Build diary of MV Mountwood

Being an ex-patriate of Liverpool living in South Africa since 1980, I decided to scratch build a model of the Mersey ferry MV Mountwood, as she was originally fitted out in the early sixties.


The Mountwood was the slightly older sister ship of the MV Woodchurch. Both ferries were built for Birkenhead Corporation and were based loosely on the designs of the Wallasey ferries Leasowe and Egremont and were built by the same company, Messrs. Philip and Sons Ltd. of Dartmouth. Mountwood was launched by Mrs Hugh Platt on the 6 July 1959 into the river Dart, and after being fitted out was delivered to the Mersey in 1960. She was named after an overspill post-war housing development of Birkenhead. In her early years Mountwood was an unreliable ship, breaking down several times whilst crossing the river and having to anchor. In May 1961, she suffered a main engine failure, with her passengers having to be rescued by Woodchurch.

The Mountwood remained in operation up until she was withdrawn for refurbishment in 1989. She was rewired, internally refurbished and her bridge wheelhouse and cabs were plated over to form one large navigation bridge, although she retained all the original equipment. The most noticeable change was the colour of the funnel, flame red and black, harking back to the 1920s Birkenhead steamships. The new 'Mersey Ferries' logo was painted on each side of the funnel. The Mountwood returned to service in July 1990 and remained in operation up until 2001, when she was withdrawn from service for a major refit. Her only major work during the period 1990-2001 was the addition of a shelter abaft the bridge, which also had a small bridge deck area. The black band on the funnel was reduced and the logo resized giving the ferry an oddly small looking funnel.
In 2001, the Mountwood was withdrawn and taken to Birkenhead's former Cammell Laird shipyard (which became owned by A&P), and then to Clarence graving docks, where she was stripped of her fittings and parts of her superstructure were removed and rebuilt. Unfortunately the ferry remained dormant for some time due to problems at the shipyard. She was then re-engined and more or less completely rebuilt. Noticeable changes were the addition of a new, angle fronted, large wheelhouse and bridge deck, plus her funnel, which was reinstated after the refit, was moved further back to fit with the position of the new engines. Her central saloons were also extended to the full width of the ship. She looks quite similar to the Woodchurch's refit to Snowdrop. The ferry contained many items that would be classed as nautical antiques and quite valuable, such as engine telegraphs, binnacles and much brassware. The helm and binnacles were reinstated onto the new bridge, however all the other items are in storage at Mersey Ferries' archives.

Mountwood's nameplate now reads "Royal Iris of the Mersey". It cannot be shortened to "Royal Iris", as the previous vessel of that name (the MV Royal Iris) is still listed on Lloyd's Register of Shipping in the same class. The ferry still carries her original pair of Kockums Supertyfon fog horns, as do her two sister ships.
On 29 October 2002, a tremendous storm hit the Mersey, with windspeeds measured at force 10-11. The Clipper round the World race start was delayed and tugs were called to ships in the Mersey to keep them at port, battling against the raging waves. The Royal Iris of the Mersey was in service that Sunday, and was tied up at the Liverpool landing stage. Her mast rigging was blown down and her Mainmast had to be lowered for safety. Ferry services were cancelled and severe damage was caused to many properties along the waterfront. The vessel could not berth at Seacombe during this time because the resulting swell of the storm was that strong. The last storm of such strength to hit the Mersey was the 1989 hurricane.

The Mountwood was used in the film "Ferry Cross the Mersey", a musical named after the Gerry & the Pacemakers song. It also appeared in the opening titles for the television series, The Liver birds.


