Most visitors to the Ribble Steam Railway will see one or other of the two ‘Nelson Buoys’ positioned at the entrances to Riversway Docklands. Many will have wondered what they are and where they came from. Hopefully this small article may help explain.
The two ‘Nelson’ safe water landfall buoys were originally moored eight miles out to sea off the coast of Lytham, where the Ribble Estuary meets the Irish Sea. Today, however, they stand at two of the main entrances to Riversway, a modern development comprising a marina and a range of industrial, commercial and residential buildings.
Today the Nelson buoys mark the original course of the river Ribble, which was diverted in the 19th Century to enable the construction of the docks.
In 1890, in preparation for the opening of the new dock in 1892, Preston Corporation purchased two Bell Boat Buoys from the Irish Lights Commissioners for marking the Nelson “Safe Water” mooring at the entrance to the estuary and the Penfold channel. The lights on these units were powered by acetylene gas and the bells were rung by wave motion.
In 2010, Lancashire based painting and decorating contractor T Harrison Limited completed work on the refurbishment of two historic ‘bell-boat’ buoys that once marked the safe approach to Preston Docks. In the first phase of the project, T Harrison staff cleaned and pre-treated the 50 ton steel structures, which had become corroded when their protective coatings started to fail. Their maritime history, combined with their present location close to the marina meant that they had been continuously subjected to chloride attack for well over half a century, so it was important to reinstate cover as soon as possible.
Over a period of ten days, the team prepared the substrate by hand, removing any friable material using wire brushes and chipping hammers before applying primer and polyurethane finish.
‘The marker buoys are well known city landmarks with a long and interesting history, said T Harrison’s contracts director Bob Roberts. ‘Preston City Council commissioned us to repair and protect them in order to prevent any further deterioration, preserving them for many more years to come.’