There are two strands to the Sea Urchins history. The first, quite naturally, is that of the RNR (in its many forms) on Merseyside, without which the Sea urchins strand would not exist.
By its very nature, history is a lengthy subject and we are only able here to give the potted version without all the invaluable detail and sailor’s yarns that make naval history so much more interesting.
We are indebted to one of our members, Canon Bob Evans, who has graciously allowed wholesale plagiarism from his book – HMS EAGLET – the story of the Royal Naval reserve on Merseyside, written in 2003 to commemorate 100 years of the Reserves, and which we would commend you to read.
HISTORY OF MERSEY DIVISION
1903 Formation of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.
1904 Mersey Division established under the command of the Earl of Lathom in HMS EAGLE and a year later in the Customs House, Liverpool.
1911 Headquarters moved to HMS EAGLE. a 74 gun frigate, commissioned in 1804. The strength of the Division was now six companies of 100 officers and men, four at Liverpool, two outlying companies at Birkenhead and Southport.
1914 World War 1 – Sussex, Mersey and Clyde Divisions formed into Howe Battalion of the Second Brigade of the RN Division for military, not naval service. The RN Division won undying fame at
Gallipoli, Vimy Ridge, Passchendale and Cambrai.
1922 Mersey Division reformed under the command of Captain W. Maples, RNVR. HMS EAGLE had been renamed HMS EAGLET to enable the RN to commission an aircraft carrier.
1926 The wooden walled HMS EAGLET replaced by a First World War sloop. HMS SIR BEVIS and renamed HMS EAGLET.
1939 HMS WALLACE, a V and W Class Destroyer, attached to the Division to train gun crews.
1939 World War II – 1,000 Officers and men of the Division mobilised for service with the Royal Navy, of whom 120 lost their lives in the conflict. HMS EAGLET commissioned as Base Ship
Liverpool wearing the flag of the Commanders-in-Chief western Approaches, Admiral Sir Percy Noble and Admiral sir Max Horton; the latter is buried in Liverpool Cathedral.
1946 The Division reformed under Commander, later Captain E N Wood, DSC, VRD, RNR.
1947 MMS1045 attached to the Division as Sea Training Tender and named HMS MERSEY.
1952 RNVR wavy stripes replaced by straight stripes with ‘R’ in curl. WRNVR formed.
1953 Golden Jubilee of the RNVR.
1954 HMS AMERTON, Coastal Minesweeper, replaced MMS 1045 as the Division’s Sea Tender and renamed HMS MERSEY.
1955 HMS DROXFORD, seaward defence boat, attached to the Division and renamed HMS DEE.
1958 RNVR amalgamated into a new, unified Royal Naval Reserve.
1959 Centenary of the old RNR. HMS AMERTON replaced by HMS POLLINGTON and renamed HMS MERSEY.
1965 HMS MERSEY with RNR Ship’s company made operational visit to West Indies.
1972 HMS EAGLET moved to new shore Headquarters at Princes Dock. Official opening by Vice Admiral Sir Gilbert Stephenson (The Terror of Tobermory).
1975 HMS MERSEY renamed HMS POLLINGTON and returned to RN service.
1976 HMS CRICHTON repositioned from South Wales Division at the advent of hull sharing post Mitchell report.
1977 HMS HODGESTON repositioned from Severn Division.
1978 HMS CROFTON repositioned from Solent Division.
1981 Division converted to mine hunting and HMS BRERETON repositioned from Tyne Division.
1984 HMS STRIKER (Tracker Class) commissioned and attached to the Division.
1985 HMS STRIKER repositioned to Liverpool University RN Unit. HMS BRERETON returned to RN Service.
1986 HMS BITER (P2000 Class) commissioned as Sea Tender to the Division.
HMS RIBBLE (Fleet Minesweeper) commissioned as Sea Tender to the Division.
1990 HMS BITER returned to RN Service with Manchester and Salford University Unit.
1991 HMS RIBBLE taken into preservation at Portsmouth.
HMS HUMBER transferred from London Division. 1993 Freedom of Entry into the City of Liverpool was conferred upon HMS EAGLET on 2nd May.
Fiftieth Anniversary of the Battle of Atlantic.
1994 HMS EAGLET re-categorised as a Reserve Training Centre.
1998 The New Headquarter Building opened in October by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh.
2003 The Centenary of the formation of the RNVR.
2004 The Centenary of the formation of Mersey Division RNVR.
Old HMS EAGLET … ex HMS EAGLE
1800 August Laid down at Northfleet … HMS EAGLE … launched 1804.
1859 August Royal Naval Reserve (Merchant Navy) formed. 1862 June 29th Arrived in Liverpool under tow from Spithead to become RNR Headquarters in Queens Dock in place of
1873 August 5th Liverpool Corps of Royal Naval Artillery Volunteers formed.
1892 March 31st RNAV disbanded.
1904 January 1st Mersey Division RNVR formed.
1904 March 8th First RNVR drill in HMS EAGLE. 1904 HMS EAGLE moved to Salthouse Dock.
1905 RNR returned to HMS EAGLE. RNVR moved to Customs House (prior to this RNR had trained in seagoing cruises).
1911 RNVR returned to HMS EAGLE.
1914 – 1918 Served as Flagship for SNO Liverpool.
