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The Home to the First-Ever Passenger Hovercraft Service - the Wirral
A Hovercoach surrounded by a big crowd at Leasowe, Wirral, Merseyside. 20th July 1962.

National History

The Home to the First-Ever Passenger Hovercraft Service – the Wirral

For a few brief months in 1962, the Wirral made history as the location of the world’s first-ever passenger hovercraft service.

The Vickers VA3 was a wonder of modern engineering. It weighed 10 tons and could carry 24 passengers at speeds of up to 60 knots.

It was popular too. Owners British United Airways were fully booked for the six daily crossings from Leasowe to Rhyl when the hovercraft came into service on July 20.

But the VA3 had a fundamental flaw. It lacked a skirt and could only hover eight inches above a flat surface. Conditions had to be calm for the VA3 to venture out.

As a result, the hovercraft was put to sea for only 36 days out of 59. The rest were ruled out by a combination of stormy winds, high seas, and engine failures.

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It all went disastrously wrong on Sunday, September 16 when the VA3 broke free of its moorings and drifted out to sea.

Its lift engine had failed the previous Friday and bad weather had made it impossible to carry out repairs.

The duty captain, who had remained aboard, managed to fire up the propulsion engines and bring the hovercraft back to the beach.

But the stricken craft broke free again the next day and had to be rescued by the Rhyl lifeboat.

The damage was too great for the service to continue and the project was scrapped.

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While the VA3 drifted out to sea, the opposite fate befell the Royal Daffodil II Mersey ferry in January 1968 – it beached at Wallasey after a collision.

The 609-ton ship had previously run aground in thick fog in September 1967. Sixty passengers were rescued by the New Brighton lifeboat and put ashore at Seacombe.

Air Hostess Paddy Clinch of Dublin presents Liverpool captain Ron Yeats with a leprechaun as the team left Speke Airport for Sweden and their Fairs Cup match against Malmo.
Air Hostess Paddy Clinch of Dublin presents Liverpool captain Ron Yeats with a leprechaun as the team left Speke Airport for Sweden and their Fairs Cup match against Malmo. 18th September 1967. – Source: iNostalgia / MirrorPix

There were no weather problems for Liverpool FC skipper Ron Yeats when Aer Lingus presented him with a leprechaun for good luck ahead of his team’s flight to Malmo in September 1967.

The leprechaun certainly did the trick as Liverpool won the Fairs Cup match against the Swedish side2-0 and took the tie 4-1 on aggregate.

Everton football team at Lime Street station as they leave for Wembley to take part in the FA Cup Final against  Sheffield Wednesday.  13th May 1966. - Source: iNostalgia/MirrorPix
Everton football team at Lime Street station as they leave for Wembley to take part in the FA Cup Final against Sheffield Wednesday. 13th May 1966. – Source: iNostalgia/MirrorPix

Everton boarded the steam train from Lime Street station to London for their 1966 FA Cup Final against Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley. The Toffees famously triumphed 3-2.

he 1T57 "Fifteen Guinea Special", the last main-line passenger train to be hauled by steam locomotive power on British Rail on 11th August 1968 before the introduction of a steam ban that started the following day
The 1T57 “Fifteen Guinea Special”, the last main-line passenger train to be hauled by steam locomotive power on British Rail on 11th August 1968 before the introduction of a steam ban that started the following day. It was a special rail tour excursion train organised for the occasion from Liverpool via Manchester to Carlisle and back, and was pulled by four different steam locomotives in turn during the four legs of the journey. 11th August 1968. – Source: iNostalgia Publishing / MirrorPix

Only two years later, the very last main-line passenger train to be hauled by a steam locomotive – the 1T57 Fifteen Guinea special to Carlisle – pulled out of Lime Street on August 11th 1968.

A countrywide steam ban came into force the next day.

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Featured Image: The Vickers VA3 hovercraft draws a big crowd as it prepares to make its maiden crossing from Leasowe to Rhyl, July 1962 – Source: Insotalgia Publishing / MirrorPix – Around Liverpool

Written By

Former daily newspaper editor and group editorial director for leading national media brands, Malcolm is a regular contributor to the iNostalgia National History with a love for our national heritage.

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