prince Line services from London being offered to Manchester Liners, but ML were so involved in the build-up towards containerisation on the North Atlantic that this offer was declined. However by the adoption of similar policies, the Prince Line services from London were reprieved, to the upset of competitors.
There was a problem of finding homeward cargoes, so the Golden Cross Line and the Constantine Line were also acquired by Manchester Liners in order to extend trading operations and opportunities in the Mediterranean. These acquisitions gave invaluable experience of the Mediterranean as a trading area. After a few months the homeward berth from Italy was suspended although space continued to be offered for a time from Sicily.
At a later date, at the start of the 1980s, the Italian trade was revived in combination with other ports, so perhaps the £10,000 paid for the rights was then justified.
During the 1960s the company continued to develop new trades by setting up joint services with other companies. One, with the Bristol City Line, was projected as a route from Manchester and the Bristol Channel to the USA. However delays and shortages of labour in UK ports hit the service, which lasted for only a season.
More success attended a joint venture started in 1967 with Irish Shipping Ltd for cargo to the USA and Canada. This go-ahead company was an old friend. In the early 'fifties Manchester Liners had co-operated with them in the carriage of frozen Irish meat to the USA until such time as they had their own reefer tonnage, and had also regularly time-chartered their vessels.
They were finding that the amount of general cargo from Dublin was insufficient to justify a good service but added to a UK port it made sense. Accordingly, as United States Lines had recently withdrawn from the Manchester - New York service, the breach was filled by using their vessels Irish Spruce and Irish Poplar, both with reefer cargo space, while the Canadian berth was covered by the frequent Manchester ships on the way home.
Running the service was not too easy as, following the Devlin proposals, London and Liverpool went on protracted strikes and Manchester. although the port kept going, had oneday-a-week guerilla strikes, with a shortage of labour adding to delays. Later on, Irish Shipping took over the management of the services.
The year 1968 saw the growth of the company into a group. As Manchester Liners grew in size and interests so the need for service until became apparent for certain types of operations.
The ship repair firm of Morrell Mills and Co Ltd — the second oldest firm in Trafford Park, Manchester, having been founded in 1899 — was taken over, one of their subsidiaries being the old-established ships' caterers and provision merchants James Walker and Son (Shipping) Ltd., founded in 1865. A further acquisition at the time was that of Condron (Manchester) Ltd, boiler scalers and cleaners since 1910.
BY the middle of the 1960s Manchester Liners foresaw that the pattern of trade on the North Atlantic was likely to be dictated by the use of fully-cellular container vessels. Productivity among longshoremen was getting less, costs were continually rising and the shadow of the American container lines was looming across the North Atlantic.
Decisions worked out, in complete secrecy, were to result in Manchester Liners leading Britain into the container era, operating in 1968 the first British fully-cellular deep sea container vessel across the North Atlantic.
In fact, the seeds had been sown as far back as the late 1950s, when Manchester Liners began experimenting with better ways of carrying cargo. At that time, collapsible wooden containers were devised enabling cars to he carried three or four high in the lower holds, a contract having been secured with a North American van line. Antique furniture was also carried in this way. Eight-foot .square containers were then used, carrying car parts, especially for Ford.
In the early 1960s, continuing to look hard at methods of rationalising the company's own work and cargo handling, Manchester Liners, in conjunction with the Manchester Ship Canal Company, were the first to produce a pallet pool for exporters and also to send goods across the Atlantic secured on pallets.
It was in 1960 that Manchester became the first port to marshal export lorries into queues at the Manchester Liners berth to avoid the congestion and delays which lorries were experiencing at other ports.
After the 8ft. square containers, the company began building 10ft. containers. However it was clear that the requirement was for containers measuring in the region of 20ft., but the derricks of the time were not strong enough for containers of that size.
A number of international authorities were keen for such services across the Atlantic and the North Sea to expand trade through Europe. To make the rules easier for this type of movement, ISO standards were being worked out for an intermodal concept.
Productivity in the Canadian trade was continuing to fall, reaching 45 per-cent of the figures regarded as normal a few years previously; costs were rising and delays becoming more frequent.
As an example, the Southern Prince left Manchester on December 6. 1966, also later than scheduled, and returned in 84 days — but even this was only accomplished by sailing sideways in the ice through Quebec Bridge. The new Manchester Progress, with a combination of go-slow and ice, made a 90-day passage. It was clearly impossible to stay in business under these conditions.
The trends had been studied closely by ML's management for several years. At that time — the middle 1960s — no British shipping company had itroduced the relatively new idea of containerisation.
The problem of the Canadian trade was that although much of the west-bound cargo was suitable for containerisation, this did not seem to apply to eastbound cargoes, which were of a deadweight nature such as metals or raw materials with big internal transport problems.
In 1965 the writer flew to British Columbia as a British Chamber of Commerce delegate, meeting Canadian opposite numbers. He seized the opportunity to discuss the White Pass Yukon railway operations out of Vancouver, learning that the same problems had been faced with similar commodities - large amounts of heavy metals, not suitable for standard 20 x 8 x 8ft. boxes - and the difficulties had been overcome.
