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LMS Steamship Services

Since the London, Midland and Scottish Railway acquired control of numerous services between Great Britain and Ireland, as well as of certain Firth of Clyde services, many interesting paddle and screw steamers have been replaced by fine modern vessels

the paddle steamer Juno, 592 tons gross, at Brodick Pier

THE ISLANDS OF SCOTLAND rely chiefly upon steamship services for communication with the mainland. Above is the paddle steamer Juno, 592 tons gross, at Brodick Pier, in the mountainous island of Arran. Formerly owned by the Glasgow and South-Western Railway, the Juno served for many years until the LMS replaced her in 1932 with the Duchess of Hamilton. The Juno was 253 ft 9-in long, with a beam of 29 ft 1-in and a depth of 10 ft 6 in. Her 2,600 horse-power engines drove her at a speed of 19 knots.

THE transport facilities of countries entirely sea-girt would be incomplete without a number of steamship services such as those which serve the British Isles and link them with the continent of Europe. In Great Britain the railway companies own the majority of vessels engaged on these services.

At the beginning of 1936 the London, Midland and Scottish Railway owned fifty-eight ships engaged in passenger and cargo services on British coastal and inland waterways. This fleet is constantly undergoing alteration and addition. In April of the same year, for instance, the Marchioness of Graham was completed for the Firth of Clyde passenger services, and in July the Slieve Bearnagh was completed for the Heysham (Lancs) and Belfast freight and live-stock service. Altogether thirty new steamers were provided for the various services between 1918 and the end of 1935. Long before the amalgamation of the British railways into four main groups, steamship services had been established by the separate constituent companies to provide connexions with the railway services. The story of the Irish Mail, for instance, in the last hundred years is full of romance.

The first train that bore the name “The Irish Mail” left Euston Station, London, on August 1,1848, at 8.45pm. Government packets carried passengers and mails from Holyhead, North Wales, to Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire), Ireland, until 1850. At Holyhead the mails were handed over for shipment to Ireland in the paddle steamer Banshee, Caradoc, Llewellyn or St. Columba. The St. Columba was 190 feet in length, and had a beam of 27 feet. She travelled at an estimated speed of 14 knots, but the Banshee could probably make 16 knots. These speeds, as well as many details of the early packets, cannot be officially authenticated.

The mail contract for Ireland was given to the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company in May 1850. This company had been founded in 1823 and since that time had been running a number of services across the Irish Sea. In 1837 a famous paddle steamer, the Royal William, was built at Liverpool. She was the first steamer to be divided into water-tight compartments by bulkheads, of which she had four.

The Irish cross-Channel packet Royal William, built in 1837

THE ATLANTIC CROSSING was made several times by the Irish cross-Channel packet Royal William, built in 1837. She ran from Liverpool to New York and was thus one of the first passenger steamers to cross the Atlantic. The Royal William was also the first steamship to be divided into water-tight compartments by bulkheads.

A year later she was chartered by the Transatlantic Steamship Company to run between Liverpool and New York. She sailed on July 5, 1838, and thus was one of the first passenger steamers to cross the Atlantic. After a few successful crossings she returned to the Irish service and after a short period as a coal hulk she was sold in 1888. The Irish service was reorganized in October 1860. Boat trains were run from London (Euston) to connect with the four new paddle steamers Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connaught, vessels of about 1,700 tons gross. The Connaught and the Leinster were remarkable vessels. They were schooner-rigged and had four funnels, two forward of the paddles and two aft. The other two ships followed more normal practice with one funnel forward and one aft of the paddles. It is probable, however, that the Leinster and the Connaught were later rebuilt with two funnels only. The Leinster, of which there is a model in the Science Museum, South Kensington, was 343 feet long, with a beam of 35 feet and a depth of 19 feet. Her oscillating paddle engines are described in the chapter “Oscillating Paddles Engines”. The famous paddle steamer Ireland was brought into service in 1885. A vessel of 2,400 tons displacement, she was built at Birkenhead. She had an overall length of 380 feet, a beam of 38 ft 4-in and a depth of hold of 19 ft 3 in. Her non-compound oscillating engines indicated a horse-power of 5,000 under natural draught and drove her at a speed of more than 20 knots. She was thus able to cross from Holyhead to Kingstown in about three hours.

