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Royal Iris of the Mersey departing Woodside Ferry in 2006

The MV Royal Iris of the Mersey is a Mersey Ferry in operation on the River Mersey, England. From launch until a major refit in 2001, she was named MV Mountwood.[1]


MV Mountwood

The Mountwood was the slightly older sister ship of the MV Woodchurch. Both ferries were built for Birkenhead Corporation and were based loosely on the designs of the Wallasey ferries Leasowe and Egremont and were built by the same company, Messrs. Philip and Sons Ltd. of Dartmouth. Mountwood was launched by Mrs Hugh Platt on the 6 July 1959 into the River Dart, and after being fitted out was delivered to the Mersey in 1960. She was named after an overspill post-war housing development of Birkenhead.[2]

The Mountwood and her identical sister Woodchurch originally had orange funnels with black top band. On the main deck, there was a forward, heated shelter and also a main saloon, aft of this was the toilets and machine space. Below was a saloon bar. On the top deck was a large open promenade and a forward shelter beneath the bridge, although this shelter was open beneath the bridge so it was often breezy and cold. They had a main central wheelhouse and two side cabs, and power came from two medium speed Crossley 8 cylinder diesel engines. Upon the bridge deck, in the wheelhouse, one would find the large brass helm, the hydraulic steering telemotor. a binnacle, and two conjoined Chadburn Synchrostep telegraphs. These were linked to the other two identical telegraphs in the docking cabs so they moved in tandem. There was also whistle controls and lighting controls. In the docking cabs or navigation boxes was another binnacle, a whistle control, telegraphs and also various indicators for engine/speed etc. Originally all ferries had a simple ship to shore communicating radio, but did not have radar or sonar.

In her early years Mountwood was an unreliable ship, breaking down several times whilst crossing the river and having to anchor. In May 1961, she suffered a main engine failure, with her passengers having to be rescued by Woodchurch.[3] She also collided with Bidston whilst berthing, due to a communications error. The new Mountwood had two options of engine control. The first was direct control, where the bridge telegraphs controlled the engines directly, without the assistance of an engineer at the control board. The second option was the traditional system of telegraph orders between the engineers and the engines. On this day, the Mountwood was operating in the traditional way. The captain gave an order for full astern on the starboard engine to pull the vessel's bow away from the landing stage in preparation for her departure for Liverpool. He then stopped the starboard engine, switching the telegraph to the " run " position (a position where the propeller turns at a very slow rate and most often used to keep the vessel against a landing stage during a strong swell). He then placed the port telegraph to half ahead to push the stern of the vessel clear from the landing stage. What actually happened is unclear, but it seems that the engineer carried out the reverse of the telegraph orders which sent the Mountwood's bow into the stern of the nearby steamer Bidston. Fortunately no further collision occurred.

The Mountwood remained in operation up until she was withdrawn for refurbishment in 1989. She was rewired, internally refurbished and her bridge wheelhouse and cabs were plated over to form one large navigation bridge, although she retained all the original equipment. The most noticeable change was the colour of the funnel, flame red and black, harking back to the 1920s Birkenhead steamships. The new 'Mersey Ferries' logo was painted on each side of the funnel. The Mountwood returned to service in July 1990 and remained in operation up until 2001, when she was withdrawn from service for a major refit. Her only major work during the period 1990-2001 was the addition of a shelter abaft the bridge, which also had a small bridge deck area. The black band on the funnel was reduced and the logo resized giving the ferry an oddly small looking funnel.

Major Refit

In 2001, the Mountwood was withdrawn and taken to Birkenhead's former Cammell Laird shipyard (which became owned by A&P), and then to Clarence graving docks, where she was stripped of her fittings and parts of her superstructure were removed and rebuilt. Unfortunately the ferry remained dormant for some time due to problems at the shipyard. She was then re-engined and more or less completely rebuilt. Noticeable changes were the addition of a new, angle fronted, large wheelhouse and bridge deck, plus her funnel, which was reinstated after the refit, was moved further back to fit with the position of the new engines. Her central saloons were also extended to the full width of the ship. She looks quite similar the Woodchurch's refit to Snowdrop. The ferry contained many items that would be classes as nautical antiques and quite valuable, such as engine telegraphs, binnacles and much brassware. The helm and binnacles were reinstated onto the new bridge, however all the other items are in storage at Mersey Ferries’ archives.

MV Royal Iris of the Mersey

Mountwood's nameplate now reads "Royal Iris of the Mersey". It cannot be shortened to "Royal Iris", as the previous vessel of that name (the MV Royal Iris) is still listed on Lloyd's Register of Shipping in the same class. The ferry still carries her original pair of Kockums Supertyfon fog horns, as do her two sister ships.

On 29 October 2002, a tremendous storm hit the Mersey, with windspeeds measured at force 10-11. The Clipper Round the World Race start was delayed and tugs were called to ships in the Mersey to keep them at port, battling against the raging waves. The Royal Iris of the Mersey was in service that Sunday, and was tied up at the Liverpool landing stage. Her mast rigging was blown down and her mainmast had to be lowered for safety. Ferry services were cancelled and severe damage was caused to many properties along the waterfront. The vessel could not berth at Seacombe during this time because the resulting swell of the storm was that strong. The last storm of such strength to hit the Mersey was the 1989 hurricane.

In popular culture

The Mountwood was used in the film "Ferry Cross The Mersey", a musical named after the Gerry & The Pacemakers song. It also appeared in the opening titles for the television series, The Liver Birds.


  1. ^ Royal Iris name lives on, Wirral Globe, 11 October 2001,, retrieved 14 January 2008  
  2. ^ Maund, TB (1991), Mersey Ferries - Volume 1, Transport Publishing Co. Ltd, ISBN 0-86317-166-4  
  3. ^ Ship of the Month: Woodchurch, North Cheshire Marine,, retrieved 2 November 2007  

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