Thursday, 18 May 2017

TS Queen Mary on the River Clyde

Ships on the Clyde


TS Queen Mary in Prince's Dock, Glasgow. May 2017
For all the years that Glasgow was famed around the world for its shipbuilding industry, very little evidence of it remains on the River Clyde now. The ships built here included the world's fastest clippers, such as the Cutty Sark, paddle steamers like PS Comet and PS Waverley, the most luxurious liners the QE2 and RMS Queen Mary and battleships such as HMS Hood and HMS Repulse.

My great-grandad among the Harland and Wolff moulders at their Govan shipyard
Over the 19th and 20th century around 30,000 ships were built on the Clyde, employing tens of thousands of skilled workers. However, a river which was once crowded with ships going up and down - pleasure cruises, cargo ships, ferries, tugs, ships being built or repaired - it lies pretty empty now. The much loved Waverley paddle steamer is the only ship still running pleasure cruises down to the Firth of Clyde. Ships are still built in Glasgow, such as the type 45 destroyers being constructed between the BAE Systems yards at Govan and Scotstoun and the aircraft carrier recently built in sections in Glasgow and being assembled at Rosyth, but these yards seem to be limping on, a shadow of their former selves.

Type 45 destroyer under construction at the BAE Scotstoun yard (former Yarrows shipyard)
Ships under construction at BAE Systems, Govan. 2017

  • The Glenlee

A small section of the Riverside Museum in Glasgow tells the story of the shipbuilding on the Clyde, but only the steel hulled, three-masted Glenlee berthed alongside the museum gives visitors a small glimpse of what used to be. Built in 1896 in Port Glasgow as a cargo ship, she looks a bit lonely now on the banks of the Clyde.
The Glenlee at the Riverside Museum

  • PS Waverley

The handsome PS Waverley is the last sea-going passenger paddle-steamer in the world. During the summer months she runs up and down the Clyde, giving visitors the chance to see her beautiful engine powering away as she makes the trip she has been making (on and off) since 1947. Built in Glasgow in 1946, the Waverley replaced an earlier paddle-steamer of the same name which worked the Clyde from 1899. This ship served as a minesweeper in the Second World War but was sunk in 1940, evacuating troops from Dunkirk.

PS Waverley leaving the pier at Helensburgh, 2016
PS Waverley passing under the Erskine Bridge on the River Clyde
Engine room of the PS Waverley

  • Renfrew Ferry

From the 1700s there were regular ferries taking passengers across the River Clyde. These were needed more and more as workers traveled back and forth to the shipyards from their homes, with ferries at Whiteinch, Finnieston, Govan and Renfrew/Yoker among others. A Govan ferry service has been set up in recent summers to take visitors to the Riverside Museum but the Renfrew ferry is the only ferry still running regularly. Its days seem numbered however, with plans afoot for a bridge across the river here.

With increasing numbers of passengers, from 1865 the Renfrew Ferry was open at both ends, with a steam powered engine used to haul the boat across the river via a chain lying at the bottom of the river. From 1952, when my great-auntie Cathy was a clippie on the ferry, it was replaced by a diesel-electric powered chain ferry, which could take cars across the river. As a child I can remember making a few trips on this. One trip I remember was just a jaunt back and forwards with my great-uncle Andy, who used to work in John Brown's shipyard, with him pointing out things you could watch in the engine room.

Renfrew/Yoker car ferry in service 1972
Old Renfrew Ferry, moored at the Broomielaw as a music venue since 1984
With the closure of the shipyards, alongside the opening of the Erskine Bridge and Clyde Tunnel, running a car ferry was becoming uneconomical and from 1984 a passenger-only service has been running again (bicycles can be taken on board). The old car ferry has been berthed on the Clyde at the Broomielaw as a music venue. The wee ferry that currently runs the Yoker/Renfrew route has been in service since 2010.

The current Renfrew Ferry, £1.70 for a trip


TS Queen Mary

One more ship is berthed on the Clyde at present, and as far as I am concerned, the more the merrier. The turbine steamer Queen Mary. The name is familiar isn't it?

The trans-Atlantic liner Queen Mary is possibly the most famous ship in the world, but several ships have held the name of King George V's wife. The RMS Queen Mary ocean liner, was launched at John Brown's shipyard in Clydebank in 1934. My great-uncle Andy worked on that ship and many others over more than 50 years he served in the yard. She was not, however, the first ship to carry that name.