Due to the scarcity of aftermarket model items, this would be a totally scratch built model, the only purchased items would be a 1m x 300mm x 25mm plank of Jelutong for the hull planking, deck planking and benches, and 2m x 1metre styrene sheets in sizes 0,4mm, 0,7mm and 1mm for the superstructures. This is far cheaper than using "Evergreen" eg. A 2m x 1m sheet of 1mm styrene sheet cost me the equivalent of approximately £7.00 from the local plastic sheeting supplier.
My previous modelling experience was with static wooden kits, a Mantua kit of HMS Victory, A Billings kit of the sail training ship Danmark and two Hachette weekly partworks, 1:250 RMS Titanic and 1:200 KM Bismarck.
The first thing to do was to track down plans of the boat on the internet. I eventually found the Naval architects who designed the original boat and her sister ship, the Woodchurch. They had paper copies of the original plans which had been drawn on silk.
I obtained permission from Mersey Ferries to purchase a copy of these plans and the architects sent the paper copies out to be scanned into (1/4" x 1 foot - Scale 1:48) pdf files. There was a set of three plans relative to my needs:-
1.   The LINES PLAN & OFFSETS plan,

These they then e-mailed to me after receiving my electronic bank transfer payment. I tell you, they cost me an arm and a leg but they were worth it after seeing the finished model!
Living in South Africa, I did not have access to any Mersey Ferries archive material or Liverpool Maritime museum so I had to rely solely on my plans and any pictures that I found on the Internet. I was fortunate to find an American website that converted sixties and seventies musicals to DVD from the original cinema 35mm prints and I purchased a copy of "Ferry Cross the Mersey" from them. From the DVD, I extracted the ferry boat segment and from it captured about 80 snapshots of various scenes on the boat including some good shots of the ventilators, benches and general on board layout views.
The hull would be constructed in the normal double plank on frame method but due to the design of the main, promenade and bridge decks, I would have to use styrene sheet for these constructions.
As I had never used styrene sheet before, and not being able to decide on the scale, I decided to build two boats. I would scale down the plans to 1:60 and build a prototype on which to experiment with construction methods. After the certainty of making mistakes and finding solutions, I would make a final 1:48 scale model.
I took the pdf files to the local print shop where they printed them out full size (1:48 scale) and also a set of 80% full size (1:60 scale). These were pinned up on the wall to be used as reference.
On my computer, I printed out the half frames from the Lines and offset plan pdf file and scanned them into MS paint. From these I made a set of frame and keel templates for each scale (compensating for the thickness of the planking).


I then constructed the hull using the normal double plank on frame method. The frames and the keel were cut from some 4mm veneer faced hardboard that I had in the garage. The first planking was done with 7mm x 1.5 mm strips of Jelutong and the second planking from 5mm x 1.0mm strips from spare Meranti that I had. The planks were cut with a miniature table saw that I made, using a Dremel circular saw blade. I made the two hulls at the same time, 1:60 and 1:48 as there was no trial and error here.

The 1st layer of hull planking strips were cut from the plank of Jelutong and the second layer from Meranti.

After the planking was finished, the hull was sanded down and given a coat of diluted PVA to fill in any gaps between the planking. It was then sanded down again and given 2 coats of sanding sealer. When this was dry, a further light sand and then a light coat of primer was applied to show up any imperfections. These were corrected with filler.
When the hull appeared to be perfect, it was given two brush coats of white car primer and then four brush coats of grey car primer.
This was allowed to cure for a couple of days and then sanded down with 600 grit wet & dry used wet. It was sanded down until the white started to show through the grey and then I stopped. This method prevents you sanding back to the wood but the thickness of the primers acts as a final filler to any imperfections and gives a finish like glass as can be seen in the below photos.

The red and black hull colours were sprayed using solvent based primers (galvanised roof primers) and the white stripe was basecoat paint left over from bodywork on my car. The hull was then given a coat of two-part 2K clearcoat (basecoat/clearcoat car finish). This acrylic clearcoat is the same finish as on your car and is therefore very scratch resistant.
The propeller shafts were made from brass tubing and dowelling and the "A" frame brackets from tubing, wooden strips and filler for the mounting flanges to the hull.

The propellers were made from wooden "bullets" for the bosses and the blades cut from styrene sheet. The bosses were grooved diagonally for the blades to be glued into.

The top of the second planking was finished 3mm below the top of the first planking. The rubbing strip was fitted overlapping the top of the second planking, forming a 1mm wide groove between the deck edge (top of the first planking), and the rubbing strip. This was to enable the styrene bulwarks to be fitted to the hull in this groove, the join being covered by the rubbing strip.

