The Nautilus Welfare Fund dates back some 150 years and was established by the Mercantile Marine Service Association (MMSA), a predecessor of Nautilus International.
In 1857 the Council of the MMSA, now Nautilus International, was particularly concerned about the difficulties seafarers were experiencing when they came ashore, and decided to provide residential facilities and financial support for aged, single and married seafarers, their dependants, and seafarers’ widows.
They raised funds to provide for a care home and family properties on the banks of the River Mersey in Wallasey, and the Welfare Fund and Mariners’ Park were born.
The MMSA used its funds primarily to build houses for aged shipmasters and their wives, and today the charity continues to maintain and expand the Mariners' Park Estate. It has also expanded its reach to support retired seafarers and their dependants across the UK.
William Cliff provided the money to build The Liverpool Home for Aged Mariners, which opened in 1882 and became known as Cliff House. The building accommodated 65 men in cubicles.
The men gathered in the lounge areas, one of which later became the television lounge. There was also a billiard room and a room with a large brass telescope to watch ships passing down the River Mersey. Cliff House closed in 1977, having provided accommodation for 1,100 retired seafarers over the years.
Mariners' Park Care Home
The original area of the park was extended when Liscard Manor House and surrounding grounds were acquired. The house was demolished in 1937 and rebuilt as the John Davies Memorial Infirmary for Aged Mariners and Widows. The £8,000 cost of construction was met by Jeanette Davies in memory of her husband, a Liverpool underwriter. It was registered as a nursing home in 1984 following the Registered Homes Act.
This building was completely demolished and redeveloped at the turn of the 21st century, and is now known as the Mariners’ Park Care Home. It was formally opened by Princess Anne in October 2002 and provides residential as well as nursing care. A film was made which shows the construction of the new care home and details the history of the fund.
The grounds of the original Cliff House become known as Mariners’ Park and the first cottage on the park was opened in December 1882. The park was later expanded to include the grounds accompanying Liscard Manor. A number of cottages and houses were built over subsequent years thanks to donations and endowments made by prominent members of the maritime industry. Plaques which commemorate these endowments can be found on the older properties that remain.
A significant programme of building took place in the inter-war years and houses were built to a less grand design than the original cottage homes in order to be more manageable for elderly people.
The first bungalows were built in 1950, and in 1966, to meet the housing needs of the times, the fund converted all the remaining houses into flats. As the park undergoes continuous improvement, many of the older houses have been replaced — and those that remain have interiors which are almost unrecognisable.
Today all the properties are designed to be fully accessible, with all modern conveniences and 24-hour support.
The widows of seafarers were given their own home in 1906 when Andrew Gibson provided funding for the Memorial Home for the Widows of Seamen, known as Gibson House. In 1982 this building was upgraded and converted to self-contained flats, but they are no longer in use. Planning is now under way to redevelop the site after extensive discussions with planning officials and developers, which has resulted in a proposal to retain the 110-year-old building while also increasing the specialist accommodation for former seafarers and their dependants.
Trinity House Hub
The Nautilus Welfare Fund constantly reviews the grounds and accommodation at Mariners' Park to ensure these are meeting the needs of today’s retired seafarers and their dependants. The Trinity House Hub was a £4m project to build 18 apartments and new community facilities which opened in 2014.