Moored at the wharf in front of the M Shed is the Museum’s fleet of historic boats. Steam tug Mayflower, Fire-boat Pyronaut and Tugboat John King are part of the M Shed Working Exhibit.
The little steam tug Mayflower was launched from a shipyard at what is now Pooles Wharf on 18 May, 1861. She went to work on the ship canal between Sharpness and Gloucester and managed a working life of over 100 years.
Mayflower then spent 15 years narrowly avoiding the scrap yard before she came back to her birthplace in 1981 to be restored by staff and volunteers from Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives.
Since then, Mayflower has been a familiar sight in the harbour, running regular weekend trips for those who enjoy the peace and serenity of steam-powered ships.
History of the Mayflower
The following is reproduced from the M Shed
’s own website:
“Mayflower is a steam tug built in Bristol in 1861 – she’s believed to be the oldest surviving tug in the world. She was built to work on the Gloucester & Sharpness Ship Canal and in the River Severn, and was one of three tugs ordered after trials had shown how much more efficient than horses they were; altogether they cost £3000.
In the late 1890s Mayflower was altered to make her suitable for work in the Bristol Channel. She went back to work outside Sharpness, towing sailing vessels through the dangerous stretches of the Severn Estuary to the mouth of the river Wye and back again. She would eventually work on every part of the navigation from Worcester to Chepstow.
When British Waterways took control of the canal in 1948 Mayflower was considered too old to modernize and escaped having a diesel engine installed. In 1962-1963, when the winter was so cold that the canal froze and the diesel tugs had difficulty in working, Mayflower once again took on ship-towing work in the canal.
Finally, British Waterways sold her for scrap in 1967. By chance, she survived a further 14 years, slowly deteriorating at her mooring in Gloucester as she was attacked by the weather and vandals.
In 1981 she was bought by M Shed Museum and towed back to her birthplace. Over the next six years Mayflower was restored to working order by a team of volunteers – she steamed again in 1987.
Mayflower marked her 150th anniversary in 2011. She is part of the National Historic Ships core collection register".
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Harbour Trips Aboard Mayflower
- Operating Months
February to October
- Mayflower Rides
Explore the harbour aboard the world’s oldest steam tug, built in Bristol
For sailings go to Web: Mayflower Rides
Contact & Further Information
+44 (0)1173 526 600
Please note:M Shed
’s large working exhibits are operated by volunteers. Occasionally crew shortages, mechanical difficulties or adverse weather conditions may force them to alter or cancel the advertised event.
We advise you to check directly with them to avoid disappointment by calling the contact number above.
Google Map - sv Mayflower