The Trust collection comprises sixty eight nationally important boats – the majority of which are on the historic ships register. Many are still in full working order and take visitors on pleasure trips, while others are used in the museum and on-site for education purposes. Maintaining such an important collection is a mammoth task. The size and scale of the boats presents challenges.
However the ACE grant now allows the museums to focus attention on sixteen vessels in Ellesmere Port which will be removed from the water for preservation. This will include drying out and storing the boats in conditions that preserve them for the enjoyment and understanding of museum visitors.
This approach is already being applied to Mossdale, at Ellesmere Port, the only remaining all-timber Mersey flat. A 3D scan of her structure was used to design the cradle that supports her, and the cover protects her from the weather to allow her to dry out slowly
The ACE grant will also allow the museum to develop a dry dock that will allow its experts to conserve the fleet of working boats. Meanwhile it will also enable the National Waterways Museum, Gloucester to enhance the quayside to provide a fitting backdrop to the vessels exhibited there, including the Sabrina which is currently being developed into an education facility.
An exciting opportunity
Graham Boxer, the Trust's Head of Museums said: "This is an exciting opportunity for us. All museums face choices when deciding how best to care for their collections. Prioritising is never easy and when looking after our unique fleet we face a race against time and the elements.
Now, thanks to Arts Council England, we will be able to give attention to a significant number of our vessels. They have given service to generations over decades and I am delighted that at last we are able to secure a future for them. They will then be able to help the next generations to understand their stories and the roles they played in the working life of our country."
Amongst the boats to be preserved are the Merak and the Merope – two important vessels in the historic fleet. The boats were built in pairs. Cargo boat Merak was originally paired with the motor boat Merope and would have been the butty towed behind her. Merak would have carried about 30 tons of cargo: iron, steel and other metals, coal, grain, timber, cement, stone and other general goods. The two boats were separated during their working lives before being reunited at the Boat Museum nearly 50 years later.
John Orna-Ornstein, director of Museums at Arts Council England said: "The focus of our investment approach for museums in 2015-18 is on building a more resilient sector. The Museum Resilience fund is a key part of that, providing vital support to museums right across the country. The fund responds directly to the challenges facing museums like those in Lancashire and Kirklees, and also supports major strategic initiatives such as the Museums Association's Transformers programme."