Thursday, 3 September 2009

Scampered Like Children Past The Hall Line Shed

And there had been nothing that mattered, save only themselves and the blue sky as they scampered like children past the Hall Line shed to the harbour wall just in time to see the Norwegian tramp steamer Oxenstjerna pass through the gate of the inner dock, while a scratch four paused on their oars watching her entrance steadfastly, their striped singlets dancing in the afternoon sunlight. Ultramarine

The Hall Line shed stood on the Wallasey side of the Great Float in Birkenhead Docks near to the Duke Street swing bridge.

Robert Alexander started shipowning in the 1850s and in 1868 founded the Sun Shipping Co., Liverpool which operated cargo and passenger services. The ships were named _____HALL, the company became known as the Hall Line, and in 1899 the name was officially changed to Hall Line Ltd. The company was purchased in 1901 by John Ellerman and continued operating as part of the Ellerman Group as Ellerman's Hall Line. Below is a photograph of a Hall Line ship The City Of Cairo built in 1915 and which would have been a familiar sight at the Hall Line sheds in Birkenhead during the 1920's

People rowing would also have been a familiar sight in the Great Float as it is today. The photograph shows a scratch four training from Wallasey Grammar School in the Great Float sometime in the 1930s. The Liverpool Victoria Rowing Club have been rowing in the Great Float since the 1884 and their boathouse is located near to the former Bidston Dock site. If you go to their site you can see a photograph of one of their oarsmen with a striped singlet as described by Lowry.

It is not surprising that Lowry has chosen to have a Norwegian ship entering the docks given the Norwegian heritage of Hilliot the main protagonist of Ultramarine which reflected Lowry's desire to adopt Norway as his spiritual or even sometimes his imaginary home.

The above ship Bravore would have been typical of the kind of Norwegian ships that would have visited Birkenhead Docks in the 1920's.

The Oxenstjerna acts a catalyst in Hilliot's mind to remind him of how Janet and his love first grew in Norway as they had both seen the ship in Oslo Fjord. I cannot find any ship with the name of Oxenstjerna and we can only speculate why Lowry chose this name. The ship in Ultramarine is named after a Swedish minister as we discover when Hilliot tells Janet the source of the name on the way home on the Liscard bus after seeing the ship.

Oxenstjerna is an ancient Swedish senatorial family, the origin of which can be traced up to the middle of the 14th century, which had vast estates in S6dermanland and Uppland, and began to adopt its armorial designation of Oxenstjerna (" Ox-forehead") as a personal name towards the end of the 16th century. Its most notable member was Count Axel Gustafsson (1583-1614), chancellor of Sweden, 1911 Encyclopedia

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