Wirral seafarers reminisce about life in merchant navy

A small community tucked away overlooking the River Mersey is providing a home for retired seafarers who are settling there after decades of travelling the world.

The Mariner’s Park off Seabank Road is a community of 112 homes for those who have worked a long time out at sea.

The estate offers support for people from houses where they can live independently, supported living, a care home, as well as a dementia wing providing specialist care. It has existed in Wirral for 160 years.

The number of homes on the estate are also set to expand with 27 new apartments currently being built off Manor Drive. The development has attracted some criticism from neighbours who argue the new building is invading their privacy and overlooking their properties but those on the estate say it has provided them with the homes they needed.

Bob Lockwood, 84, worked at sea for over 20 years and can remember when he first moved to the area. He now lives in the new supported living apartment block on Webster Avenue.

He said, I have enjoyed my life. I think they have done a lot for us here. It’s given housing to people who need it,” adding: “There are so many people without homes but this place here, it pays its way and everything.”

Recently because of health issues, Bob wasn’t able to walk. Luckily someone who lived upstairs had one to give to him and management were able to get him a scooter which means he can get around.

He said: “It brings a community together. I know of nowhere outside of here where you find something like it. You can see everything that goes up and down the river.”

 Mariner’s Park in Wallasey. Credit: Ed Barnes

Bill McLellan, 87, was an engineer at Cammell Laird before working for the merchant navy and on cargo ships out at sea but moved to the Mariner’s Park six years ago. He had previously tried to move in 15 years ago but his wife became ill and never recovered.

His time in the merchant navy would see him alternating months out at sea going to places like Gibraltar, Malta, and Cyprus and coming back home to Tranmere. He added, “The only trouble is it got boring being at home for four months. I couldn’t wait to get back out.

He said the community feeling between people is strong on the estate, adding, “That is the brilliant thing about it. This place has put me in touch with somebody I hadn’t seen for 74 years. I first met him in 1951 when I first played cricket. I still remember his name and everything. It’s ideal, the place is terrific and the way it’s kept is perfect.”

He added, “If I had stayed where I was, I wouldn’t know what I would be up to now.”

Bert Keith said he “was destined for the sea” and his love started when he was taken out with his family deep sea fishing at the age of eight. However, being in the shipping industry also meant you got a good wage, which was around £23 a month at the time when he signed up in February 1965.

This included training at a nautical college which is now the site of John Lewis in Liverpool One. Originally from Wales, he met his wife in Liverpool “and the rest is history”.

When he worked for Shell, this took him into the heart of a war zone transporting jet fuel to the Americans during the Vietnam War, a conflict in Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia from 1955 to 1975. Whilst not military ships, they still had to “try and keep the Viet Cong away, and spot for bombs in the water,” adding, “It was interesting to say the least.”

Lead image: Left to right: Bill Marr, Bob Lockwood, Bob Keith, and Mill McLellan

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Mariner’s Park overlooks the Mersey. Credit: Ed Barnes