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Morris Lubricants supports marine heritage project to restore rare steam tug

A project to restore the last remaining operational British Naval coal-fired steamship to have seen service in two World Wars is being supported by a lubricants company, which has been oiling the wheels of British industry for nearly 150 years.


Shrewsbury-based Morris Lubricants, one of Europe's leading oil blenders and marketers, was happy to help when The Steam Tug Kerne Preservation Society approached the company for oil to keep the steamship running smoothly.


The company supplied its Golden Film 220 and 460 Bearing Oils, high quality lubricants formulated to provide the necessary levels of friction reduction and wear protection required in bearing applications on steam driven equipment. The products resist water wash off and have a long service life.


Roger Dibnah, son of famous late steeplejack and television personality Fred Dibnah, has been involved with The Steam Tug Kerne Preservation Society for around six years and immediately turned to Morris Lubricants when the restoration project needed practical support.


He shares a passion for steam heritage with Morris Lubricants’ managing director Andrew Goddard, whose family own traction engines and steam cars.


“The Golden Film 220 and 460 bearing oils are ideal for the application that we wanted it for and it was my personal preference,” said Roger, who trained as a marine engineer with the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company.


“Over the last two or three years, we have done a major restoration project on the Kerne and she was in dry dock for 12 months. We got it going again last October and it has been to the Steam on the Dock in Liverpool and we went on a trip to a shipwreck in the Irish Sea at the weekend.


“We want to be able to attend events around North West England and as far away as North Wales and the Isle of Man.


“Having served my time as a marine engineer, I think maritime heritage tends to be overlooked in this country while steam trains and traction engines get most of the publicity. The Kerne is the last tug of her kind and deserves to be preserved.”


Mr Goddard said the company was happy to support such a worthwhile heritage project and delighted that the Golden Film bearing oils were proving so successful and helping to keep the Kerne running smoothly.


“Both the business and my family have a keen interest in steam engines of all types and we think it’s important for the present and future generations to understand the engineering and social history associated with them,” he added.


The restoration project received £90,000 from the Heritage Lottery and The Steam Tug Kerne Preservation Society managed to raise an equal amount to undertake the work.


The society needs to keep on raising money to cover the Kerne’s running costs. For example, the coal bill alone comes to around £3,000 for three trips.


Built by Montrose Shipbuilding Co. Ltd in 1913 for Gerdes Hansen and Co, the tug was originally named Viking and sailed under her own power to London. A month later, she was acquired by the Admiralty and re-named Terrier.


Based in Chatham, she worked in and around the Medway as a harbour/basin tug for 35 years, which included the two World Wars. She was sold out of naval service in March, 1948 to J. P. Knight and re-named Kerne, which is Gaelic for vagabond foot soldier.


In September, 1949, she was sold to the Straits Steamship Co. of Liverpool, a subsidiary of Liverpool Lighterage Co., sailing north to work on the Mersey, Manchester Ship Canal and Weaver Navigation as a lighterage tug until her retirement in March, 1971. 


Laid up in Wellington Dock, Liverpool until October,1971, the Kerne was about to go for scrap when a fledgling group of enthusiasts outbid the scrapman and rescued her from the cutter’s torch.


Six years later, the North Western Steamship Company Co Ltd was formed as a non-profit making organisation to operate the Kerne and facilitate her conservation. She is now an extremely rare example of the once common steam estuary/dock tug and a living reminder of early 20th century naval architecture.


The Kerne has been the guest of honour at several maritime and steam festivals, but perhaps her greatest honour was to represent her type in the Royal Review of Ships in the Mersey during the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977.


As many of the vessels that took part in this review have succumbed to the scrapman, the Kerne may be the sole operating survivor of this prestigious occasion.

Her veteran appeal has made her sought after by film and TV production companies and she has appeared in some period productions.


The Kerne is still owned by the company but is operated by The Steam Tug Kerne Preservation Society Limited. In 1990, the North Western Steamship Co’s work was recognised when it won the marine category of the Steam Heritage Awards.

When not attending a show, or out on a cruise, she can usually be found berthed at the Maritime Museum in Liverpool’s Canning Dock, The Boat Museum at Ellesmere Port and elsewhere on Mersey Waters. In recognition of her increasing historical importance, Kerne is now part of the Historic Fleet as designated by National Historic Ships.


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