Paddle Tug on the Clyde

Supporting the preservation and operation of paddle steamers Waverley and Kingswear Castle

Paddle Tug on the Clyde

The following embedded YouTube film clip shows a short excerpt of film from the famous John Brown shipyard at Clydebank. There is a very short sequence showing a paddle tug at the stern of a cargo vessel passing upriver – it appears to be one of the renowned Clyde Shipping Company tug fleet – possibly the Flying Scotsman? (clip from 0:06 to 0:13 expand YouTube to full screen for best effect – sometime slow loading but the video file is quite small). The tanker seen fitting out in the basin may be the Lumen of Moss Tankers, which Brown’s built in 1925. The film also shows a riveter working on one of the main 3-rivet overlap plate joints joining adjacent strakes. It gives a good idea of the very rudimentary staging (scaffolding outside the yards) with no protective handrails let alone kick-boards, that was widespread practice in those days – definitely a case for not steping back to admire your work! On a cold and dark winter’s morning, when the Clyde could feel like the Arctic with much ice around, if you didn’t have your ‘wits about you’, you could easily find yourself going down a lot quicker than you got up there. Sadly, deaths in the workplace were not that uncommon then. (I found very similar staging on the side of a big power station boiler in the Eastern Transvaal in South Africa in the early 1980s – at least it wasn’t icy there!)

The Clyde Shipping Company was founded in Glasgow in 1815 and for many years it claimed to be the oldest shipping company in the world. Its fleet of tugs were well known on the river and vertured further afield sometimes. The CSC also operated a fleet of deep sea vessels – nearly all named after lighthouses around the UK coastline. The Clyde Shipping Co tug fleet and the goodwill of the business was sold to rival Cory about 1996 (Cory had taken over the Greenock based Steel & Bennie fleet some years earlier).

The paddle tug Flying Scotsman was the last paddle tug in the Clyde Shipping Company’ fleet. The following view shows her assisting at the launch of the British Tanker Company’s oil tanker British Valour at Lithgow’s shipyard in Port Glasgow on 31st August 1927. The British Tanker Company later became BP Tankers. Many ships of the company were built on the Clyde, particularly by Lithgow’s – the tanker British Spirit, also built at Port Glasgow, was not only the last oil tanker built by Lithgows she was also the last of hundreds of oil tankers built in many Clyde shipyards during the 20th Century.

This is a well known view of the Clyde Shipping Company’s fleet of paddle tugs in the Albert Harbour at Greenock (infilled in the late 1960s). The paddlers include the Flying Scotsman, the Flying Spindrift, the Flying Sprite, an earlier Flying Phantom and, I think, Flying Dutchman. At the rear there is four screw driven steam tugs.

The crest of the venerable Clyde Shipping Company is reproduced below – the firm’s head office was at Carlton Place, on the south bank of the River Clyde. The controling family of the CSC lived in the fine Finlaystone estate near Langbank – from where they could,no doubt, see their ships and tugs pass up and down the Clyde Navigation. Although the firm still exists, it is no longer involved in shipping or towage and has moved its base from Glasgow to the south coast of England.

The view below shows last Clyde-built, Clyde Shipping Company tug, Flying Phantom, assisting at the launch of the Royal Malaysian Navy’s patrol vessel KD Jebat at the Yarrow Shipyard in Glasgow on 27th May 1995. Flying Phantom is displaying the Company’s attractive livery. Not long after this event the Clyde Shipping Co ended 180 years of tug operation on the Clyde and the magnificent livery was soon to disappear for ever. Flying Phantom continued to operate on the Clyde until 19th December 2007 when she, and 3 of her crew, were lost in very distressing circumstances after running into a dense fog bank off Clydebank while assisting the large bulk carrier Red Jasmine upriver to Shieldhall Quay.

Stuart Cameron