Fishing Boats owned by the Melling Family of St Anne’s


(Vessel identification assisted by Maurice P. Evans, Heswall & Nick P. Miller, Barrow)
Dates in brackets indicate the approximate period in the St. Annes fleet


The Melling family of St Annes, my ancestors, were Fishermen and later Fishmongers in the town. What follows is a detailed, almost forensic analysis of the fortunes and boats owned by the Melling Family. Whilst the Melling’s are its main focus, the work includes the history of St Annes, it’s fishing families, it’s fishing fleet and Geographic’s of local fishing grounds. It is reproduced here by kind permission of its main author, Gilbert Ian Mayes who produced the work in 2002. I have also included extracts of correspondence between him and me which sheds more light on the Melling’s fishing boats. Also included at Annexe ‘B’, are maps showing the topography of the Fylde Coast, photographed from Ian’s book ‘On a Broad Reach’.

Ian Mayes, a St Anne’s lad, born in 1936 to a family that came to the Fylde in 1875, from the Rossendale Valley, to work on the building of the town. His Gt Grandfather was a Carter and married Phoebe Tims, whose two brothers were lost along with the rest of the crew of the St. Anne’s lifeboat, ‘Laura Janet‘, when she capsized on service to the German barque ‘Mexico‘ in December 1886. Annexe ‘C’ below is a more detailed portrait of this extraordinary man and his extraordinary career.

The Melling’s Boats

We know that the Melling family of fishermen lived in Lytham Heyhouses/West End cottages, certainly from the late 18th century (Henry Melling b, Lytham-1781), and owned open sailing Trawlboats fishing in the then wide waters of the North Channel off where St. Anne’s now stands. These open boats we suspect were very similar to the clinker planked beach boats used at Blackpool around that time for fishing and later for trippers. We know that in the early days the Mellings kept their boat(s) in what was known as Granny’s Dock, the natural harbour inside the Double Stanner which now forms the outer Promenade around Fairhaven Lake, a refuge they shared with the Commonside (Ansdell) fishermen. This was surprising because we also know that the Little Marton fishermen, with whom they were more closely associated and included the Harrisons and the Balls, kept their boats at Gillett’s inside the Parker Bank, which later became known as the Crusader Bank and the waters as Oliver’s Heading.

Fig. 1 Blackpool beach boats hauled up on the beach opposite the Wellington Hotel near Chapel Street, around the mid-1860s.

Blackpool beach boats, with no protection forward to prevent swamping, were only suitable for inshore working and several were rebuilt as ‘Halfdeckers’ to enable them to fish outside the banks, as far north as Shell Flats and south to the Burbo Bank. Although we have no concrete evidence it is likely that the Annie’ was of this type.

ANNIE (1882-1906)

A two man ‘Shanker’ – approx 26ft (based on height of new mast (26ft x 7½ inch) made Jan 1890 by Rawstrone of Freckleton, weighing 2 tons (Imperial)

1882: Owned in St. Annes by John Melling, Mellings Lane, St Annes and registered at Preston -PN106. 1.1.1890: At Rawstrones, Freckleton for repair (211¾ man hours – £9.17s.0d). 15.10.1890: Broke from moorings off St. Annes Pier, sighted aground on Horse Banks. Recovered and returned to fishing. 1906: Registry closed.

Fig. 2 One of two half decked Blackpool beach boat types on the Double Stanner in the early 1890s when most of the St. Anne’s owned boats had moved to moorings to the south of the new Pier. It is likely that the ‘Annie’ was of this type.

Like the ‘Annie, the ‘Why Not’ was an older boat and whilst we have no direct proof that she was Melling owned, she is mentioned in this context by Harry Cooper in his essay, ‘Days of My Youth – The village of St. Anne’s 46 years ago’, published in 1932. Although built on Blackpool beach boat lines she was carvel built, so it is not clear whether or not she was originally an open boat, but most likely she carried internal ballast in the form of pig iron or stones which could be moved to windward when sailing. ‘Why Not’ (1889-1924)

A Trawler/Shanker 3.80 ton 28ft approx. 1889: Owned in St. Annes probably by the Melling family. 3,4.1891: Registered at Preston – PN25, as a two-man (fish) trawler. 1899: Re-registered as two-man shrimper (shanker) and fished by Thomas Ball, Abbey Road, Squires Gate with other partners including Nicholas Johnson, 53 Church Road and Hugh Rimmer, 35 Nelson Street. 3.4.1906: Possibly sold, coinciding with the purchase of the Tern. Re-registered as one man shrimper {shanker). New owner possibly Hugh Rimmer. 16.10.1924: Registry closed, broken up at St. Annes.

