A Brief History of the Society

A Brief History of the Society

In 1937 a number of researchers in Liverpool had the idea of forming a local Research Society. Arthur C.Wardle and W. Stewart Rees got together with some ship modellers notably Messrs W. McQ. Mather,  Harry Owen, V.H. Green and Mr. H.N. Leask, AIMICE, and others. The latter were interested in getting greater accuracy in their models. The original idea was supported by the Sea Breezes magazine who advocated  “preserving a Maritime Epoch.”

Further support came from the City Librarian,  Mr. J.F. Smith, MA FRSA, who arranged a private meeting at the Picton Reference Library, on Wednesday, 23 March, 1938. To add interest to the evening Mr. Smith arranged a special exhibit of shipping records, marine pictures and books.

This informal get together was successful and those present agreed to form a  Liverpool Nautical Research Society with the following objectives:

  • To encourage a public interest in Liverpool’s maritime and. ship history
  • To collect and collate all available material relating to Liverpool ships and. seamen of the past
  • To undertake an historical survey of locally owned vessels, their masters and owners.

They agreed to hold an inaugural meeting on Monday, 11 April, 1938, to elect a Chairman, Officers and Committee. Subsequently this meeting was held in the Accountants’ Hall, Fenwick Street, Liverpool and was reported in the Liverpool Daily Post the following day.

The subscription was fixed at five shillings per annum, and the following officers and committee were elected.

  • Chairman: Captain E. A. Woods
  • Secretary and Treasurer: Arthur C. Wardle
  • Recorder: W. Stewart Rees
  • Committee:   H. Owen, T. Hughes, K. Hopkins, H. N. Leask, J.F. Hall, V.H. Green

A month later the society met at the School of Commerce, Tithebarn Street, Liverpool, where, in addition to adopting a Constitution and Rules, Mr. Arthur C. Wardle presented a paper  entitled. “Early Liverpool vessels and Trade”.  Lord Derby accepted the presidency of the society by letter dated 4 June 1938.

The society was effectively shut down at the start of the Second World War, but members remained keen to resume when possible and the society was re-started at a meeting held in Richmond Street on 3 October 1942.

This meeting was, in fact, the first Annual General Meeting, where the election of officers and council took place. A paper entitled, “The White Star Australian Packets” was read by Captain E.A. Woods, who continued as chairman of the society.

At this time meetings were held on Saturday afternoons as a safety measure whilst hostilities lasted but evening meetings were resumed in October 1945. From this time the society has continued to  promote its activities with a series of papers, illustrated lectures etc with occasional visits to dock installations and ships.

In February 1952 the Society became affiliated to the Historic Society of Lancashire & Cheshire, and members continue to be invited to their lectures whenever these are of a maritime character.

Members have always been active in research, particularly about Liverpool ships, their owners, builders and voyages. Numerous papers and records have been produced and deposited initially in the Picton Library, William Brown Street, Liverpool and latterly the Maritime Archives and Library of the Merseyside Maritime Museum. The 100th meeting of the society was held on 7 December 1955 when it was decided to publish a booklet “In Retrospect 1938 – 1955” giving a brief outline of the origins of the society. 

Over the years the venues for the monthly meetings have varied. These included the  Crane Studio, Cunard Buildings, Dock Offices, Common Hall, Ocean Club, and Clubship Landfall. In the 1960’s the Landfall, an ex-tank landing craft (as LCT 7074 she took part in D-Day) was a particularly appropriate venue and a popular rendezvous due to its convenient central location.  In 1972 with the closure of the South Docks Landfall was moved to Collingwood Dock, a less convenient location for most members.  Landfall was eventually converted into a riverside nightclub and restaurant and was no longer available to our society.

Fortunately the society was then able to hold its monthly meetings in the Liverpool Maritime Museum. This arrangement continued for many years until 2014, when the museum authorities notified the society that the education suite, where meetings were held, would no longer be available. A number of different locations were considered and the venue that was finally chosen was the Athenaeum in Church Alley in central Liverpool.

A quarterly pamphlet, “News, Notes and Queries” was established in January 1951. The first editor was Mr. Keith P. Lewis, followed by Mr. Summerfield and later by Mr. A. Stuart Mountfield. This publication eventually became “The Bulletin” where members publish the results of their nautical research. As such it has received high praise for the quality of the writing and range of  its contents.  In 2008 on the 70th anniversary of our founding Lloyd’s List complimented The Bulletin as “hugely readable”. 

The society today continues to have a good working relationship with the Merseyside Maritime Museum, particularly the Maritime Archive and Library. Over the years the society has carried out various projects suggested by the library staff, including producing a database of early steamships registered at Liverpool, indexing the subsidiary Register Books of Non-Liverpool Registered Vessel 1788 – 1818 along with other work. We continue to cooperate with the Maritime Archive and Library on a number of research projects.

In 2002 the LNRS instituted an annual award that was open to students in higher education, locally and nationally, with an interest in maritime research.  The award comprised a certificate of achievement from the society and a cash prize of £200.  Entrants had to write on a topic of maritime interest and a winner selected by a committee of society members. Winning entries included;

  • Development of organisations concerned with Welfare of Seamen on the Mersey 1820 – 1970 (S.D. Wilson – Liverpool Hope University)
  • Ro-Ro Tugmasters: an Economic Dissertation   (Sarah Kennedy – Liverpool John Moores University)
  • Liverpool Slave trade in the late Eighteenth Century   (Denise M. Jones Liverpool Hope University)
  • The Development of Fuel Saving Techniques in Merchant Vessels   (P.R. Moore Liverpool John Moores University)

Sadly, the award has been in abeyance for several years and it remains to be decided whether it is to be continued.

Today, the society continues to flourish with a stable membership of just over 200. Our monthly meetings at which members and guest speakers present a wide variety of maritime topics are very well attended and members still meet informally at the Maritime Museum Archives and Library each Monday, holding true to our original aim of “preserving a Maritime Epoch.”