Manchester Line


(Note: The Allens referred to this company as Manchester Lines but the correct name was Manchester Liners)

The Manchester Ship Canal was opened in 1894, but initially had little impact on the general preference for merchants to use Liverpool Docks. Furness Withy was one of the few companies to use the Canal. In 1897 some leading citizens of Manchester decided to form their own shipping company. Sir Christopher Furness immediately offered to subscribe £150,000 provided that Mancunians invested at least £100,000 in the proposed company. In 1898 Manchester Liners Ltd was launched with £1 million capital. Sir Christopher with 15% was the largest individual shareholder and was appointed as the company’s first chairman. Four second hand ships were purchased and the company naming policy of applying the prefix “Manchester” was established.

The company began to operate services to Canada and the USA, but in 1899 the Boer War commenced and a number of Manchester Liners’ ships were chartered by the British Government, which delayed the company’s transatlantic build-up to a 12 ship fleet. In 1902 the Boer War ended and the large number of chartered ships returned to their normal duties, leading to a tonnage surplus in the North Atlantic trades. The Liverpool shipowners attempted to strangle Manchester Docks by paying for the cost of transporting goods to and from Liverpool. This had a severe impact on Manchester Liners’ finances for the next 10 years and in 1911 the shareholders considered closing the liner services and chartering out the fleet, but co-operation with Canadian shipowners for growing through traffic to the Great Lakes eventually rescued the situation.

Manchester Liners started WW1 with 15 ships in its fleet. During the war 10 ships were lost to enemy action, but because of the purchase of replacements the fleet was at 12 in 1918. After the company’s pre-war problems with competition from Liverpool, its rebuilding programme was cautious and modest. As a result it was better placed to cope with the 1930s slump. All of its ships were laid-up on a rota basis to keep them operational and delivery of replacement tonnage resumed in1935. At the outbreak of WW2, Manchester Liners had 10 ships in service. War losses were 7 ships, but the delivery of war-standard ships maintained the fleet at 8, which was sufficient to resume a weekly service to Canada.

In the 1950s the company started routes to the Great Lakes area and in 1966 began to carry containers from Manchester to Chicago. In that year the company reached its zenith with a fleet of 13 ships and a further 7 on charter. Unfortunately 1966 was also the year of the disastrous national seamen’s strike. In 1968 the company pioneered British transatlantic container operations by taking delivery of the first 4 British built cellular container ships operating from terminals at Manchester and Montreal.

At some point the private Furness shareholding was sold to Furness Withy and that company continued to increase its shareholding, so that by 1970 Furness Withy owned 42% of Manchester Liners and attempted to take over the whole company. Although the Board did not oppose the move, the respective financial advisers could not agree a price, but Furness Withy did achieve a majority 56.5% ownership. In 1971 a new onward container route established from Manchester to the Mediterranean terminating in Israel.

The Manchester dockworkers strike record became so bad, that in 1973 the company decided to move half of its container services to Felixstowe. Furthermore, to obtain lower costs per unit, container ships were becoming bigger than the Canal limits.

Manchester Liners co-operated with Eurocanadian Holdings, which was owned by Frank Narby and carried out its container trade under the name CAST. In 1974 Narby started buying significant numbers of Manchester Liners’ publicly owned shares. Furness Withy became concerned and unsuccessfully attempted to increase its shareholding to 75% in the hope of ensuring absolute control. Narby responded by also buying Furness Withy shares. By 1976 Narby owned 24.9% of Furness Withy and 37.6% of Manchester Liners; however the British Government ruled that a merger with CAST was against the public interest. Narby’s response was to start a rate war with Manchester Liners that led to both sides incurring considerable losses.


Vessel Type Launched/Completed Tonnage DWT Builder
Manchester Brigade Cargo / Passenger 481,000 G. 1918 Gross: 6042 Net:3771 9138 Irvine S.B, & E. Co. Ltd. Irvine,
Manchester Challenge No Info
Manchester City No Info Oct 1898. Gross: 7696 Net: 4992 Raylton, Duxon & Co. Ltd. Middlebrough
Manchester City Cargo 659,932 G. July 1964. Gross: 8734 Net: 5014 11878 Smiths Dock Co. Ltd. South Bank on Tees
Manchester Citizen Cargo / Passenger 544,000 G. 1925 Gross: 5300 Net: 3000 8900 Furness S.B. Co. Ltd. Haverton Hill - on - Tees
Manchester Commerce Cargo 554,000 G. 26/07/1925. Yard No: 79 Gross: 5385 Net: 3074 Furness S.B. Co. Ltd. Haverton Hill - on - Tees
Manchester Commerce Cargo 658,816 G. June 1963. Gross: 8724 Net: 4998 11829 Smiths Dock Co. Ltd. South Bank on Tees
Manchester Concept No Info
Manchester Corporation No Info June 1899. Gross: 5400 Net: 3467 Furness, Withy & Co Ltd. Hartlepool
Manchester Courage No Info
Manchester Crusade No Info
Manchester Division No Info 1918??
Manchester Engineer No Info
Manchester Explorer Cargo 177,048 G. 15/05/1952. Yard No: 1223 Gross: 1803 Net: 716 2753 Cammell, Laird & Co. Ltd. Birkenhead
Manchester Exporter Cargo 486,000 G. 1918 Gross: 5277 Net: 2897 8600 Sir James Laing & Sons Ltd. Sunderland
Manchester Exporter Cargo 467,020 G. Sept 1952. Yard No: 1249 Gross: 7305 Net: 4631 8800 Wm. Gray & Co. Ltd. West Hartlepool
Manchester Hero Cargo 1916 Gross: 5738 Net: 3672 Northumberland SB Co. Ltd. Newcastle
Manchester Importer No Info
Manchester Mariner No Info
Manchester Merchant No Info 1904??
Manchester Miller Cargo 600,000 G March 1959. Yard No: 1582 Gross: 9297 Net: 5184 9200 Harland & Wolff Ltd. Belfast
Manchester Port No Info 1935??
Manchester Producer Cargo 486,000 G. May 1916. Gross: 6540 Net: 4162 8600 Sir James Laing & Sons Ltd. Sunderland
Manchester Progress No Info 1967?
Manchester Quest Cargo 600,000 G. March 1959. Yard No: 1582 Gross: 9297 Net: 5184 9200 Harland & Wolff Ltd. Belfast
Manchester Regiment No Info 15/09/1922. Gross: 5989 Net: 3199 Furness S.B. Co. Ltd. Haverton Hill - on - Tees
Manchester Shipper No Info
Manchester Shipper Cargo 543,000 G. 30/06/1943. Yard No: 71 Gross: 7636 Net: 4662 9400 Blythswood SB. Co. Ltd. Glasgow
Manchester Spinner No Info 1918 Gross: 4767 Net: 2968 Irvine S.B, & E. Co. Ltd. Hartlepool
Manchester Spinner Cargo / Passenger 519,430 G. July 1952. Yard No: 1217 Gross: 7811 Net: 4588 9672 Cammell, Laird & Co. Ltd. Birkenhead
Manchester Trader Cargo 530,000 G. May 1941. Yard No: 59 Gross: 7354 Net: 4395 9193 Blythswood SB. Co. Ltd. Glasgow
Manchester Trader Cargo 569,600 G. April 1955. Yard No: 1508 Gross: 7916 Net: 4500 10120 Harland & Wolff Ltd. Glasgow
Manchester Vigour No Info
Manchester Zeal No Info

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