Meanwhile the Chester and Holyhead Railway (absorbed in the London and North Western in 1858), which was responsible for the Irish Mail between Chester and Holyhead, established in 1847-48 a fleet of four passenger vessels - Hibernia, Anglia, Cambria and Scotia. They were paddle steamers of about 750 tons gross and had a speed of about 13 knots. Sources do not agree as to the length of the Cambria. It is probable that her length was 244 feet, but one source gives it as 196 feet. All sources, however, agree that her beam was 27 feet and her depth 15 feet. She had clipper bows and her two funnels were forward of her paddles.

In 1860 the railway steamer service was transferred from Kingstown to North Wall, Dublin. In 1863 two more vessels, the Alexandra, 828 tons gross, and the Stanley, 792 tons gross, were running on this route. Four more paddle steamers were built for this service in the next ten years.

So popular did the Irish cross-Channel service become that in 1876 larger and faster vessels, the Rose and the Shamrock, were built for it. These sister ships had a gross tonnage of about 1,185 and a speed of 20 knots. Four years later the Lily and the Violet were added to the fleet. The Violet, 1,035 tons gross, and the Lily were fitted with new engines of a triple-expansion “steeple” type in 1891. The new engines gave an indicated horse-power of 4,087. “Steeple” engines are described in the chapter “Early Nineteenth Century Engines”.

The last paddle steamer to be built for this service was the second vessel with the name Banshee. Launched in January 1884, she was 310 feet long, with a beam of 31 ft 5-in and a gross tonnage of 1,250. She was sold in 1906.

The Scotia, 3,454 tons gross, built in 1921In 1920 the contract for the carriage of the Irish mails passed to the London and North Western Railway, which three years later became a constituent company of the LMS. In 1920-21 four vessels for the Irish service were built at Dumbarton by William Denny and Brothers. The vessels were named after their predecessors Hibernia, Anglia, Cambria and Scotia. Twin-screw steamers of about 3,460 tons gross, their turbines develop a shaft horse-power of 16,000 and drive them at a speed of 25 knots. They are thus among the fastest cross-Channel packets in the world. They have an overall length of 395 feet, a beam of 45 ft 3-in and a depth of 18 ft 6 in.

IN HOLYHEAD HARBOUR the Irish Mail packets await the arrival of the mail by train. This photograph shows the Scotia, 3,454 tons gross, built in 1921. She is 380 ft 6-in long, with a beam of 45 ft 3-in and a depth of 26 ft 3 in.

Ten years later three of these ships were reconditioned by the LMS and extra accommodation was provided for passengers. The vessels are certified to carry 1,505 passengers and there are sleeping berths for 308. Modern improvements were introduced throughout the vessels and the forward ends of the boat decks were covered in and fitted with large plate-glass windows to form observation lounges.

About 1853 a cargo service between Holyhead and Dublin was inaugurated with the steamships Ocean and Hercules. Later a service was established between Holyhead and Greenore, Co. Louth. These services are now maintained by LMS cargo and livestock vessels. As with its passenger ships, the LMS pursues the policy of keeping its cargo fleet up to date. The Slieve Gallion, built in 1907 by Vickers, Sons and Maxim, is a twin-screw vessel of 1,071 tons gross. At a speed of 16 knots she carries 406 head of cattle and about 400 tons of cargo. She was due to be replaced with a modern vessel in 1936. The new vessel is designed to carry 720 head of cattle. She has an overall length of 309 feet, a moulded beam of 45 feet and a moulded depth of 16 ft 6 in. She is fitted with two electric cranes for the rapid handling of cargo.

The Slieve Donard, 1,116 tons gross, carries, in addition to cargo and livestock, 134 passengers, with sleeping berths for eighteen. The Slieve More, 1,409 tons gross, was built in 1932 and was equipped with a system of protective boarding to ensure the safety of her livestock cargo. The more recent Slieve League, built in 1935, has a speed of 17 knots. She is propelled by two sets of Parsons single-reduction geared turbines. The Slieve League carries 659 head of fat cattle and 538 tons of cargo. In all there were in 1936 five vessels of the Slieve class running between Holyhead, Dublin and Greenore. All the vessels have a length of about 310 feet and a beam varying from 37 feet to 45 feet.