The top of the frames were covered with a thin layer of balsa to provide a base on which to glue the deck planking.


The forward bulwarks were then cut to shape and hawse holes and bollard holes cut out and lined with inserts made from copper cable.

The Bulwarks were then dry fitted and a front piece of 0.4mm styrene was then cut to shape and a line of rivets was formed in this piece using a dressmakers scoring wheel. This piece was then glued into place covering the join where the two bulwarks meet at the bow. The bulwarks were then removed and spray painted on the outside. When dry, they were glued into place. The forward saloon was dry fitted and its outline marked on the balsa deck. A piece of 1mm styrene was cut to the shape of the steel deck section between the forward saloon and the bow. This was checked for fit and then glued to the balsa sub deck. This deck piece was painted green and then the insides of the forward bulwarks were fitted with support stays. The insides of the bulwarks were then painted with iced coffee colour. (I am not building a rivet-counter’s model so I used approximate colours and these were paints that I had lying around in my garage).

The bulwarks were then fitted with handrails cut from Meranti using a scroll saw. These were grooved underneath so as to fit over the bulwarks. After they were glued in place,  they were given a couple of coats of sanding sealer.


Wooden formers were made for the main deck structures and these were moulded with 1mm styrene strips using a heat gun and clamps. The bases of the structures were fitted with a 0.7mm styrene sheet sub floor.

The structures were then marked off and the windows cut and lined with thin strips of 0.7mm styrene. The insides of the windows were then covered with pieces of acetate sheet.

The main deck structures were then dry fitted, their margin planks fixed in place and then the structures removed, to be fitted after the deck was planked.

The guide rails for the gangway sliding gates were made from grooved strips with adhesive copper tape inserts.


The main deck was now planked.

A hole was cut in the balsa deck at the front end of the Main saloon position to allow for the “Down” staircase to the lower saloon which is located underneath the Forward saloon that is situated on the Main deck.

The decking was given 2 coats of sanding sealer and allowed to dry. It was then sanded with 400grit and then given a final coat of sanding sealer.

Main deck - Forward saloon

The forward saloon was now glued in place and the “up” staircase was made and fitted.
The floor of the saloon was now planked and then given a couple of coats of sanding sealer.
The internal wall braces were then fitted between the windows and then the windows were glazed.
The benches were constructed from scrap Meranti and the seat cushions simulated with embossed card.

Main saloon

The two internal structures of the main saloon were made. These were dry fitted and their margin planks fitted. Then the two staircase openings to the engine room were cut out and the saloon removed. The saloon floor was then planked. It was then sanded and a couple of coats of sanding sealer applied.

The Main saloon was then glued in place on the main deck.

The two engine room ladders were then made and fitted with hand rails made from 0.5mm brass rod.

They were then glued in place in their respective openings.

The bench seats were then fitted and then the vertical ribs and glazing fitted the same as in the forward saloon.

The toilet block was now completed and fixed in place. This was all made from styrene and the toilets and wash hand basins were shaped from map pins.

The floor tiles were printed out from the computer. The printed sheet was then sprayed with artists fixative and when dry, cut to the shape of the floor and glued in place before all the interior walls and fitting were installed.

 Now the main deck, side and rear bulwarks.

The stern bulwark is curved around the stern and also the rear portion slopes upward at a forward angle. This necessitated the styrene blank being cut in a curved shape similar to a banana shape.

Because the stern bulwarks are curved, the window framing had to be done with the bulwark temporarily fitted in situ, to keep its shape.

The side bulwarks, being straight, were done off the boat.

Once the bulwarks were made, they were painted and then fitted. The rear bulwark is not glazed but the side bulwarks have their small windows glazed and on their insides they have box sections where the sliding gates recess into when open. The staircases to the promenade deck were now fitted each side of the toilet block.


The promenade deck will be removable and I made my first promenade deck out of styrene, planked with wood.
Because it was to be free fitted (not glued down), this was not successful as it warped because of the humidity affecting the styrene.
I then used 2mm card planked with wood and this was successful. The card was given 2 coats of sanding sealer on the underside and the edges sealed with superglue. On the top of the card I ran lines of thin superglue transversely to form reinforcing strips soaked into the card to prevent delamination and then made and fitted the margin planks.

