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Firth of Clyde, UK
Caledonian Steam Packet Company Ltd

Waverley leaving Gourock Apr 1969 cs.jpg

Above : Entering a new era, but still in her old colours : late summer 1969 and PS Waverley leaves the fleet's base : Gourock. Photo by Ian Stewart

The Caledonian Steam Packet Company provided the (almost) continuous thread throughout much of the history of Clyde cruising, being formed in 1888 by the Caledonian Railway to operate its steamer services and later being the local operating subsidiary of nationalised railway. On January 1, 1969 it was transferred to the Scottish Transport Group, divorcing it from the railways and into a new future which led to the merger with the STG's other new subsidiary, David MacBrayne Ltd in 1973 to form Caledonian-MacBrayne.

Probably the most recalled anecdote about Clyde Steamers is the suggestion of Captain James Williamson, son of steamboat owner Captain Alexander Williamson, that instead of relying on private owners to provide connections to the new railway services reaching the coast, the Caledonian should operate its own fleet. The Caledonian decision led to the introduction of new vessels, matched by their competitors, the Glasgow & South Western Railway and the start of a ruinous struggle for supremacy on the Clyde. The last decade of the 19th century led the great improvements in the quality of vessels and the provision of fast, frequent, but ultimately uneconomic, services.

Throughout the 20 th century a constant battle was fought against rising costs and, after the Second World War, declining demand. Amalgamation of the Caledonian and G&SWR in 1923 and nationalisation, incorporating her L&NER competitors from 1948, allowed the end to the wasteful duplication of services but changing travel patterns led to the need for a radical reassessment of service patterns. The era of passenger-only ferries was over by the time that the CSP passed to STG control on Jan 1st 1969. The withdrawal of Caledonia (1969), Duchess of Hamilton (1970), Waverley (1973) and Queen Mary (1977) signalled the rapid end for the traditional Clyde steamer in favour of highly efficient car ferry links across the Firth. Happily, Waverley has shown that, suitably marketed, there is still a role for cruising, albeit against all the expectations of Caledonian MacBrayne.

Goodbye Caledonia.jpg

 Goodbye and farewell : There might have been a new optimism with the changes afoot in 1969, but paddle steamer enthusiasts were not amongst those sharing that view. That summer was to be the last for PS Caledonia, a Clyde favourite since 1934, seen leaving Brodick not long before withdrawal. That left Waverley as the sole remaining paddle steamer and the new era of Caledonian-MacBrayne was not going to be favourable to old passenger steamers.
Photo by Ian Stewart

Caledonian Steam Packet Company vessels : Click on vessel name below to see further details

For details about turbine steamers (designated TS), please go to our associated website : Clyde Turbine Steamers

Steamers purchased in 1888 from Captains Peter & Alec Campbell

PS Meg Merrilies (until 1902)

PS Madge Wildfire (until 1911)

New Build 1889-1922 (prior to amalgamation with G&SWR into the LMS Railway)
PS Caledonia (1889-1933)

PS Galatea (1889-1906)

PS Marchioness of Bredalbane (1890-1935)

PS Marchioness of Bute (1890-1914 - not recomissioned after World War I)

PS Duchess of Hamilton (1890-1914 - lost in 1915 on wartime duty in World War I)

PS Marchioness of Lorne (1891-1914 - not recommisioned after World War I)

PS Duchess of Rothesay (1895-1939 - not recommisioned after World War II)

PS Duchess of Montrose (1902-1914 - lost in 1917 on wartime duty in World War I)

PS Duchess of Fife (1903-1953)

TS Duchess of Argyll (1906-1952)

Steamer Purchased second hand
PS Ivanhoe (1897-1911)
New Build 1923-1935 (excluding vessels registered with LMS and not Caledonian Steam Packet Co)
TS Duchess of Montrose (1930-1965)

TS Duchess of Hamilton (1932-1971)

PS Caledonia (1934-1969)

PS Marchioness of Lorne (1935-1955)

New Build from 1936-1939
TS Marchioness of Graham (1936-1958)

PS Jupiter (1937-1960)

PS Juno (1937-1939 - lost in 1941 on wartime duty in World War II)

