17 June 2016

Liverpool Exhibition Honours the Pilot Service Which Guides Merchant Shipping in its Waters  

Two and a Half Centuries of History on Show Until Next Year

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Shipping News Feature UK – It is many years since the Port of Liverpool echoed with the sounds of men unloading bales of silk and chests of tea from the East from the bowels of sailing ships, but something of those days is remembered in a new exhibition which runs from 22 July right through to 4 June 2017 at the Merseyside Maritime Museum. The exhibition tells the story of the Liverpool Pilotage Service, an organisation with a history stretching back to 1766.

Telling the story of the Liverpool pilots and their vital role in navigating ships in and out of the Port of Liverpool, In Safe Hands: The Story of the Liverpool Pilots will explore 250 years of navigating Liverpool Bay and the River Mersey, waters acknowledged as some of the toughest in the world for a pilot to master. Ben Whittaker, Curator of Maritime History and Technology at Merseyside Maritime Museum, said:

“Not enough people know about the job the pilots do; they ensure safe passage of the ships that bring us the many things we take for granted in the modern world., which is why we want to highlight their work through this exhibition in their 250th year. Liverpool waters can present many hazards to shipping, such as shifting sandbanks, strong currents and rapidly changing tides.

”The pilots take control of ships entering or leaving the River Mersey, using their expert knowledge of local conditions, as well as ship navigation skills, to ensure their safe passage. It is a dangerous job and the exhibition will highlight many acts of bravery where pilots have saved lives and cargo from disaster. This includes the heroic role they played during both world wars.”

The exhibition will have some poignant reminders of those days and the bravery of the pilots who worked under the shadow of death during the conflicts. Visitors will be inspired by dramatic stories of pilots’ bravery, such as four young apprentices who died in the Second World War trying to rescue colleagues in stormy seas. People can also learn about pilot ships, including a famous incident in 1881 when the aptly named pilot boat ‘Leader’ led 12 ships into the port during a heavy storm.

Treasures from the Royal Yacht Mary, one of the most famous shipwrecks in local waters, will be on display, as an example to illustrate the dangers of navigating ships in the age of sail. Never-before-seen items include a hat band from HMS Thetis, on which 99 men tragically died in 1939, including a Liverpool pilot, and a modern pilot’s jacket, which has fascinating hidden features like an integrated lifejacket with automatic inflation by pulling a chord, a safety light and strobe light, and a concealed whistle.

The pilot service mirrors the changing fortunes of the Port of Liverpool with an explosion of growth in the 18th and 19th centuries, decline in the mid to late 20th century, through to the thriving port which we see today, albeit that the nature of cargoes, and the methods of their carriage have changed dramatically over the years. Chris Booker, Chairman of the Liverpool Pilotage, service commented:

“This a special year for the Liverpool Pilotage Service and we are delighted that the public will get an extended opportunity to find out about the work we do through the exhibition. We have worked with the Museum on some of the content and lent some objects from our own collections for the exhibition and are very excited to see the finished displays”.

The exhibition follows four main themes including A Safe Passage to Liverpool, which introduces the role of a pilot and shows the hazards in local waters, as well as the founding of the pilot service some 250 years ago. The Storms and Seamanship section looks at the life of a pilot in the nineteenth century and era of sail. The third section, Port in a Storm, examines the formidable challenges and seismic changes to the Port of Liverpool in the twentieth century, including both World Wars and containerisation, and how the Liverpool Pilot Service had to adapt. Finally, 21st Century Pilotage looks at the role of the pilots today in the thriving modern Port of Liverpool.

When the exhibition opens visitors will have a chance to see the Spirit of Falmouth which will be berthed outside the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Canning half tide dock 20-22 July. The ship is used by the Charity ‘Turn to Starboard’ which aids armed forces personnel affected by military operations and will be in Liverpool as part of their round Britain challenge. The Spirit of Falmouth, constructed in 1980s Liverpool in the style of pilot schooners, is being painted in the 19th century pilot boat livery to mark the 250th anniversary of the Liverpool pilots.

Merseyside Maritime Museum was the first public building to open at Albert Dock 30 years ago in 1986, heralding the renaissance of Liverpool’s iconic waterfront. The museum is also home to two other major exhibitions which tell the stories and history behind the tragic loss of the Lusitania and the Titanic, and their links to Liverpool. Visitors can also learn what it’s like to be a customs officer and captain a high speed cutter to stop smugglers in the hands-on gallery Seized! the Border and Customs uncovered.

Photo: Spirit of Falmouth under way

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