The majority of sea excursions taken from the Lancashire and North Wales coast resorts were with the two dominant companies in the area, the Isle of Man Steam Packet Co (IOMSPCo) and the Liverpool & North Wales Steamship Co (L&NWSS). The major railway companies, Furness Railway, Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway and Midland Railway operated a network of ferry services across the Irish Sea, and all also operated local excursion ships. The area was also covered by a network of passenger services run by Coast Lines.
Preston Excursion Steamers
Excursion services from Preston were never very successful, although Blackpool steamers often ran from there during the annual Wakes holiday weeks. The Ribble Passenger Transport Co had two vessels named Ribble Queen based in Preston. The Ribble Queen (1) was a twin-screw steamer built in 1903, which was used between 1903-1905. The second attempt came in 1922, when the 1896-built paddle steamer Ribble Queen (2) was tried until 1925. She had previously been the Cloghmore and Greenore.
Blackpool Excursion Steamers
Blackpool had the largest number of local vessels, which used the first of its three piers, the North Pier, built in 1863. Steamers were operated from the pier from the start, initially by the pier owners, and later the North Pier Steamship Co. Vessels included the Ocean Bride of 1858, Wellington and Clifton of 1871, and the Queen of the Bay (1) and Queen of the Bay (2) of 1867 and 1871. The fleet was joined by the Belle in 1895, and the Greyhound, the finest of the Blackpool paddle steamers. She was joined by the twin-screw steamer Deerhound in 1901.Other early steamers included the Dhu Heartach (W.H.Cocker: 1875-1884) and the Bickerstaffe (1879-1928). Bickerstaffe was joined by the similar, but larger Queen of the North in 1895. Bickerstaffe and Queen of the North were owned by J.Bickerstaffe, who formed the Blackpool Passenger Steamboat Co in 1894.
The Blackpool Passenger Steamboat Co took over the North Pier Steamship Co fleet in 1905, giving them a monopoly in the resort. The Deerhound was sold soon afterwards, leaving the fleet as Bickerstaffe, Queen of the North, Belle and Greyhound until the start of the war. Only the Queen of the North was lost in the war, but Belle and Greyhound were sold in 1921 and 1923, leaving just the long-lived Bickerstaffe to continue until 1928, latterly under the name of H.D.Bickerstaffe (to whom the Blackpool Passenger Steamboat Co passed to c.1923). Robina was chartered to the Blackpool Passenger Steamboat Co in 1919, and again to the Blackpool Steam Shipping Co in 1923 and H.D.Bickerstaffe in 1924.
The IOMSPCo tried the elderly Tynwald at Blackpool in 1929, but she did not return and was laid up the following year. The L&NWSS then brought their elderly Snowdon during the illuminations in 1930. Again she did not return, and again she was withdrawn the following year.
It was was 1933 before a ship was based at Blackpool again when Blackpool Pleasure Steamers Ltd (later Blackpool Steam Navigation Co) brought the Mersey ferry Minden to the resort. They later acquired the Queen of the Bay (2) and the Atalanta, although 1937 was the only year when all three steamers were in the fleet. None of these vessels reappeared after the Second World War, but Blackpool Steam Navigation Co (1947) was formed out of the old company, and used the Fairmile launch Pendennis until 1961. Since then, Waverley and Balmoral have made occasional calls.
Morecambe Excursion Steamers
One of the earliest steamers in the area was the Helvellyn, owned by the Furness Railway. Others included the paddle steamer Morecambe Queen (1), and the Queen of the Bay (1), which moved to Blackpool. The Morecambe Steamboat Co had the twin-screw steamers Morecambe Queen (2), Sunbeam and Britannia, plus the paddle steamer Roses. The twin screw steamer Britannia operated with the Morecambe Steamboat Co between 1888-1904. She was later renamed Duke of Abercorn, and served at Dublin, Southend and with David MacBrayne. From 1908, excursions were offered from adjacent port Heysham by the Midland Railway on their tug Wyvern.
The Clyde steamer Isle of Bute ran for a short while in 1912, but was damaged against against a pier and was scrapped in 1913. Her place was taken by the Robina, which built in Ardrossan for the Morecambe Central Pier Co in 1914. She was registered for them until 1922, when she was transferred to W.A.& P.Cordingly. In 1919, Robina was chartered to the Blackpool Passenger Steamboat Co, and the following year for Bristol Channel service. This was followed by charters to the Blackpool Steam Shipping Co in 1923 and H.D.Bickerstaffe in 1924. Robina was sold in 1925.
Fleetwood Excursion Steamers
Sir Peter Hesketh, founder of Fleetwood, owned three former Clyde steamers, Cupid, Express and James Dennistoun, in the 1840s. There were brief services from Fleetwood to Scotland from 1847-1851 whilst through rail links were still being built. The fleet of the Barrow SN Co, which also ran from Fleetwood, later became part of the Midland Railway.
Fleetwood became a major port for services to Ireland, which started in 1843, and were later run by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway (jointly with the LNWR). They maintained the excursion steamer Lune at Fleetwood from 1892-1913.
The Furness Railway was a relatively minor English railway company, which founded its early prosperity on the carriage of iron ore. As this traffic declined towards the end of the 19th Century, the Company sought to increase the tourist passenger traffic to the English Lake District, the area in which its trains operated. In 1900 they introduced a passenger ferry service across Morecambe Bay, between Barrow and Fleetwood. There were tram connections onwards from Fleetwood to Blackpool. This service operated successfully, using a total of four paddle steamers, until the outbreak of war in 1914. The service was not revived after the war.
The Isle of Man Steam Packet Co (IOMSPCo) ran summer services to Douglas from Fleetwood, frequently using their newest and best steamers, some built for the route. The most popular excursion for visitors to Fleetwood was always a day trip to the Isle of Man.