1918 June 8th Renamed HMS EAGLET on launching of new carrier HMS EAGLE.
1921 Mersey Division RNVR reformed.
1926 September 2nd Last drill in HMS EAGLET. Classes marched to new HMS EAGLET.
September 29th Guns removed by floating crane in Salthouse Dock.
1927 February 16th Towed from Liverpool.
1927 April 19th Destroyed by fire at Mostyn.
New HMS EAGLET … ex HMS SIR BEVIS IRWELL
1918 May 17th Launched from yard of Barclay Curie & Co as HMS SIR BEVIS.
1920 February 20th Paid off.
1923 September Went to Manchester as HMS IRWELL, Headquarters of Manchester Sub-Division, which was formed in 1922.
1926 August 25th Returned to Liverpool to relieve old HMS EAGLET.
1926 September 2nd Renamed HMS EAGLET. First drill on board.
1941 Became Flagship of Admiral Sir Percy Noble C in C Western Approaches.
1946 March 1st Mersey Division RNVR reformed.
1958 January 31st RNVR disbanded. Reformed as RNR together with old RNR.
1971 March Towed to Garston (Liverpool) breakers yard.
HMS IRWELL ex GOOLE
1918 Built at Goole, but never commissioned. Laid up in Gareloch.
1926 September Berthed alongside old HMS EAGLET in Salthouse Dock.
1926 September 2nd Renamed HMS IRWELL.
1926 September 4th Went to Manchester.
1931 Manchester Sub-Division disbanded. HMS IRWELL towed to Birkenhead.
1932 May 1st Opened as drill ship in Birkenhead.
1939 – 1945 Served as Depot Ship for minesweepers in Wallasey.
1956 Modernised as training ship in Morpeth Dock.
1956 February 16th Towed from Morpeth Dock, Wallasey to Salthouse Dock, Liverpool and berthed on HMS EAGLET.
HMS IRWELL was used for radar instruction and social events, but was really not needed. In the early sixties she was towed to the breakers yard at Garston.
HMS MERSEY ex HMS POLLINGTON
This is the seventh ship to have borne the name.
The first was a 6th rate, 26 gun Conway class Frigate of 451 tons. She was launched by Courtneys of Chester Note 1 in 1814 and carried 18 x 32lb, 8 x 12lb and 2 x 6lb carronades. Laid down March 1813, launched 23 March 1814, completed 26 April 1814 at Plymouth Dockyard, broken up at Portsmouth in July 1852 .
The next was a wooden steam Frigate of 3733 tons. Built at Chatham Dockyard in 1858, she carried 28 x 10″ cannons and 12 x 68 pounders. She was scrapped in 1875 and was followed in 1885 by a 2nd Class Cruiser of 4050 tons. Also built at Chatham, she carried 2 x 8″, 10 x 6″ and 3 x 6lb guns. She was sold for scrap in 1905.
The ex Brazilian River Monitor MABURA became the next HMS MERSEY. She was built by Vickers in 1913 for the Brazilian Navy and was bought by the Royal Navy in 1914. She was of 1260 tons and carried 3 x 6″ and 2 x 4.7″ Howitzers. Sold in 1921 and broken up in 1923.
After the Second World War, the reforming of the RNVR and later the RNR, three coastal Minesweepers attached to Mersey Division, have borne the name as mentioned in the history above.
HMS Pollington was laid down in 1955 and launched on 10 October 1957 by Mrs J Howard at Camper and Nicholson’s shipyard, Southampton. Commissioned on 5 September 1958.
Courtneys (Cortney) of Chester.
The following is taken from Herbert Hughes’ book, Chronicle of Chester: the 200 years, 1775/1975, published by Macdonald and Jane’s in 1975.
“As the years go by it is clear from the newspaper and other records that the trade of the Port of Chester is drifting desultorily but inexorably into the silting sand. But if the
bigger ships of the day can no longer reach her, the history of former times repeating itself, the old Port can at least build ships for others. And so, from the pen of J. H.
Hanshall, second Editor of the Chronicle, we have a contemporary picture of the Crane boat-yards about 1816. ‘Beyond the Watergate are Crane-street, Back Crane-street,
and Paradise Row, the whole of which lead to the wharfs on the river. For a number of years Chester has carried on a considerable business in shipbuilding. Within the last ten
years the trade has wonderfully increased, and even now it is not unusual to see ten or a dozen vessels on the stocks at a time. In fact, there are nearly as many ships built in
Chester as in Liverpool, and the former have always a decided preference from the merchants. Indeed, Chester lies particularly convenient for the trade, as by the
approximation of the Dee, timber is every season floated down from the almost exhaustless woods of Wales, at a trifling expense and without the least risk. The
principal shipwright in Chester is Mr. Cortney, but Mr. Troughton’s is the oldest establishment. There were lately nearly 250 hands employed in the business, two-thirds
of whom were in Mr. Cortney’s yard, but the trade is at present flat. Six vessels of war have been built by him, and within the last two years (1814-15) two corvettes and two
sloops of war, The Cyrus, The Mersey, The Eden, and The Levant, from twenty to thirty guns each. The firm of Mulvey and Co., formerly of Frodsham, have established a yard
near the Crane.’ Cortney’s yard launched a brig in 1804, an East lndiaman of 580 tons in 1810, and in 1813 a West India-man of 800 tons, in addition to the corvettes and war
sloops mentioned by Hanshall.”