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Fleetwood - Terminal Decline?

Photographs  John H. Luxton 2011

On Thursday February 17, 2011 I paid a visit to Fleetwood to photograph the abandoned terminal facilities. Fleetwood has had something of a chequered history as a sea and rail terminal. Once a major interchange point between rail and sea the terminal berths fight a continual battle with the elements at the mouth of the River Wyre which necessitates regular dredging. The port is tidal and the size of vessels serving Fleetwood are constrained by size, especially in recent years as ro/ro vessels have increased dimensions significantly.

Much of the terminal site at Fleetwood was originally Fleetwood Railway Station which itself closed in 1966 when the line was truncated at Fleetwood Wyre Dock Station around 1 mile to the south. This station had adjacent berths for serving steamer services. However, with the exception of the Isle of Man Steam Packet seasonal service to Douglas most services switched to the less tidally constrained railway port of Heysham a few miles away across Morecambe Bay in the 1920s.

By the 1960s the berths were becoming unsafe and the Isle of Man Steam Packet withdrew services to Douglas in 1961. The station closed in 1964 and within two years the station site had been cleared. In the late 1960 Norwest Hovercraft Company developed a terminal on the station site to serve a hovercraft service between Fleetwood and Douglas. However, it soon became clear that the side-wall hovercraft DENNY ENTERPRISE was not suited to the exposed crossing to Douglas and the company modified its plans. A conventional ship was to be introduced on the Fleetwood to Douglas service using a new berth, with the hovercraft providing "across the bay" services. Though even that did not materialise and the hovercraft operated nothing more than "pleasure" cruises out to the Wyre Light.

After a successful first season in 1969 operating the chartered Norwegian ship STELLA MARINA between Fleetwood and Douglas Norwest Hovercraft were frustrated by the vessel's non availability the following year and were forced to buy the somewhat unsuitable David MacBrayne ferry LOCHIEL which was rebuilt at Cammell Laird and named NORWEST LAIRD. By the end of the 1970 service Norwest Hovercraft Company had failed.

In their wake Norwest Hovercraft Co left behind a new berth constructed for them by British Transport Docks Board and a rather smart terminal building which was later modified and enlarged to become a pub and restaurant as well as a booking office for the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company who, following modifications to the new berth at Fleetwood to permit use of its side loading ferries, recommenced a seasonal service in 1971.

The former Norwest Terminal building after several years of dereliction was demolished in the mid "naughties" and the site incorporated into the adjacent ro/ro terminal.

The Isle of Man seasonal service gradually dwindled over the years to just one or two sailings per year. With the announcement of the withdrawal of the SNAEFELL in the winter of 2010/11 it is likely that no further sailings will operate from Fleetwood and that the final Isle of Man Steam Packet Company departure from Fleetwood was on August 07, 2010.

In 1973 work began on constructing a ro/ro berth for Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company featuring a 180tonne capacity link span to service that company's Pandoro service to Larne which was inaugurated in 1975. For a brief period B&I Line operated the TIPPERARY (now P&O's NORCAPE) between Fleetwood and Dublin. Also a Merchant Ferries operated a sailing to Warrenpoint from the berth between 1989 and 1993

In 2004, following a rationalisation of services, P&O sold the Fleetwood to Larne route and the ships STENA LEADER, STENA PIONEER and STENA SEAFARER to Stena Line. In early December Stena Line announced that it had acquired the DFDS Norfolkline route between Birkenhead and Belfast and that it would as a consequence close the uneconomic Fleetwood to Larne service on December 24.

When I visited Fleetwood on February 17, the terminal had been abandoned for almost two months. I thought it was time to undertake a photographic to record the site as it was. When visiting the terminal site it is interesting to note that three former terminals can actually be seen. Also the Stena Terminal was not completely deserted. Workmen were present working in the doorway of the engine room of the link span - a power saw could be heard at work and a pick-up truck was parked on the link span. Almost all Stena Line signs have been removed - I could only find one, but there did appear to be some life in one of the terminal offices with lights on and two cars parked up in the car park.

However, one must conclude that the Port of Fleetwood now in terminal decline as far as Irish Sea passenger and freight services are concerned and it will be surprising if another operator commences services from its berths.

Anyway - enjoy the pictures.

The Isle of Man Steam Packet Berth - First Used by Norwest Hovercraft for the Stella Marina

If one looks very carefully on the river wall  (right) one can see a set of grey concrete steps which almost merge into the wall along with the holes which held hand rails. These steps actually provided access to a rather flimsy floating stage used by Norwest Hovercraft for passengers to to board DENNY ENTERPRISE.

Your web master remembers this stage, but unfortunately does not have any pictures of it. If anyone does, I wouldn't mind seeing a copy to jog my memory of the arrangement but I vaguely recall it went through two variations.

Somewhat Ironically there is a relatively new poster promoting DFDS Norfolkline services from Birkenhead to Dublin and Belfast near the terminal. Of course this must have been posted just before the sale of the Birkenhead to Belfast service to Stena Line and the announcement of the closure of the Birkenhead to Dublin service in January 2010. It's similar larger counterpart at Birkenhead Duke Street has already been removed.

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