Famous Island Port

Holyhead is an interesting town. It is situated on Holy Island, which is joined to the island of Anglesey by an embankment three-quarters of a mile long. Across this run the road and the railway. The outer harbour is a fine refuge for stormbound vessels and is controlled by the Crown. It was opened in September 1873. The breakwater is 7,860 feet long. The old and inner harbours are operated by the LMS and have a length of 7,908 feet of quayage. There is one dry dock, 414 feet long and 68½ feet wide. Not far from the harbour the rocky mass of Pen Caergybi rises perpendicularly from the sea to a height of 709 feet. Off this cliff lie the rocks called the North and South Stacks, with their lighthouses. The South Stack Lighthouse is nearly 200 feet above high-water level.

Another important mail service to Ireland was started in 1872, running from Stranraer, Wigtownshire, to Larne, Co. Antrim. The first vessel on this service was the Princess Louise, whose engines developed only 200 horse-power. An iron steamer of 497 tons gross, she was built at Glasgow. Her overall length was 211 ft 5 in, her beam 24 feet and her depth 12 ft 5 in. In 1891 she was sold to MacBraynes and renamed Islay. Her dimensions form a striking contrast with those of the LMS vessels now engaged on this service, the turbine steamers Princess Margaret and the Princess Maud.

The first of these ships, the Princess Margaret, 2,523 tons gross, was built at Dumbarton in 1931. She has an overall length of 325 feet, a moulded beam of 47 feet and a moulded depth of 25 feet. She is driven by two sets of turbines to the main deck through single-reduction gearing at a speed of more than 20 knots.

The building of the Princess Maud in 1934 marks an interesting development in shipping. She was one of the first British packets to be fitted at the outset with mechanical stokers. She was also the first British-built ship to be equipped with the Grinell automatic sprinkler system as a protection against fire. All her deck machinery is electrically driven.

She is the larger of the two vessels, with a gross tonnage of 2,886. Her overall length is 330 feet, her beam 19 feet and her moulded depth 25 feet. She has sleeping accommodation for 223 passengers and all berths are arranged in a fore-and-aft direction. None of the berths in the first-class quarters are superimposed.

A LINER IN MINIATURE, the Duke of York, was built at Belfast in 1935 for the Heysham-Belfast service of the LMS. A twin-screw turbine steamer of 3,743 tons gross, she has a length of 339 ft 6-in, a beam of 52 ft 4-in and a depth of 18 ft 1-in. Three similar vessels were built for this service in 1928, when the “Ulster Express” began to run between London (Euston) and Heysham, Lancs. Each of these vessels has a speed of 21 knots.

Four fine vessels were built in 1904 for the service of the Midland Railway - a constituent company of the LMS - between Heysham, Lancs, and Belfast. Two of them, the Antrim and the Donegal, were propelled by reciprocating engines, the other two, the Londonderry and the Manxman, by turbines. Thus, with general structural features identical, the vessels were to prove the superiority of the turbine engines.

On her trials the Londonderry gave a speed of more than 22 knots over a measured mile, and on service proved to be about a knot faster than the reciprocating-engined vessels. She was a fine vessel of 1,968 tons gross. She had two funnels and two masts, with three complete decks, in addition to a shade deck 216 feet long amidships. She had a length of 330 feet on the water-line, a moulded beam of 42 feet and a depth to the promenade deck of 25 ft 6 in. There is a splendid model of the Londonderry in the Science Museum, South Kensington.

Some of the largest ships of the present LMS fleet run on this service. The Duke of Lancaster was built in 1928 with her two sister ships, the Duke of Argyll and the Duke of Rothesay. Fast packets of 3,600 tons gross, they carry 1,500 passengers, with sleeping berths for 454. In addition they carry 500 tons of cargo and about 250 cattle.

