Made of Iron – celebrating Wirral’s maritime heritage

Burgess, Arthur James Wetherall|Skinner, Edward Frederick; Royal Visit of Their Majesties King George V and Queen Mary to Cammell Laird, Birkenhead, 14 May 1917; Williamson Art Gallery & Museum;

Made of Iron  celebrating Wirral’s maritime heritage

The story of Wirral’s shipbuilding and maritime heritage is to be celebrated through Made of Iron – a series of exhibitions and cultural events starting this month. The programme is set to explore how Wirral-built ships have travelled the globe and reflect how shipbuilding changed the borough.

Part of Wirral Borough of Culture 2019, Made of Iron also comes as the borough takes its place on the world stage as the birthplace of one of the most advanced polar research vessels in the world – the RRS Sir David Attenborough. Currently being built at Cammell Laird in Birkenhead, the ship features state-of-the-art facilities allowing researchers to make new discoveries about our planet.

Made of Iron includes exhibitions, performances and cultural projects which share the stories of the ships and those whose lives were shaped by life in the shipyard. The programme gets underway on Saturday 11 May with the opening of Six Vessels at the Williamson Art Gallery & Museum, charting the stories behind six Wirral-built ships.

Lucy Barrow, Assistant Director for Culture & Visitor Economy at Wirral Council commented: “The role of shipbuilding in Wirral – past, present and future – is a fascinating story which we wanted to bring to the forefront in our Borough of Culture year. Our programme this year is all about discovery, exploration and the great outdoors, and Made of Iron really ties all those elements together.

“As well as looking back, the programme will also look at what is happening right now in the borough and the future of shipbuilding. The RRS Sir David Attenborough being built at Cammell Laird is an incredible technological achievement and is putting a global spotlight on Wirral.”

Tony Graham, Chief Operating Officer at Cammell Laird, added “The Wirral is the womb of over a thousand iron ships. Building iron ships brought life to the economy, helped people make a living and made lives more meaningful. Cammell Laird is proud to be associated with the Six Vessels exhibition which tells an important story. A story that demonstrates that the Wirral people have iron in their genes.”

The Made of Iron programme revealed so far includes:

Six Vessels

Made of Iron launches with Six Vessels from Saturday 11 May at the Williamson Art Gallery & Museum. This free exhibition looks at six significant Wirral-built ships and their role in maritime history, with rarely seen artefacts on display alongside popular artwork from the Williamson’s collection and newly commissioned work by Ian Fennelly. The ships include the HMS Birkenhead, Ma Robert, CSS Alabama, HMT Leasowe Castle, HMS Ark Royal and the RMS Mauretania.

The research for Six Vessels has been undertaken by local historian, Elizabeth Davey who has worked in partnership with Wirral Museums Service staff, Wirral Archives, Cammell Laird, Wirral Libraries, National Museums Liverpool and Wirral History and Heritage Association.

The exhibition runs until Sunday 22 September and entry is free. 

A Community Made of Iron

As part of Made of Iron, a digital archive of stories, photographs and artefacts is being developed to capture the social history and experiences of workers, families and communities linked to Wirral’s shipbuilding and maritime heritage. Anyone who would like to participate or nominate a friend or relative can contact to register their interest.

 Down Our Street

This musical play by Wirral writer Brian McCann, will be staged at the Floral Pavilion from Thursday 29 August – Sunday 1 September. The show celebrates life in the Cammell Laird shipyard from the industrial revolution to the present day with drama, comedy and song.

Close Enough to Touch

Later this year, the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool will present Close Enough to Touch. The play is a dramatic retelling of the tragic story of the HMS Thetis which sank in 1939 with the loss of 99 lives and will be performed at the historic Birkenhead Priory, which sits next to of the shipyard.

More events and exhibitions linked to Made of Iron will be announced later in the year.

Wirral’s Borough of Culture programme is supported through funding from Arts Council England. For further information about Made of Iron, visit