Despite a new railway hotel and passenger station being opened at Northumberland Road, Poulton Le Sands (as Morecambe was then known) proved to be far from ideal as a practical port due to its dependency on the tide. In the 1860s, the Midland Railway Company entered an agreement with Furness Railways to transfer its Northern Ireland passenger service from Poulton Le Sands to Piel on the Cumbrian coast - served by the Furness Railway.
Despite the initial success of this partnership however, the Midland Railway Company decided to develop its own port at Heysham where deep-water access was more reliable.
In 1897, the Midland Railway Company purchased land for the construction of the new harbour and railway link. Their contractors, Price & Wills (harbour) and Godfrey & Liddelow (railway) began construction in the same year. By 1898, there were about 200 men employed and this figure soon reached approximately 2,000.
Workers (navvies, short for ‘navigators’) were housed in two wooden 'villages' known as Klondyke and Dawson City, being named after a river and a town in the area of the North American gold rush which had started in 1896.
The Midland Railway archives from 1897 appear to reveal a navvy village on the site of the present Trumacar schools..
This striking aerial view of Heysham Harbour dates from about 1930 and is from the John Price collection. It was published by Peter Cook in the 2013 Annual report of Lancaster Birdwatching Society and reproduced with his permission.
The Ordnance Survey map (1915-19) below shows approximately the same area as the photograph,
The harbour extended out from the headlands Near Naze in Half Moon Bay and Red Nab rocks (bottom centre of map) with two substantial sea walls to a narrow mouth just short of the deep water channel shown on the map as (Heysham) ‘Lake’.
See separate page for the area before the Harbour was constructed.
Two distinct areas were enclosed, the roughly rectangular Harbour basin itself about 800m long by 200m wide. and a large triangular area accessed by a lock from the south side of the harbour basin near the harbour entrance and intended to be both a wet and dry dock but never developed. Eventually this became known as the ‘Dry Dock’ despite a substantial area of it being a freshwater pool as can be seen in the photograph above right.
For an 1898 extract for the Visitor newspaper describing the early works at the harbour click here.
A fuller account of the harbour construction is provided by the diary of a Heysham harbourmaster, Captain A R Wilmott in Across the Water - A History of Shipping in Morecambe Bay, edited by Avril Moncaster (2009: pp 42-49).
Heysham Harbour was officially opened by the Midland Railway Company in 1904 with direct rail connection, and four new steamers (Antrim, Donegal, Londonderry and Manxman) were built to open services to Belfast and Douglas.
Today the passenger ferries are mainly to the Isle of Man and operated by the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, which dates from 1830 and is the oldest continuously operating passenger shipping company in the world.
The present ferry boat has the intriguing name Ben-my-Chree which is not a Scottish mountain but a Manx Gaelic phrase translated ‘Girl of my heart’.
This is the sixth vessel of the same name owned by the Steam Packet Company the first dating from 1845.
Curiously there is a place named Ben-my-Chree in the north of British Columbia, Canada at the south end of Lake Tagish, which though narrow is 24 miles long extending north into the Yukon Territory. How did that place come to get its name? We have already remarked on the association of the names Klondike and Dawson City with the building of Heysham Harbour. Lake Tagish is on the route to the Klondike area as it became famously known.
Dawson City is in the Yukon Territory of Canada on the large river Yukon and the Klondike is a small tributary flowing into the Yukon at Dawson; much of the gold prospecting was done in the Klondike valley.
Otto Partridge was brought up on the Isle of Man, although not born there, and attended King William’s College. As a young man in the 1890s he became involved in the gold rush though not directly a prospector. He used an inheritance to buy land for a mill on Lake Tagish and named the place as Ben-my-chree to remind him of his ‘girl friend’ Kate, still back in the UK. When eventually the mill closed (once the gold rush was over) he settled there with Kate and created spectacular gardens which became a regular tourist destination in the first half of the 20th century.
There are a number of slightly differing versions of the tale of Otto and Kate Partridge on the web.
Kate and Otto Partridge in the gardens at Ben-my-chree, British Colombia
© MacBride Museum of Yukon History