The answer was to go into half-height boxes so that twice the amount of cargo could go into the same standard space. Further discussions were held in Chicago and Montreal, after which Manchester Liners decided to set up a special containerisation study group.
Managing director Mr Tony Roberts, company secretary Mr Mark Pattison, and Mr J. A. Clay, chief marine and engineer superintendent, carried out intensive research into the problems of traffic, finance and technical feasibility. The group was briefed to produce a report on what it was possible to get into containers — not what it was impossible to get into any kind of container. The approach was that containers had to be adapted for cargo needs.
That left two top executives, Mr Christopher A. Skelton and Mr John R. Killick to keep the firm running on a day-to-day basis.
In the following year, while in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to address a weekend seminar for the Halifax Port Authority, the writer received attractive offers of credit from some foreign ship-builders. It appeared that the ML project, conceived and still being carried forward in secrecy, was a starter.
British shipbuilders became fearful of foreigners gaining great commercial advantage from building container vessels. A director of Swan Hunter saw the Minister of Technology and, after investigation, the Shipbuilding Industry Assistance Act was passed. This not only prevented the South Bank yard, on the Tees, from going to the wall but provided an immense tonic for all major British yards.
Orders were placed at Smith's Dock Co. Ltd., Middlesbrough, for three fully-cellular container vessels, capable of carrying 500 20ft. equivalent containers, to be delivered in 1968-69. These were the first container ships to be ordered in British yards. Subsequently, the order was increased by a further cellular ship, while 10,000 containers were ordered from UK suppliers.
Total capital investment was about £16mn. It was realised that the greatest efficiency would be obtained through the control of two main and exclusive container terminals on either side of the North Atlantic, one sited in the Port of Manchester and the other at the Port of Montreal.
In conjunction with Furness, Withy and Co. Ltd a lease was taken out in Montreal for space necessary for the erection of container cranes, buildings and equipment. Furness in Montreal had been operating, from as long ago as 1898. as agents for Manchester Liners.
An agreement for a similar container terminal operation was effected in Manchester. The terminals and other facilities were designed to Manchester Liners own specifications. The necessary special equipment — gantry cranes, spreaders and van carriers had to obtained and container handling systems had to be worked out. The venture involved Manchester Liners in much pioneering work.
In an interview with Kenneth Brown, then editor, subsequently managing editor of the long-established daily shipping newspaper "Journal of Commerce and Shipping Telegraph" the writer pointed out that when first in the field with a new development there were no textbooks and no experienced staff to recruit.
"We had to start from scratch, train the staff and write our own textbooks', he said.
The secrecy of the containerisation project was preserved right up to the holding of a press conference in Manchester's Midland Hotel a year before the commencement of the service.Even up to the start of the conference, steps had been taken to mislead. The main exhibit appeared to be an aeroplane, carefully concealed except for its nose. Betting ran high among the assembled journalists about a link-up between Manchester Liners and the then British European Airways. But the aeroplane was whisked away, a model container vessel was unveiled and the ordering of the container vessels was announced.
"What was that aeroplane doing there?", asked a perplexed correspondent, who looked as though his bet might have been on the losing side. It was explained that it had got there by mistake.
To save cabling expenses — and preserve secrecy—strange names had been invented to describe the different types of containers. They were called lions, tigers, hippos, mules and jumbos. The jumbos were 20ft. long standard containers, the mules half-heights for metals.
The growth of container units from a dozen or so in the beginning up to 2,000 a year did produce problems of control. A strike in the USA caused several hundred to be "lost" for a few weeks. Hiring replacements was a costly business.In Manchester all-day sessions were held with the Manchester Ship Canal Company to make arrangements for a gantry crane, the terminal area, a weighbridge, an empty container park and a packing zone, all within the docks
This concept was different from that which was fashionable. Manchester Liners endeavoured to find as many jobs as possible to avoid dockers being displaced with a view to getting co-operation on the project. A container repairing base was established by subsidiary Morrell Mills, sited behind the packing sheds, while the 4,500 containers for the three container vessels had to be planned bearing in mind the varieties of cargo and problems of extreme heat and cold.
The terminal in Montreal, on a site acquired from the National Harbours Board after sessions with the chairman in Ottawa, needed also to be ready in time, so a large gantry crane was ordered from Clyde, Booth and Crane, shipped out and erected. Arrangements were made for a giant snow shed to be built to protect containers during the Canadian winter, and a railway line put in at the back of the shed.
All this entailed directors and senior executives in almost "boxing and coxing" across the Atlantic.
A four-acre site, former railway sidings between Nos. 8 and 9 Docks. was rented from the Manchester Ship Canal Company. A 10-storey building was designed, with the first four floors for tenants, a restaurant on the top floor, complete with a branch of Barclay's Bank, a hairdressing salon and a shop.
The design had to take into consideration the navigation of the Manchester Ship Canal to Manchester, carrying the maximum cubic and deadweight, while also ensuring that the canal passage would not be abnormally long. The engine room was designed for unmanned operation, the ship being controlled from the bridge, and reduced maintenance time in port was also taken into account, special arrangements making this possible.