Launch invites for RMS Queen Mary, beside model of the ship in the Riverside Museum
The first Queen Mary, HMS Queen Mary, was a Royal Navy battle cruiser launched in 1912, but sunk at the Battle of Jutland in 1916. Denny's shipyard in Dumbarton then gave the name to their new turbine steamer launched in 1933, and TS Queen Mary is the ship that lies again on the banks of the River Clyde today. The Cunard-White Star Line were keen on the name for their new, luxurious liner and an agreement was reached for the Clyde steamer to give up the name. She was thenceforth known as the Queen Mary II until 1976, and had a portrait of HRH Queen Mary on display in her forward lounge, a gift from the Cunard Line as thanks. Nine years after the Queen Mary liner was retired from service in 1967, after 1001 crossings of the Atlantic, the name became available again and TS Queen Mary regained her original name. The Queen Mary liner is now in Long Beach, California, where she is a hotel and tourist attraction.

Just to add to the confusion Cunard Line now run a new trans-Atlantic liner with the name Queen Mary 2. Launched in 2003 she replaced the aging QE2, and was built in Saint-Nazaire in France.

Old postcard of the TS Queen Mary
The turbine steamer TS Queen Mary was built in 1933 at the Denny yard in Dumbarton. This yard was where the Cutty Sark was completed. Also built here were the SS Sir Walter Scott, excursion steamer on Loch Katrine, and the TS King Edward, the first commercial vessel powered by steam turbines. Once in service the TS Queen Mary ran a daily service from Glasgow to Rothesay and Dunoon, with cruises also to the Kyles of Bute. From 1939 her two funnels had the yellow colours of the Caledonian Steam Packet Company. With her engine converted in 1957, her two funnels were changed to a single one. After several changes of ownership she was run by Caledonian-MacBrayne from 1973, sporting their familiar red funnels with the lion in a yellow disc. At this time she was running a wider range of excursions, mainly from Gourock.

As the Queen Mary II with the colours of Caledonian-MacBrayne
In 1976, her original name, Queen Mary, was restored to her and she was running routes from Glasgow again. However, this was becoming financially nonviable and in 1977 she was withdrawn from service. When plans for a maritime museum fell through, she was sold in 1981 to a London company and taken to the Thames to serve as a floating restaurant. Major refurbishment, including the replacement of a second funnel and removal of all the engines, meant that she remained on the Thames for another 30 years. Latterly she had fallen into disuse and new owners were sought.

TS Queen Mary, berthed in London as a floating restaurant
In October 2015 the charitable organisation Friends of the TS Queen Mary purchased the ship, with the aim of returning her to the Clyde for restoration. Under tow of a tug she was brought into dock in Greenock for some essential maintenance.

TS Queen Mary funnels visible on the left, in dock at Greenock, taken from the Waverley, 2016
Since November 2016 she has been laid up at the basin at Prince's Dock behind the Glasgow Science Centre whilst her redundant fittings are stripped out. The Queen Mary is the last surviving example of a steam turbine powered passenger ship in the world, built in the same yard where this class of ship was first built. A welcome addition to the Clyde and a reminder of the hundreds of thousands of people who traveled on ships like this "doon the watter" on their holidays from Glasgow.

TS Queen Mary berthed at Prince's Dock, with Glasgow University tower behind it
TS Queen Mary, Glasgow May 2017
TS Queen Mary, Glasgow

Restoration in progress

In May 2017 the Friends of the TS Queen Mary offered tours of the old ship, raising some publicity, and some funds, for their project. I went along with my daughter to have a look around. Below I have attached some photographs taken on our tour, to give an impression of how the ship looks. There are currently no plans to re-instate an engine, so the ship will be berthed on the Clyde eventually as a venue of some description. The initial work has been to uncover the original teak deck, which has been hidden under bitumen and concrete coverings. The lounges below deck are surprisingly spacious and currently being stripped of all their old furnishings to allow access to the structure of the ship, which needs maintenance work before further works can proceed. Work is moving forwards by making links with local colleges, such as involving nautical cadets from the City of Glasgow College, and design students from Dundee's Jordanstone College of Art and Design.

Further tours of the ship are available, see the Friends of Queen Mary website or Facebook page for details and regular updates. I certainly would encourage you to go and have a look around. With projects like this maybe one day we will have a proper collection of ships on the Clyde for visitors and locals to see, to let us appreciate the work of the many shipyard workers and engineers that contributed so much to this city.

On board TS Queen Mary, Glasgow
Bridge of TS Queen Mary, with the Glasgow Science Centre Tower overhead
View from the bridge down the River Clyde towards The Riverside Museum
Prow of TS Queen Mary, Glasgow
Main deck of TS Queen Mary, Glasgow
One of the lounges on TS Queen Mary, Glasgow, under renovation

TS Queen Mary, Glasgow. I'm not sure about that apostrophe. Purser to how many ships??
Stairwell on TS Queen Mary, Glasgow
One of the turbines of TS Queen Mary, Glasgow
Decoration from one of the lounges on TS Queen Mary, Glasgow
TS Queen Mary, in Prince's Dock, Glasgow

PS Waverley and TS Queen Mary alongside the Glasgow Science Centre on the River Clyde. May 2017



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