On this day … 7 May 1892

The Preston Guardian reported that the dock gates had at last been opened to allow water to enter the new Preston Dock, in time for the official opening in July. It took a month for the basin to fill.

At the opening ceremony, a ship named Hebe, loaded with cement, cheekily jumped the queue of boats waiting at the entrance to claim the title of the first vessel carrying cargo to enter the dock, behind the yacht carrying the Duke of Edinburgh. Comeuppance came for the Hebe five years later when she foundered ten miles off Blackpool. The crew of six took to the lifeboat just three minutes before she sank and landed safely at Bispham.

The opening of the dock had been a long time coming. The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) had laid the first stone at the dock back in July, 1885, the Ribble had been diverted into its new course by March, 1888, and everything was going to plan until the July, when all work stopped, except for dredging.

James Barron, in his history of the dock, gives no reason for the stoppage, which lasted for two years, work beginning again in July 1890. In November, 1889, the main contractor, a Mr T. A. Walker, had died, and that might have delayed the resumption of work.

The work was resumed by Mr Walker’s trustees, supervised by Louis P. Nott and Robert Bushell, the agent. According to Barron:

Nott was a missionary to the navvies working on the dock, and those who attended his services in a tar-coated wooden building situated near No. 1 weighbridge, were known as Nott’s Lambs. He married Mr. T. A. Walker’s only daughter, became one of his trustees on his death, and thus came to supervise the completion of the dock works.

Work was completed in March, 1892, in time for the official opening, as Barron recorded:

On Saturday, 25th June, 1892, the town was early astir. The morning was bright and hot and, although at times rather heavy clouds threatened rain, there was no break down in the weather until the opening ceremony was over. H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh had arrived on Friday evening and spent the night at Darwen Bank [Walton-le-Dale] as the guest of Mr. John Humber, the Mayor.

On Saturday forenoon he drove to the dock past crowds of people lining the route, which was decorated with flags and banners bearing wishes of “Success to Preston Docks” ….

… The steam yacht “Aline,” belonging to Colonel Gamble, Commodore of the Mersey Yacht Club, was put at the committee’s disposal, and after the Duke had opened one of the dock gates on the south side … he walked along the locks to the basin, boarded the yacht there and, standing on her bridge, steamed through the locks into the dock, breaking a blue ribbon stretched across the locks on the way.

The yacht was followed by a concourse of vessels all eager for pride of place. Despite the harbour master’s careful arrangements, the S.S. “Hebe” managed to push in, out of her turn, to claim the honour of being the first vessel to enter the dock with a full cargo.

Following the yacht came the S.S. “Balneil,” light, belonging to Mr. John Rawcliffe, of Liverpool, son of Alderman Rawcliffe, who had played such a prominent part in the negotiations for forming a Harbour Board in 1867.

Then the S.S. “Hebe,” with cement, got in ahead of the S.S. “Owain Tudor,” with a general cargo from Liverpool; S.S. “Lady Alice Kenlis,” well known as a regular trader to the port, followed, having been put out of her position as third in the line by the action of the “Hebe”; then came two steamers belonging to Messrs. Carr and Co., of Carlisle, the “Surprise” and “Swift” and the S.S. “Lady Louise” with a part cargo of provisions from London for Messrs. F. M. Booth and Company. Alderman Maynard’s yacht “Osprey,” the S.S. “Pyrope,” with pig-iron, the St. Annes and Lytham Lifeboats and a whole lot of small craft followed.

Sinking of the Hebe: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/~cmi/books/hebe.html

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