Also, because it was to be free fitted for display purposes, I made and fitted thin “T” sections of 0.4mm styrene to the underside of the card. These fitted over the tops of the main deck structures when the promenade deck was fitted, covering any gaps between the underside of the promenade deck and top of the saloon structures.

I then got a roll of self-adhesive white vinyl (Contact) and used this to cover the underside of the card: this was easier than painting.

After the margin planks were fitted, the promenade deck was planked.


Now to make the handrails and railings for the promenade deck.

The first thing to do was to mark out the stanchion positions on the deck margin planks. This was done with a bradawl.

Paper templates were then cut to shape and positioned on the deck and the stanchion hole positions transferred to the paper.

These paper templates were then sellotaped onto scrap pieces of chipboard in order to make the handrail jigs.

1,2mm holes were then drilled into the chipboard jigs and 1,6mm panel pins were then nailed into these holes.

The handrails would consist of a central filler core between the nails, 3 layers of veneer edging each side of the filler core, a bottom layer of veneer with stanchion locator holes and a top layer of veneer.
The panel pins were 1,6 mm thick so I cut some 1,6 x 6mm strips from scrap wood to be used as fillers between the nails.
From these strips, short lengths were cut to fit in between the panel pins. Where the handrails were curved, the spaces between the pins were filled with 3 or 4 smaller lengths of strip.

Two pieces of 20mm edging veneer were cut to length, just longer than the length of the handrail. Each of these lengths of veneer was cut into 3 equal widths. These would form the 3 layers each side of the filler strips. A length of veneer was glued to one side of these filler pieces.

When dry, a length of  veneer was glued to the other side. This is repeated until there are 3 layers each side of the central filler pieces. It does not have to be very neat as the tops and bottoms of these strips will be cut off later.

If the railing has an angle in it, each layer will alternate how they butt up to each other to strengthen the butt joint.
When this is complete, the heads are cut off the panel pins and the handrail is gently levered up to remove it from the pins.

The bottom of the handrail is then sanded roughly flat and then trimmed off in the table saw so that all the layers are clean and smooth at the bottom edges.

A strip of veneer is then glued to the bottom of the handrail. If there is an angle, use a butt joint as shown in photo 40. This reinforces the joint and will not be seen when the handrail is complete and fitted.

When dry, this bottom veneer is trimmed and the handrail turned over. The panel pin holes are then used as a guide to drill 1.6mm holes through the bottom veneer.

The handrails are now complete except for the top veneer.

The tops of the handrails are now covered with a strip of veneer. Here, the joints need to be mitred as they will show.

Here are the completed handrails.

The handrails are put aside and we start on the stanchions.

The stanchion dimensions were drawn on paper and a jig made to make multiple stanchions at once. 1mm brass wire was used for the stanchions as it is cheaper than brass rod. A length of it was tinned and laid in the jig and then 1.2mm jeweller’s brass crimps were threaded onto it. These would form the “cross joints” between the stanchions and the cross rails.

The crimps were then soldered onto the wire and then the wire was turned over 180 degrees and the backside of the crimps soldered.

The crimps were then filed flat on one side and then the stanchions separated individually.

The stanchions were then fitted into the holes of the jigs used to make the handrails and the railings were then soldered to the flat sides of the stanchion crimps.

They were test fitted to the handrails and deck and then painted and put aside for later fitting.

The promenade deck cabin was made in the same manner as the other cabins and the funnel was constructed using the  plank on frame method.

Due to changed family circumstances, I was unable to keep up the build diary so here are the pictures of the completed model.

1 comment:

  1. I am one of the admins for the Mersey Ferries Heritage Society. This is a really superb model and you should be very pleased with the result. There is infact a builders model of MV Mountwood in the Williamson Gallery in Birkenhead and this is as good as that.

    My only observation would be that the funnel colour is incorrect. As new, the ferry infact had an orange and black funnel rather than red and black (although red and black is errornously quoted in a number of books)

    You should make a model of MV Overchurch which was another Birkenhead diesel with a slightly different design.

    Best wishes,