Fig. 3 The scene is the south beach adjacent to the Pier, sometime between 1910 and the spring of 1913, with two boats up on the Stanner for repair. From her lines and general arrangement, we think that it is safe to identify the boat on the left as the Why Not. Other boats are the Wild Duck fished during this period by “Ting” Harrison and “Nicky” Johnson, the Oliver Williams of “Noms” & “Teddy” Rimmer and the ‘Tern‘ of “Harry” Melling and “Skip” Harrison

The Annie’ was either sold out of fishing in 1906 or broken up at St. Anne’s at the usual repair site to the south of the Pier where a lot of the work was undertaken by the fishermen themselves or by the Nixon family; because of her age it is highly likely that the latter course was taken. The replacement for the ‘Annie‘ was the ‘Tern‘, a bigger and more efficient Trawlboat built on lines that had evolved rapidly over the past thirty years and was destined to see them culminate in the most powerful cutter rigged sailing trawlers on the UK coast. The lines and scantlings of the ‘Tern‘ suggest that she was built at Fleetwood by Gibsons and a boat with very similar dimensions was launched in 1893 for J. H. Bullock of 17 Dean Street, Blackpool as The Tern, and registered as a “yacht” but we have been unable to confirm that this was the same boat. The ‘Tern‘ is not recorded in Lloyd’s Register of Yachts in 1906/7 and this coincides with change of ownership to the Melling/Harrisons. In all the many Trawlboats, Nobbies, Prawners, Smacks, Half-deckers, etc. registered from the Solway Firth to Cardigan Bay only one boat ever carried the name ‘Tern‘.

Fig. 4 Although this is an Annan trawlboat it gives a good view of the layout on deck with the beam trawl stowed on the starboard side; the foredeck hatch and bogey stove pipe are clearly seen.

TERN (1906- 1913)

Smack 12.82 net tons (from 5.4.1913 – 8.20 net tons), 33ft – 5ins LOA x 9ft – 9ins x 3ft – 10ins draught. Class 2nd Trawling & Shanking.

1893: Possibly built by John Gibson & Sons, Fleetwood. 29.6.1894: Registered as ‘Tern‘ at Preston – PN64. (Possibly owned in Blackpool). 1903: Sold ? 3.5.1906: Sold to Henry Melling, 61 Church Road, St. Annes {fished in partnership with Robert Harrison, 43 Church Road, St. Annes). 5.4.1913: Sold to Fleetwood. Registered at Fleetwood – FD182. 23.2.1916: Sold to William McParlin, New Ferry Road, New Ferry. Registered at Liverpool – LL25. 7.5.1918: Sold to Heaton Bedson, Russell Road, Rock Ferry. 21.6.1923: Sold. Registered at Runcorn – RN37. 2.5.1931: Registry closed – ceased fishing. 1939-1946: Served as a firefighting float in Liverpool Docks. Renamed ‘Jean‘. 1946: Sold to Ernie Jones, Liverpool. Registered at Liverpool – LL1. 19??: Sunk at Knott End, raised by Stan Hurley, Thornton, but repairs too daunting. 19??: Sold to Mike Griffiths and towed to Fiddlers Ferry for repair and restoration. Renamed ‘Arthur Alexander‘ (LL1) on completion. 19??: Sold to Dave Pendleton 8.2.1997: Sold to Dennis Wright, Aberconwy. 1998: Won Mersey Nobby Race. 11.2001: For sale £17500. 12.2002: Not sold. Still sailing Conwy.

Fig. 5 Arthur Alexander‘ sailing on the Mersey
Fig. 6 Arthur Alexander‘ ashore for refit in the 1990s her appearance belies her working life as a trawlboat, at least seven years of which were spent fishing from St. Anne’s

With the continued silting of the North Channel and the ever-changing banks, channels and roads in the estuary following the cutting and restraining of the new Gut Channel opened in January 1910, it was inevitable that the deeper draughted Smacks could no longer operate safely from St. Anne’s. Harry Melling and Bob Harrison had the foresight to appreciate this fact early on when in 1913, they sold the Tern to Fleetwood owners and both purchased smaller boats suitable for single handed working; Harry, a 25 footer from Morecambe which was to become the Irene’ and Bob the Sunbeam’ a slightly larger boat at 28ft and suitable for working with his son.