Vessels originally registered with LMS transferred to Caledonian Steam Packet Co by 1938. Vessels were operated by LMS in association with the CSP, but under separate parliamentary powers.
PS Glen Rosa (until 1939)

TS Glen Sannox (until 1954)

PS Mercury (until 1939 - lost in 1940 on wartime duty in World War II)
Vessels transferred from Williamson-Buchanan Steamers (1936) Ltd in 1943 after brief direct ownership in 1935.
TS King Edward (until 1952)

PS Queen-Empress (until 1939 - not recommisioned after World War II)

TS Queen Mary

Vessels transferred from the British Transport Commission (British Railways) on 5/11/1951
PS Jeanie Deans (until 1965)

DEPV Talisman (until 1967)

PS Waverley

Paddle Steamer Built for Loch Lomond Services
PS Maid of the Loch (from 1953)

No steamers were built for the Caledonian company after World War II (although they were eventually to assume ownership of the LNER's immediate post-war Waverley). The early 1950s saw the start of a radical programme of dieselisation and a significant re-shaping of the fleet


Passenger Ships

Maid of Argyle (1953)
Maid of Ashton (1953)
Maid of Cumbrae (1953)
Maid of Skelmorlie (1953) 

maid of Skelmorlie Fairlie J jeffrey.jpg

 In 1953, four sisters appeared as part of a radical modernisation and cost cutting programme. Replacing much larger steamers, these motor vessels were not exactly welcomed by the travelling public, but became familiar on the upper Firth providing railway connections and short cruises. Named "Maid" this perhaps accurately reflected their status in comparison with the Kings, Queens and Duchesses in the fleet

Despite their much lower costs, they survived no longer than some of the older steamers as the decline in passenger numbers in the late 1960s and the policy of moving to virtual exclusivity of car-ferry services, especially under Caledonian-MacBrayne mangement, sealed their fate (one even being rebuilt for interim use as a car ferry). They were decent vessels however and three found new employement in the Mediterranean and one as a floating restaurant in London

Above: Maid of Skelmorlie approches Largs pier in the early 1960s. Photo by James W Jeffrey

Major Car Ferry Motor Vessels Built for CSP Clyde Services

MV Arran (1954)
MV Bute (1954) 

MV Cowal (1954)
MV Glen Sannox (1957)

Glen sannox leaving Fairlie.jpg

Glen Sannox leaves Fairlie on a winter's day in the early 1960s. The ship was placed on the Ardrossan to Brodick route but also did early run from Fairlie and often tied up there at night. Only ten years younger than paddle steamer Waverley, she represented a complete change in ship design, reflecting changed circumstances and the need to ferry cars to the Clyde islands in increasing numbers.   Photo by James W Jeffrey

Some Other Passenger Motor Vessels

MV Arran Mail (1936-1951)
MV Ashton (1938)
MV Leven (1938)
MV Countess of Bredalbane -
Built in 1936. Transported overland from Loch Awe to the sea at Loch Fyne in 1952
MV Keppel
 - bought second hand from the Gravesend-Tilbury ferry service in 1967 to replace DEPV Talisman and serve Millport

Ashton, Leven and Keppel still survive (at 2016) away from the Clyde

keppel largs CSP PC.jpg

Keppel at Largs in the late 1960s in a post card view from the Gordon Stewart collection. Her small size in relation to DEPV Talisman which she effectively replaced came as a bit of a shock, but she was probably more suitable in size for the Millport trade.

By 1972 the service had been transformed through the building of slips inside Largs pier and on the east coast of Cumbrae opposite and a regular car ferry service began

To The Coast : One Hundred Years of the Caledonian Steam Packet Co
By Ian McCrorie
Published in 1989 by The Fairlie Press, 8, Montgomerie Crescent, Fairlie, Ayrshire, KA29 0EB, Scotland
ISBN 1-871209-01-3
Highly illustrated and readable summary of 100 years of the CSP

Caledonian Steam Packet Co Ltd
Alistair Deayton
Published in 2002 by Tempus Publishing Ltd
Excellent album of black & white photos with authoritative captions covering the ships of the famous CSP Fleet

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