Another twin-screw turbine steamer, the Duke of York, was added to this service in 1935. She has a gross tonnage of 3,743 and can accommodate 1,386 passengers. Although these ships are similar in some ways to the Holyhead-Dublin packets, they are not so fine-lined. They are about 35 feet shorter and have about 8 feet more beam than the Holyhead vessels.

Experiments on the Clyde

The story of the steamships that run on the Firth of Clyde forms one of the most interesting chapters in the history of British coastal shipping. The railway companies were associated with Clyde steamers as early as 1841, when the Glasgow and Greenock Railway introduced its steamers, the Isle of Bute and the Maid of Bute. On June 1, 1889, Gourock Pier (Renfrew) was opened for traffic. The Caledonian Steam Packet Company was formed and bought two vessels, the Meg Merrilees and the Madge Wildfire.

The new company prospered and built two new vessels, the Caledonia and the Galatea. The Caledonia was the first Clyde steamer to burn oil fuel, and she was fitted with a compound tandem surface-condensing engine and forced-draught boilers. The expense of oil fuel, however, forced her owners to convert her to a coal-burning vessel. The experiment has not been repeated.

THE SHORTEST CROSSING TO IRELAND is made from Stranraer, Wigtownshire, Scotland, to Larne, Co. Antrim. This route is served by two LMS vessels, the Princess Maud and the Princess Margaret (illustrated above). A twin-screw turbine steamer of 2,523 tons gross, the Princess Margaret was built in 1931. She has an overall length of 325 feet, a beam of 47 feet and a moulded depth of 17 feet.

This interesting ship was in service until 1934, when she was replaced with a modern paddle-steamer of the same name. The new Caledonia, 624 tons gross, has a speed of 16¾ knots and can accommodate 1,331 passengers. She plies between Gourock, Rothesay, Wemyss Bay and other Clyde resorts.

Her sister ship, the Mercury, was also built in 1934. These two vessels, 230 feet long and 30 feet beam, were the first Clyde steamers to be built with cruiser sterns. They are propelled by side-paddles driven by triple-expansion diagonal surface condensing engines.

LARGE-SCALE MODELS OF THE LUISTANIA’S TURBINES were installed in the Atalanta when she was built in 1906. The Atalanta is a triple-screw steamer of 486 tons gross, with a length of 210 ft 5-in, a beam of 30 ft 1-in and a depth of 10 ft 4-in. Her three steam turbines proved successful and engines of similar designs were later installed in the Lusitania.

The turbines of the Atalanta were built as a large-scale model of the engines that were fitted later to the Lusitania. A triple-screw turbine steamer of 486 tons gross, the Atalanta was built by John Brown and Co, in 1906, for the Caledonian Steam Packet Company, and in 1936 was still in the service of the LMS.

An innovation in the construction of passenger steamers appeared when, the Marchioness of Breadalbane and the Marchioness of Bute were built in 1890 at Port Glasgow. They were the first British passenger paddle steamers to have the navigating bridge forward of the funnel. This is now the common practice.

One of the early steamers built on the Clyde was the Duchess of Hamilton, built in 1890 for the Caledonian Steam Packet Company. She struck a German mine in the North Sea during the war of 1914-18. In 1932 the LMS built another vessel of her name. She is a triple-screw turbine steamer of 795 tons gross and has a speed of 20½ knots.

A LONDON MIDLAND AND SCOTTISH CARGO VESSEL on the Holyhead, Dublin and Greenore service, the Slieve Bloom has a gross tonnage of 1,279. Built in 1930, she has a length of 300 ft 3-in, a beam of 44 ft 8-in and a depth of 14 ft 9-in. She and her sister ships carry about 700 head of cattle in addition to cargo. In 1936 there were five vessels of the Slieve class employed in the service.

In 1935 the LMS had twelve vessels engaged on the Clyde services, five screw steamers, six paddle steamers and one small motor vessel, the Wee Cumbrae, of 37 tons gross. Gradually the old vessels are being replaced, although they are splendid and efficient boats. The fine lines of the earliest Clyde steamers compare favourably with the lines of the modern vessels.