Fig. 7 Sometime after WW1 the Irene with Harry Melling at the helm. His daughter Edith and a friend are sitting in the thwart and the Irene is towing a punt with three passengers. Note the two shank trawls and the general cramped condition in a 25ft Shanker, used for shrimping in the channels at low water, particularly the Pe(i)nfold and the North Road.

IRENE (1913- 1935)

Shanker   25ft       2.11 tons. 1913: From Morecambe owned in St. Annes by Henry Melling, 61 Church Road. 14.9.1917: Renamed Irene and registered at Preston – PN65. 1927: Mooring transferred to Lytham. 4.6.1935: Ceased fishing and sold to Preston owners.

With the closure the St. Anne’s Lifeboat Station on 30 September 1925 and the North Channel reduced to a very shallow waterway, it was inevitable that the three remaining St. Anne’s boats, Harry Melling’s ‘Irene‘, Bob Harrison’s ‘Sunbeamand Teddy Rimmer’s larger ‘Playmatewould have to move, along with several punts and dinghies. As all three fishermen were still employed looking after the lifeboat ‘James Scarlett’, which had been retained in the Lifeboat House for publicity purposes, it was not until the decision to remove the lifeboat was taken in September 1926 that they decided to move their boats. This move to Lytham was achieved in 1927.

We have been unable to trace any Morecambe boat that fished under the name Irene and as her name was not changed until the autumn of 1917, she must have fished from St. Anne’s under another name. We do know that she was last seen by Harry Melling and Keith Threlfall downstream from Penwortham Bridge around 1950, but what subsequently became of the last St. Anne’s boat in the ownership of the Melling family name we do not know but suspect that like many projects with old fishing boats she ended up being cut up. (This excludes the steam trawlers, the last of which the ‘Lizzie Melling‘ (PN45), 207grt/1904, owned by Melling Ltd, Fleetwood, was not broken up until June 1957 by Hammond Lane Foundry Ltd, Dublin).

Fig. 8 The Jetty, St Annes Pier


Fig 9. Freckleton Shipyard

Trawling from St. Anne’s was undertaken with two distinctive type of trawls each for different species of fish/crustaceans. The nets were braided by the fishermen themselves in the long winter evenings from twine supplied by the packman from Preston and treated with linseed oil and cutch (A preservative, made from catechu gum boiled in water, used to prolong the life of a sail.) to preserve them. The ironwork for the net frames would be made by the local blacksmith, in the case of the Melling’s possibly by the smithy at the top of Squires Gate Lane, Blowing Sands or Smithy Lane, Heyhouses. For demersal fish (those fish living close to the sea floor – Plaice, Sole, etc.), a single Southport beam trawl was towed, the overall dimensions depending on the size and power of the Trawlboat/Smack involved but seldom less than an 18ft beam.

While the beam trawl also caught brown shrimps the Ribble Estuary was home to a specific type of trawl for shrimping – the shank trawl. The development on the northern shore was distinctive from that on the Southport side and involved blacksmithed ends and wooden beam members. The smaller shanking boats trawled with two 8ft nets whilst the larger boats used two 10ft – 6inch trawls except when “broadsiding” – drifting broadside to the tide, carried by the current, when possibly four nets could be rigged.

Fig. 10 A Lytham/St. Anne’s shank trawl frame photographed on the Double Stanner in the early 1890s, this type of trawl frame was used until Arthur Wignall of Lytham built the first all metal box framework.

Sources and Further Research

Marine Research & Vessel Statistics. Search ‘SmaShipData’,

Mayes,G.I.& McCall, 1995, Short Sea Shipping 1995, Portishead Private

Mayes, G. & Mayes, JE., 2009, On A Broad Reach: The History Of The St Anne’s-On-The Sea Lifeboat Station 1881-1925 , Bernard McCall, Bristol

Images from G.I. Mayes Collection


TrawlboatA boat used in fishing with trawls or trawlnets.
PrawnerA boat used for prawn fishing
HalfdeckerAn open boat with some decking – commonly over the forepeak, over the stern sheets, and along each side of the well.
NobbyAn inshore sailing boat, used for traditional fishing around Lancashire and the Isle of Man
SmackA traditional fishing boat, often containing a well to keep the catch alive.
StannerA gravel, shingle and/or sand bank, offshore.
Shanks/ Shanker/ ShankingIn the North West of England a ‘shank’ is a brown shrimp, so a ‘Shanker’ is a boat that catches shrimps by net, usually a shank trawl, but in a mixed fishery, a beam trawl.  Shanking generally refers to boat fishing, but more in respect of Southport, St. Anne’s and Flookborough, as horse drawn carts towing two shank trawls i.e.. cart shanking.

