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Firth of Clyde, UK
Caledonian Steam Packet Company Ltd

Jupiter (above) and her sister Juno were launched in 1937 and were the final paddle steamers ordered by the Caledonian Steam Packet Company.

Photo by James Dobie (by kind courtesy of Gordon Provan)

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.

Caledonian Steam Packet Company vessels 

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

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)

Turbine Steamer :  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)
Turbine Steamer :  Duchess of Montrose (1930-1965)

Turbine Steamer :  Duchess of Hamilton (1932-1971)

PS Caledonia (1934-1969)

PS Marchioness of Lorne (1935-1955)

New Build from 1936-1939
Turbine Steamer :  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)

Turbine Steamer :  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.
Turbine Steamer : King Edward (until 1952)

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

Turbine Steamer :  Queen Mary

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

Diesel-Electric Paddle Vessel :  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

Waverley leaving Gourock Apr 1969 cs.jpg

When the Caledonian Steam Packet Company was formally dissolved and the new merged entity Caledonian-MacBrayne was established in 1972, Waverley was the last operational paddle steamer. She had been built for the London & North Eastern Railway, originally fierce competitors of the Caledonian, and following railway nationalisation was eventually transferred into the Caledonian 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

Smaller Passenger Motor Vessels

MV Arran Mail (1936-51) - built to offer extra mail and cargo services to Arran
MV Ashton (1938-65) - built to offer Clyde river trips to visitors to the Empire Exhibition (Glasgow 1938) then employed to support upper-Firth connections
MV Leven (1938-65) -
as for MV Ashton
MV Countess of Bredalbane (1952-71) -
Built 1936 for Loch Awe. Transported overland to Loch Fyne in 1952. Versatile, but mainly on the Holy Loch run
MV Keppel
(1967-93) - Built 1961 for the Gravesend-Tilbury ferry service. Replaced Talisman on the Millport run. Later on "inter-resort cruises" for Cal-Mac

Ashton, Leven and Keppel still survive (at 2020) away from the Clyde. Countess of Bredalbane's final duties were as cruise vessel on Loch Lomond (from 1982, named Countess Fiona) until laid up (1989) and scrapped (1999). Arran Mail found her way to Gibraltar. She was lost at sea with all her crew in 1962 having been bought for use at Alderney  

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

Building on the relative success of the trio of car ferries built for the upper-Firth routes, Glen Sannox, seen leaving Fairlie on a winter's day in the early 1960s, 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. She prived to be extremely successful and popular.  Photo by James W Jeffrey

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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