Another addition to the extensive Clyde fleet was made in 1936 when the Marchioness of Graham was put into commission. A twin-screw turbine steamer of about 590 tons gross, she was built in the Fairfield yard, on the Clyde. She has an overall length of 230 ft 6 in, a beam of 30 feet and a depth to the main deck of 10 ft 8 in. Two sets of turbines drive her twin screws through single-reduction gearing. The engines develop a total of 1,000 shaft horsepower. Her steering gear is controlled by a telemotor system from the bridge.

Similar but smaller vessels ply on Lochs Tay and Awe. The MacBrayne steamer Lochawe, 97 tons gross, formerly ran between Ford and Port Sonachan on Loch Awe. This vessel was originally a lighter, but was converted to accommodate passengers in 1876. She was working on the loch until 1925. In June 1936 a new vessel, the Countess of Breadalbane, was put into service by the LMS.

Early Lake Steamers

The first steamers on Loch Tay were the Lady of the Lake and the Sibylla, built in 1882. The Sibylla was a wooden vessel used solely for the carriage of goods. Both these vessels were broken up in 1929. The Magpie, another vessel built in the ’eighties, was wrecked and could not be salved because of the great depth of the loch. The LMS vessel now on Loch Tay is the Queen of the Lake, a twin-screw steamer of 152 tons gross. She was built at Ailsa, Ayrshire, in 1907. She was taken to pieces and reassembled on Loch Tay.

In the same way the LMS diesel-driven vessel, the Teal, was built at Barrow-in-Furness in 1936, conveyed in parts to Lake Side, Windermere, and there reassembled for service on Lake Windermere. The Teal is about 135 feet long, with a beam of 25 feet, and has a speed of about 11 knots. In 1935 there were four LMS vessels on this lake, the Swan, Swift, Tern and Cygnet. The Cygnet, built in 1879, is driven by a petrol-paraffin engine. The others are twin-screw steamers propelled by reciprocating engines.

The importance of the LMS in British shipping does not rest alone on the company’s numerous and varied fleet. The LMS owns a number of docks in various parts of Great Britain, and the railway system links up most of the important docks and ports in the country. At Garston Docks, near Liverpool, more than three million tons of timber, ores, coal, fruit and general traffic are handled in the course of a year.

The harbour and docks at Barrow-in-Furness are the property of the LMS. There are four docks, the Devonshire, Buccleuch, Ramsden and Cavendish Docks. Oil-tankers discharge vast quantities of petroleum at Ramsden Dock. In Cavendish Dock is the fitting-out quay of Vickers-Armstrongs, Ltd. Here may be seen warships of every kind built for the British and many foreign navies. In the Walney Channel, the entrance to the docks system, the LMS has built a deep-water berth 850 feet long.

Fleetwood, Lancs, is in an excellent geographical position for the use of fishing fleets and ranks fourth in importance as a British fishing port. More than 200 fishing vessels regularly operate from Fleetwood. The largest of the steam trawlers draw about 17 ft 6-in of water.


TWO FAMOUS IRISH CROSS-CHANNEL PACKETS at Holyhead. In the foreground is the Munster, a paddle steamer of 1,693 tons gross, built at Birkenhead in 1860. She was 336 ft 7 in long, with a beam of 35 ft 3 in. Identification of her three sister ships Ulster, Leinster and Connaught is not supported by official records, but it is believed that the latter two vessels were rebuilt with two funnels instead of four. The vessel in the background of this photograph is probably the Leinster in her rebuilt form.

Adjoining the quays of the Wyre Dock at Fleetwood is a large market where the fish can be landed direct from the trawlers. The fish is here sold, packed by the buyers and loaded directly on to the waiting fish trains. The Wyre Dock is entered through a lock 250 feet long and 50 feet wide.

The tug Wyvern is employed through the summer on a passenger service between Fleetwood and Heysham, where there is a sheltered tidal harbour of 36 acres. From Heysham, in addition to the LMS services, Burns and Laird Line steamers operate to Londonderry, Ireland, and in the summer the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company runs a daily passenger service to the Isle of Man.