Annexe ‘A’  Further information from extracts of correspondence between G.I. Mayes and the Blog Owner, Mike Coyle
(NOTE: Recent, personal information, addresses, etc. have been removed to protect privacy)

28 July 2001

Dear Mike

Since we last communicated our ‘Lancashire Nobby Research Group’ have managed to locate the yard ledgers for Peter Rawstrone’s shipyard at Freckleton. I had seen several transcripts, but most people thought that the originals had been destroyed, however a chance comment from a colleague, tracked them down to the Textile Museum at Helmshore! They are now in Fleetwood Museum, but not available to the general public – I hope to get them placed on microfiche or CD. The interesting thing is that as I already knew John Melling is mentioned, but with more detail.

In On A Broad Reach p.72 the Lytham Times is quoted recording the incident on 15 Oct 1899 when the ‘Annie‘ (PN106) owned by John Melling was torn from her mooring south of St. Anne’s Pier and was last seen on the Horse Banks. From her continued existence, fishing from St. Anne’s until 1906, I knew that she had survived and from one of the Freckleton transcripts, that she had gone to Rawstrone’s for repair.

In the yard ledger Book 1, the ‘Annie, a ‘Shanker’ is entered on 1 Jan 1890, owner John Melling, St. Anne’s and some 2113/4 man-hours were expended on her repair. In the notes are ‘Church Road’ and that a new mast, 26 ft x 71/2 inches was made for her, the total cost of repairs and mast was £9.17. 0. Perhaps the most interesting is that this bill was not settled until 1 Nov 1890. The cost should be related to the wages being paid in the yard, a shipwright 4/4d a day and a labourer 2/8d a day. The measurements of the mast give us a rough idea of the ‘Annies’ length overall, this would be 27-28 ft, a single hander which would either be fished alone or with a ‘fisher lad’/ ‘fisherman’s boy’, and essentially used for shanking for shrimps inside the banks in the channels, roads and gullies.

Enclosed is a repro of the Fleetwood NobbyNora(FD46), which at 32ft x 9.4ft x 4.2ft and 7.73 tons was very similar to Harry Melling and “Skip” Harrison’s Tern (PN64) 33ft – 5ins x 9ft – 9ins x 3ft – 10tns 12.82 tons, the difference in tonnage being a slightly ‘chunkier’ boat. ! think the pic gives a good impression of the sail area of about 850 sq ft, even though they are becalmed and have a sweep out. Hard to imagine a fleet of about six or seven boats of this size getting underway from their moorings south of St. Anne’s Pier prior to WW1.

Fig. 11 ‘NORA’ FD46, Built Overton 1892.

16 May 2001

Dear Mike

As discussed this afternoon, pics of the ‘Arthur Alexander’ ex ‘Tern‘ (PN64) owned by Harry Melling and worked in partnership with Robert “Skip” Harrison from 3.5.1906 until 5.4.1913. At 33ft she was a good sized Smack (Nobby) used for both flatfish trawling using a 20ft Fleetwood style beam trawl or for shrimping using the St. Anne’s/Lytham 10ft 6ins shank trawl, two when trawling and two or three when ‘siding’ (broadsiding – using the tide flow to move the boat broadside, used when the current was strong and there was little wind).  In the winter they would also tow out the punt and use her to set long lines off Blackpool for spur dogs and cod. It is highly likely that the punt ‘Our May’ owned by ‘Skip’ Harrison was used in this fishery. ‘Skip’ Harrison’s youngest daughter, remembers, both this boat and the smack ‘Sunbeam’ (PN10), which he bought after the ‘Tern’ was sold. She was 3ft longer than Harry’s ‘Irene’).

We think that the ‘Tern’ may have been built at Fleetwood, but we have been unable to confirm this. | think that the recent owners would like to lay claim to her being ‘Stoba’ designed, and there are lots of features that point that way, but nothing positive so I am wary. In her present yacht like guise it is difficult to appreciate that she lay at her moorings to the south of St. Anne’s Pier for nearly seven years, taking all sorts of weather and providing a living (of sorts) for two families. With over 800sq ft of canvas, I bet they drove her hard, fishing both inside the banks and outside from Rossall to Burbo Bank, she would be a well used tool, that Harry and Skip were superior coastal boatmen and excelled at the fishing is clear from all the recollections I have of talking with “Uncle Bob” Harrison and listening to Tommy Harrison and Teddy and “Boxer” Rimmer. Hard men who led a hard life.

