Eastham Hulks

During the 18th century Liverpool was becoming an ever increasingly busy port.   By this time the city of
Liverpool had made it compulsory that all vessels coming into the port must unload all of the gun powder
they had on board.  The gun powder was unloaded at the docks and taken via horse and cart through
the streets to a powder store on Brownlow Hill.  As the population of Liverpool grew, so to did the
amount of traffic in the Mersey and naturally an increase of gunpowder was being stored and

The citizens of Liverpool (mainly the more wealthy) had grave concerns for there safety and after a small
power struggle the city decided to close down the gun powder storage site at Brownlow Hill.  In 1751
power struggle the city decided to close down the gun powder storage site at Brownlow Hill.  In 1751
described as a rocky, sandy, baron waste, which few people visited, thus making it perfect for the the
city purchased a piece of land in what is today known as New Brighton.  The land in that area was
purpose of storing gunpowder.  At that time most of the surrounding area of that part of Wallasey was
sparce and covered in a lightly sanded surface with several dunes which moved from time to time.  In
great haste a large enclosure was set up and 8 large but insecure sheds, covered in slate roof were
built in a small yard; under the charge of private individuals without any military guard.  The compound
was surrounded by a thick wall with earth pushed around it to lower the impact should the powder
ignite.  In addition to this a smaller fence then encircled the compound with various signs intended to
stop intruders or the more curious of folk in their tracks.  The sheds stored an estimated 700 - 800 tons
of gunpowder and was described by Richard Brooke esq as:

"Such great quantities, and with such trivial and inadequate precautions against explosion as to excite a
well grounded alarm".  He goes on to say:

"700 to 800 tones of this most dangerous combustible were commonly deposited until within a few
months past, in the immediate vicinity of dwellings, and of not a trifling population, close to a part of the
Mersey which is constantly frequented by, and often overcrowded with, sailing vessels and steamers
freighted with not merely merchandise with incalculable value, but with human life, and within a mile of
the docks, houses, and buildings of the second port of the British Empire.  Another generation will
scarcely credit the folly and apathy of the local authorities and inhabitants of Liverpool, who year after
years remain supine and passive with this terrific nuisance so close to them, when at any moment the
effects of lightning, the sparks from a neighbouring cottage chimney, the intoxication of a workman, the
violation of the rules against smoking tobacco or a small boys rocket, might cause an explosion so terrific
and destructive beyond all example, that it might take away the lives of thousands of human beings,
and cause a
degree of misery to individuals and an extent of destruction to property unparalleled in history".

Eventually as the population of the area grew, so too did the concerns of the residents of having such
an explosive compound on their door step.  After much debate and arguing a local resident and member
of the gentry called Sir George Gray set up a committee and lobbied parliament.  In 1851 an act of
parliament concluded that the gunpowder would now be stored on floating hulks just off the coast of
Eastham.  The magazine at New Brighton was decommissioned and the powder was moved down river
to Eastham.  Richard Brooke continues his slander at the new scheme of moving operations to Eastham
by documenting :

"Instead of removing the nuisance far away from Liverpool, provisions were made by that act for
changing the place of deposit for that gun powder from its dangerous situation at Liscard, to floating
magazines on the waters of the Mersey, but still within the port of Liverpool, and very near to the town
and shipping.  The wisdom, if there be any, of the promoters of this scheme, seems past finding out.  It
is true that the danger of property and life at Liscard and at the North end of Liverpool may be
decreased, but it may be very much greater else where, including a peril to the shipping and to the lives
of mariners and passengers on the Mersey which will be dramatically increased.  Under the old system,
bad as it was,  the gunpowder brought coast wise was taken to Liscard magazines and deposited.  An
when afterward shipped for exportation, it was removed without passing the town.  However now
under the new system, a double risk must be incurred.  The gunpowder must be conveyed up the
Mersey through crowds of ships and sailing craft of all denominations, past the town to the floating
magazines.  Then afterwards upon exportation it must be taken back on the same course past the town
and through all of the shipping".

And so in 1852 three powder ships known as "The Liverpool, The Mersey and The Swallow" were set up
just off the coast of Eastham for the purpose of gunpowder storage.  The hulks were 200 foot long,
wooden hulled vessels, each painted yellow to attraction the attention of near by vessels.  The hulks
were decorated with red ribbons and bands and they were ordered to fly a red flag during the day
showing there purpose and highlighting their danger.  At night the hulks were ordered to have 3 lamps
burning throughout the night, two were on the central mast, one of which was red and the lower one
was white.  The stern of the ship had a small white lamp .  On each side of the floating magazines were
5 ports each with hinged door flaps which would be hauled up by hand to reveal a leather padded
passage way.  The passage way was used to roll the kegs of gunpowder down, hence the reason for
the leather buffer.  Opposite the ports were small doors each giving access to 6 foot of space which was
used for the unloading of barrels..  The workmen would place the powder kegs onto the rail and roll
them down to the other man to catch and place in holding.  The holding room for the gunpowder was
around 100 foot long by 14 foot wide and was capable of holding 300 tons, although for safety reasons
no more than 100 tons was allowed.  Each of the gun powder kegs held between 5 to 100lbs  of
gunpowder.  IN the interests of safety a lightning conductor was placed at the top of the masts to stop
stray lightning strikes igniting the vessel.  Each of the vessels were fitted with large bells and the crews
were given whistles which would be rung out and blow furiously during heavy fog to avoid collisions.  To
quell fires two large wooden tubs were kept on board filled with water, each had a set of buckets with
rope handles to throw over any areas affected.  Each of the magazines also had their own force pump,
which was operated by means of a wooden handle by the crewman.  The pump would pump water from
the river and onto the fire.  One last safety feature was a large valve on the deck, when turned it would
open up the side of the vessel flooding wit with water from the river.  However tests showed that this
generally took around half an hour, which seemed a relatively long time given the explosiveness of the

The boats used for transporting the kegs of gunpowder to the magazines were called "Hoys".  They
were generally around 60 feet in length and operated completely under sail.  The vessels were also
wooden and painted black.  As with the magazines they also displayed red bands around the vessel and
had a red diamond painted on the side.  IN total there were 4 Hoys.  

The loading point for the powder was Garston Dock walls, which was around 3 miles from the floating
magazines at Eastham.  The powder was loaded onto the Hoys which then took between 2 to 3 hours
to reach the floating magazines.  The cargo had to be discharged as rapidly as possible onto the
magazines in order to catch mooring on the shore.  If they did not succeed they would have to go back
at night at the cost of 1/- to moor them on the evening tide.  They were allowed to be moored on the
foresaw opposite the magazine.  When loading ships from overseas, the vessels were only allowed to
be charged by the hour at two points.  The first was known as the Powder ground in Crosby, were all
fires had to be doused on cargo ships, and the other was New Ferry which could be  used during poor
and rough weather conditions.  The magazines were easily accessible by rowing boat and large number
of them official in order to maintain a safe storage system.

As well as the storage conditions, the workers were also inspected frequently.  The clothing and safety
equipment of the workers was audited and all workers were made aware that it was their own
responsibility for the equipment to be well maintained and tidy.  The equipment of the workman
consisted of large tough leather boots and a light smock with no buttons.  The hours of the workman
were long and laborious.  They would check min at the office just off shore and were split between two
shifts.  The first was 07:00 to 17:00, and the second 17:00 to 07:00. The day shift was carried out by
one man, whilst the night shift was done by two men, one would rest whilst the other worked.  

The boats continued there use from 1852 but were finally decommissioned shortly before the outbreak
of WW1 in 1914.  
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The Floating Magazine
Magazine Map
Magazine Location