In Scotland, the LMS is the Port Authority for Ayr. The harbour is formed by piers on either side of the estuary of the River Ayr. The entrance is sheltered by a breakwater. The length of quayage in the river amounts to 7,560 feet, and there is a tidal dock to the north of the harbour. Ayr is the principal outlet for the South Ayrshire coal-fields and the old coaling cranes at the port are being replaced by three electrical belt conveyers.

The famous Forth and Clyde Canal is the property of the LMS. The canal joins the River Clyde at Bowling, ten miles west of Glasgow. Here the Company operates a small harbour and a wharf, 460 feet long, on the river. Vessels not exceeding 68½ feet in length, 19½ feet in beam and 8½ feet in draught may travel along the canal to the eastern entrance at Grangemouth, Stirlingshire.

In 1867 the former Caledonian Railway Company - now incorporated in the LMS - took over the existing two small docks and tidal harbour of Grangemouth and made important improvements. The growth of the port has been remarkable. At the present time the LMS operate four docks, the Grange, Carron, Old and Junction Docks, with a total water area,of 57¾ acres. The entrance lock, 626 feet long and 80 feet wide, affords direct access to the Firth of Forth.

Troon Harbour and a number of piers in the Firth of Clyde are owned and operated by the LMS. In addition, the company owns more piers and quays on the west coast of Scotland. The pier at Stranraer extends 1,190 feet into Loch Ryan. The LMS owns Poplar Dock among others in the Port of London. At the East Quay of Poplar Dock vessels up to 2,000 tons load and unload cargo. From these berths steamers engage in regular services to the Continent.

A fleet of cargo vessels maintains services from the LMS port of Goole, on the River Ouse, to Copenhagen, Hamburg, Ghent, Antwerp, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. This fleet is owned by the LMS and operated by Associated Humber Lines. In 1936 there were thirteen vessels in the fleet. They range in gross tonnage from 950 to 1,108. The ships on the Copenhagen service are fitted with refrigerating plant, wireless telegraphy and direction-finding apparatus.

The largest LMS cargo vessels on the Continental services are the sister ships Aire and Blyth, built in 1930 at Birkenhead and fitted with Oertz streamline rudders. All the ships in this fleet can carry about 1,000 tons of cargo at a speed of about 13 knots, and accommodate in addition twelve passengers.

Numerous vessels of special types are included in the tonnage owned by the LMS. Five ferry steamers, for instance, ply between Tilbury (Essex) and Gravesend (Kent). When they tie up at Tilbury, which they do quickly and methodically, they are often dwarfed by the great ocean liners alongside.

A company that owns a number of ports and docks in the British Isles must necessarily number such ancillary vessels as tugs and dredgers in its fleet. The LMS owns twenty dredgers of various types and eleven steam hopper barges. The Piel, operating at Barrow-in-Furness, is one of the most powerful hopper dredgers in Great Britain. She has an overall length of 245 feet, a beam of 43 feet and a depth of 17 ft 6 in. Her greatest dredging depth is 45 feet. She has a speed of 9 knots and is able to load herself eight or nine times a week with 1,500 tons of spoil. In addition to the dredgers there are six LMS tugs.

The LMS vessels, their funnels painted yellow with black bands at the top, are familiar in most ports on the west coast of the British Isles.

The large and varied fleet, consisting as it does of Royal Mail packets, passenger steamships, cargo and livestock-carrying vessels, inland lake steamers, Clyde paddle steamers, tugs, hoppers and dredgers, is constantly being brought into line with modern improvements, and every year a number of new vessels are built and old ones are scrapped or reconditioned.

THE DOCKS AT BARROW-IN-FURNESS, Lancashire, are the property of the LMS

THE DOCKS AT BARROW-IN-FURNESS, Lancashire, are the property of the LMS. This photograph shows the Brocklebank steamer Magdapur being towed into the Ramsden Dock, one of the four docks of the port. The Magdapur, 9,265 tons gross, is 499 ft 7 in long, with a beam of 64 feet and a depth of 34 ft 3 in. She was built at Port Glasgow in 1921 and is registered at Liverpool.

You can read more on “The Canterbury”, “Dover-Dunkirk Train Ferry” and “Train Ferry No 3” on this website.