7 January 2003

Dear Mike

I am still a bit puzzled as to why the Melling steam trawlers never seem to get mentioned. I can remember the ‘Lizzie Melling’ registered at Preston (PN45) and the ‘Harry Melling’ (FD397), but when the latter was owned by lago Steam Trawlers and registered in London as LO55. Others were the ‘Annie Melling’ (FD168), ‘Tom Melling’ (FD414),‘Nellie Melling’ (FD25), ‘Lily Melling’ (FD222), ‘Lena Melling‘ (1) (FD189) and ‘Lena Melling’ (2) (FD417), they were owned by Melling Ltd and managed by W. Melling, 7 Fish Trade Buildings, Fleetwood (note this is not J. W. Melling, they were most meticulous with trading names in the BOT Mercantile Navy List.

Annex ‘B’ Topography and wrecks off the Fylde Coast
(Photographed from Mayes book, On a Broad Reach)

Annex ‘C’ Pen Portrait of Commander Gilbert Ian Mayes OBE CEng MRINA

My interest in ships and shipping took hold when I attended King Edward VII school in Lytham St. Anne’s overlooking the Ribble estuary.  The ability to observe the Preston bound shipping on a daily basis and to recognise the ships themselves was the start of a lifetime of research, collating and writing on current and maritime subjects.  This was fostered by the Geography master who suggested that I record a month’s shipping, noting the ports and cargoes and present as a snap-shot of Preston shipping.  Following on from this, visits were organised to Preston Dock and followed up by further visits, to Courtaulds’, Red Scar Mill,  Ribbleton to see rayon being produced from the imported wood pulp, the Preston Bypass where the imported roadstone was being used and others industries associated with the dock traffic. 

A thirty seven year career in the Royal Navy gave the opportunity to view the maritime scene world wide, particularly in Singapore and Hong Kong and books of notes were filled with my observations.  During my apprenticeship I started to write about shipping and became the Journal of Commerce & Shipping Telegraph correspondent for the Forth ports, particularly recording the large numbers of steam trawlers arriving for breaking up.  In 1974 I took over the compilation of the Ian Allen pocket book Coastal Ships, Tugs & Trawlers and complied the final version of that publication.  

Whilst serving at Bath I became involved in the Naval Control of Shipping in the short sea trades and this led to supporting Bernard McCall in his column in Sea Breezes writing abut the coastal shipping scene.  This was to form a lasting partnership.  The centenary of the Mexico disaster in 1986 took me  and my cousin John into research of the St. Anne’s lifeboat station and St. Anne’s  and Lytham fishing fleets.  Both these avenues  resulted in compiling and publishing the results, the former in On a Broad Reach the history of the St. Anne’s-on-the-Sea lifeboat station and the latter in publications by both Leonard Lloyd and Nick Miller on the Lancashire Nobby.  A follow on from this was teeming up with Alan Hirst at Fleetwood to start to compile a database of Fleetwood fishing vessels.  Realising the size of this task we decided to concentrate initially on the steam trawlers but with the untimely death of Alan I was compelled to carry on alone.  Contact with Jim Porter led to the results being posted on his website Bosun’s Watch and this relationship continues.

My interest in Coastal shipping, fostered in my teens remains and in the early 1990s Bernard and I decided to compile and publish a directory of short sea shipping companies domiciled in UK and the Republic of Ireland.  Six editions of Short Sea Shipping was published but towards the end it became more difficult to validate material as companies chose to flag out their tonnage and the last edition was published in 2004. By way of compensation I joined a group who had compiled a basic yard list of vessels built by the Yorkshire shipyard Cochrane & Sons Ltd and with Mike Thompson at Hull, set about putting this into shape for publication.  To do justice to the subject I decided to write in three editions and these were duly published in succession as Cochrane Shipbuilders and were well received by the public.

Bernard McCall died suddenly in August 2021 and my efforts in respect of coastal and short sea shipping will be to continue to support his projects by helping his wife Doreen and son Iain in their efforts to pick up the reins and continue with the business.  As to the Fleetwood Steam Trawler database, this is a daily update, as thanks to modern communications and the internet, fresh material is constantly coming to light and more emphasis is being placed on the social history of the fishing industry.