If you can't repair it, maybe it shouldn't be on board. - Lin and Larry Pardey

Celebrating Ireland's Floating Heritage

Celebrating Ireland's Floating Heritage

Home arrow Vessels arrow Others arrow Dukers - Northwich - 1948 to 1952
Dukers - Northwich - 1948 to 1952 PDF Print E-mail
28 September 2009


The Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flakes Company, now known as Kellogg’s, was incorporated in the US in 1906. In 1938 the company set up a production plant in Manchester and in 1952 those flakes were introduced to the Irish market. Today, people in Ireland are reputed to eat more breakfast cereal (8kg per head pa) than any other country in the world.
The Duker barges carried various forms of freight including imported maize from ships on the Mersey at Liverpool via the Manchester Ship Canal and Bridgewater Canal to Trafford Park in Manchester, where those flakes were created, before being shipped across the Irish Sea to arrive on our breakfast tables. The barges were named to honour the Duke of Bridgewater who contracted Brindley and Gilbert to build the Bridgewater Canal between 1759 and 1795.
The Iris Abbott – the first Duker
The Duker story began in 1947 when Frederick J Abbott, an independent barge and warehousing company in Castlefield, used their war remuneration money to order the first Duker Barge from Isaac Pimblott of Northwich. This barge was built of steel, measured 70 ft by 14 ½ ft to fit the Bridgewater Canal, had a Gardner engine and was named the Iris Abbott. Up to this time, freight was moved along this stretch of inland water by tugs towing timber barges. Around the same time, also using war remuneration money, Bridgewater Transport, part of Manchester Ship Canal Company (MSCC) ordered three new diesel tugs and six steel dumb barges, known as ‘Mere’ barges. (A further thirteen Mere barges were built later)
It appears that the introduction of the Iris caused disquiet as its turnaround time was much faster than the tugs. As well as carrying 47 tons of freight it also operated as a tug to other vessels. To quote “matters came to a head in late 1948 when Bridgewater Transport hired the Iris for a month to run exclusively to Kelloggs from Liverpool with maize for cornflakes. She was paired with one of the Mere class flats and ran rings around the tugs and flats belonging to the company. The pair were consistently doing an extra trip a week over the equivalent tug and flat combination and were also helping to tow other craft when no tug was available (and charging for the service). The Bridgewater men were not happy because the crew of the Iris were earning more money and also getting home more often!” However, it was not until 1949 that the MSCC was truly convinced of the greater speed, when a member of staff produced a comparison between the Iris and their own vessels, showing more journeys with less crew.
The Duker Fleet
The decision was then made in 1950 to order four more motor barges from Pimblotts of Northwich at a cost of £6160 each with 68hp Gardner engines. These were slightly larger than the Iris Abbott and could carry up to 84 tons on the Manchester Ship Canal and 55 tons on the Bridgewater, with a draft of 4 ½ feet. They were designed by marine architects and were more like a small ship than the traditional barge design.
The first barge, Paradine, 69 ft by 14 ½ ft had its first trials in December 1951 and was certified by Lloyds; Parbella entered service in 1952 and Parcastle and Parderry were built shortly afterwards. Two further power barges, the Parelia and Parfield (72 ft by 14 ¾ ft) were ordered from Yarwoods which are different in many aspects from the four Pimblott barges.
This new fleet was used extensively and the older tugs and canal flats were phased out. Each of the Dukers were allowed tow three flats on the Bridgewater canal and two on the Mersey and the Ship Canal. “In emergencies this could be increased and on at least one occasion, Parbella, with two flats in tow, picked up Parderry and her two flats at Weaver sluices, when she had a cooling water blockage, and towed the whole train to Manchester. A total of nearly 500 tons of cargo and nearly 200 tons of boat, all with only 68 real horse power”.
They worked this stretch of the northern waterways from 1952 until their last delivery to Kelloggs was made in March 1974. This was celebrated when a flotilla of barges festooned with flags made their way up the Bridewater Canal to Kelloggs, the end of an era.
Where are they now
Parderry and Parelia were unfortunately scrapped shortly after trade ceased. When the barges were sold off by MSCC, five were bought by Frodsham Storage and were located there for a number of years before gradually being sold to other parties; Parbella was the last to unload at Frodsham on the River Weaver.
There are still three ‘Mere’ class dumb barges in the northwest of England; Bigmere and Sarah Abbott at Ellesmere Port and Barmere on the St Helen's Canal. The majority of these barges went to Nigeria to continue as towed lighters and may still be working there.
However, five of the Dukers are being cared for by their present owners, four currently in the north of England. The original Duker, Iris Abbott known as the Black Abbott of Mersey for a while, has been regenerated as a liveaboard Iris Abbott and with Parfield can be seen at the old Yarwood’s Yard. Paradine travelled around Lands End in 2000, was on the Thames for a few years before heading back to the north. Work is in progress on a new fit-out on Parbella.
Parcastle’s home base is at Shannon Harbour on the Grand Canal in Ireland. She came to Ireland on a non-stop voyage from Liverpool to Limerick in 1993 and travels the river and lakes with her current owners, their family and friends. See Parcastle aka JD McFaul.
Many thanks are due to Dr Roger Lorenz, owner of Parbella, for permission to extract information and quote extensively from his article, ‘Duker Jubilee’ written in 2002 for the IWA.
Parcastle’s exciting journey to her new home in Ireland is described by John Duffy (JD) on Page 82 of the HBA publication, ‘Fine Lines – Clear Water’.
Thanks to Neil Arlidge, Jenny Butler-Barnes, John Duffy, Brian Goggin, Paul Martin and Peter Spilsbury for permission to display their excellent photos here.
The HBA and Roger Lorenz would welcome any further information you can contribute on the Duker and Mere barges.
EOL 2009


Ship Canal photos Barmere 1 Ship Canal photos Barmere 2 Hhere are two photos of Barmere, one of the 'Mere' class dumb barges towed by the Dukers. This was taken at Spike Island Widnes by J Eyres in 1948.


Last Updated ( 08 September 2011 )
< Prev   Next >
Joomla Templates by Joomlashack