Each of the 19½-knot vessels were to be of 12,000 tonnes deadweight, with 14 hatches and five separate cellular holds, with the capacity to carry 500 20 x 8 x 8ft. containers — 640,000 cub. ft. below deck, with the facility to include 40ft. containers.
It had been decided to carry all containers below deck — for three reasons: the North Atlantic weather could be very heavy, it was anticipated that container cargo be the "cream" — and St Lawrence winter ice produced its own problems.
The design of the container vessels was based, in great measure on the design of the Manchester Port and Manchester Progress, plus all that had been learned from these vessels about Pielstick 16,000 hp engines and automation, the operation of unmanned night engine rooms.
The appropriately-named Manchester Challenge, the first vessel to be completed by Smith's Dock Co. Ltd. inaugurated the first British deep-sea fully cellular container vessel service in November 1968 from the container terminal at the Port of Manchester to the container terminal at Montreal.
The Manchester Challenge, with Capt P. Fielding in command, arrived at Montreal in the worst snowstorm for many years. Cars could not be driven home and Canadian Director Peter Evans had to stay on board for the night. However, all the systems worked and the giant snow shed proved its worth. Because all the containers had been under-deck, insurance claims were negligible. The months of planning told.
Instead of sending cellular vessels up to Toronto, a deal had been made with Canadian National Railways, to hire a weekly train to take container cargo on flat cars to and from a new automated Concorde Terminal, near Toronto. Hamilton also became a major depot for the cargo. Onward movement was by truck or by other container trains from Chicago, Detroit, Winnipeg and other inland destinations.
The Montreal container terminal was opened by Mr Kierans, Canadian Government Postmaster General; assisted by Sir Colin Crowe, British High Commissioner; and MI Howard Mann, chairman of the National Harbours Board
Mr Peter Evans and Mr Rob Stoker attended the ceremony — and Mr Stoker recited his parody of Longfellow's "Hiawatha" which he had written especially for the occasion:
"Mighty shipper, full of orders — How to pack them is the problem Pack them into cardboard boxes Thieving hands will find their way in Bricks will take the place of bottles And the orders will go elsewhere; Pack them into great wood boxes From the forests full of fireflies Mighty boxes — mighty costly Better try the wooden pallets.
Heap the cartons into pallets — This improves but is not perfect; Better try a new container — Manchester Liners have 5,000 — Pack them safely against the ocean, Lock and seal the new container Then those outside cannot get inside And what is inside cannot get outside.
Insurance rates should be much lower
When prairie shipper next goes hunting
There was enormous publicity for the arrival of Canada into the container age — and Mr Stoker's parody was extensively quoted.
The next voyage of the Manchester Challenge was even more impressive. Although heavy ice and poor productivity had kept 37 vessels in Montreal for a month, she lost only two days. She berthed, discharged, loaded and left. The conventional ships were still in Montreal.
These voyages set the pattern for what was soon to become, by the summer of 1969, regular high-speed year-round container vessels services by Manchester Liners across the North Atlantic between Manchester and Montreal.
The subsequent sister vessels were named Manchester Courage, Manchester Crusade and Manchester Concorde.
The ice-strengthening and extra power of the container vessels proved so effective that they regularly cleared passageways through the winter ice which were used by other vessels and even, on at least one occasion, went to the rescue of ice-breakers.
After a successful maiden voyage the Manchester
Courage, under Capt D. G. Thomas, had an unfortunate accident
on March 16, 1969, developing a wild propeller and crashing through
lock gates at Irlam. Immediate steps were taken to minimise the damage.
During the canal's closure the company's vessels used other ports, including Barrow, Glasgow and Hull, while go-slows and guerilla strikes delayed the Manchester Shipper for 34 days at Liverpool.
When a tug strike in the Autumn of 1969 paralysed the Part of Manchester for two weeks, the versatility of the container system was shown, two vessels discharging and loading at Greenock with no delay.
Trade was continuing to grow so it was decided that a fourth vessel, to be bare-boat chartered from the Nile Steamship Company should be ordered to enable a "conveyor belt" 4 — day sailing frequency to be maintained by the end of 1970. Another decision was to convert the Manchester Miller, which was still a fairly young vessel, to carry containers.
All this meant that the veteran Manchester Shipper went off for scrap, the Manchester Pioneer was sold to a Panamanian company, becoming the Ha/ieto Oceano; and the Western Prince, which had been on charter since 1961, went back to her owners. Cargo was being attracted to and from the Continent, even as far away as North Italy.
The company was continually on the look-out for more sources of cargo — and means of transporting it efficiently — to fill the impending 4 — day North Atlantic container vessel frequencies.
In 1969 this resulted in the introduction of another first, the "Flying Fish" air, land and sea services, carrying cargo to distant destinations faster than all-sea, cheaper than all-air.
The concept was based on a simple premise, that if you place a piece of string across a globe from one point to another — the Great Circle line — it would in many cases go through Manchester. This applies, for example, to the Great Circle line from Mexico to Beirut, or Los Angeles to Kuwait.
Manchester Liners thus became the first truly intermodal transport company. In 1971 the company signed interchange agreements with Air Canada and subsequently with CP Air.