In the week that Glasgow is celebrating hosting the Commonwealth Games, one of Southampton’s great heritage assets with its own Glasgow roots and connections is having reason to celebrate too. The SS Shieldhall, moored at Berth 48 in the Eastern Docks, has officially been recognised as a passenger ship, some 59 years after coming into operation as a sludge carrier for the Glasgow Corporation.
Graham Mackenzie, Project Manager and one of the Chief Engineers of the Solent Steam Packet Services Limited who operate the Shieldhall commented: ‘It’s great news that our ship is now recognised as a passenger rather than a passenger-cargo ship. In its early years Shieldhall was known as a ‘Banana Boat’ or ‘Bovril Boat’ due to its distinctive colour and even more distinctive cargo. There was a great tradition of taking families selected by the Glasgow Corporation ‘Doon the Watter’ (the River Clyde) during the summer months on outings, so she very much fulfilled two roles. Nowadays though the sludge dispensing role has itself been dispensed with and we operate purely as a passenger vessel, carrying passengers on journeys in and around Southampton Water and The Solent.’
In April 2013 SS Shieldhall was awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of some £1.4 million, to secure the future of the ship for the next 25 years. The granting of the passenger ship certification is seen as recognition of the steps being carried out by the Shieldhall volunteers in improving facilities for visitors on board. ‘We have seen a number of developments in recent months’ said Graham. ‘New seating; improved interpretation and the introduction of an awning on the Boat Deck to protect visitors from the worst of the British weather. This winter, work will continue with the establishment of some new Gents Heads, plus a refurbishment of the crew spaces. In time, we are hopeful that our carrying capacity will increase from 200 to 250 for some of our shorter trips, and that our cruise programme can be extended to reach out beyond the Solent’.
Meantime, the Shieldhall volunteers will be keeping a close eye on proceedings in Glasgow. ‘It’s the birthplace of the ship, a little bit of Scotland now based in Southampton’ said Graham. ‘Everywhere you go on the ship you see the Glasgow nameplate. Shieldhall was constructed by the Lobnitz & Co Shipyard in Renfrew, and is powered by steam raised in its oil fired scotch boilers (by Wm Simons, also of Renfrew), which supply two triple expansion steam engines. Our visitors have access to most areas of the ship when they cruise with us, and our volunteers are delighted to show them the working machinery and explain about Shieldhall’s Scottish roots.’
Shieldhall next sails on a sold-out Cowes Week Fireworks Cruise on Fri 8th August, though tickets are available for one of its sailing highlights, a trip to see the start of the RORC Round Britain and Ireland Race off Cowes, leaving Southampton at 10am on Sun 10 August. Shieldhall is then taking part in the Southampton Maritime Festival on Fri 22 and Sat 23 August, before journeying to Poole on Mon 25 August where she will remain ‘alongside’ for three days. Shieldhall then sets out from Poole to view the Bournemouth Air Festival on Fri 29, Sat 30 and Sun 31 August.