On Friday 30th January 1970 Duchess of Argyll was in the scrapyard above the bridge in Newhaven Harbour having left Portland, where she had been based during the 1950s and 1960s, under tow on Tuesday 27th January 1970.
Duchess of Argyll merits a mention as she was the first turbine steamer to be built for the Caledonian Steam Packet Company way back in 1906 for their year round sea-going ferry service connecting Ardrossan on the mainland and other Clyde piers with Aran. She was built by Denny and was a fast ship notching up 21.11 knots on trials. She was big too at 250ft LOA and with accommodation for over 1,500 passengers. She showed that the winds were changing and that ships propelled by methods other than the paddle wheel could be successfully run on many services on the Clyde. Intriguingly the Denny list records that originally she was to have been called Marchioness of Graham but that this was changed to Duchess of Argyll before her launch.
Apart from war service she continued to run on the Clyde until February 1952 when she was sold to the Government for use by the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment at Portland for research into top secret military kit associated with submarines, torpedoes and other underwater warfare. She was modified for this role at the naval dockyard at Chatham during which she was fitted with large gantries on either side for lowering kit into and out from the water.
It was at Portland that I first encountered her as a child permanently moored on the south east side of Portland Harbour just north of the South Ship Channel which was, and is, closed to navigation. At that stage Dad had a clinker built sailing dinghy called Mary which we kept at Castle Cove and we often used to sail over to take a look at her. She seemed a bit odd to my young eyes with all the added structures on her sides and looked not a little bit spooky. A ship once merry with the laughter of passengers now silent, secret and eerie in her clandestine role. She was though still quite recognisable as the old fashioned Clyde ferry that she once was and still bore the name Duchess of Argyll proudly painted on her bow and stern.
Moored nearby was the former Mersey ferry J Farley which was converted for a similar role by Cosens at Weymouth during the spring of 1953.
Both ships were replaced by a huge purpose built floating structure called RDV 01 Crystal of much larger dimensions in 1971. And so Duchess of Argyll came to be in the scrapyard at Newhaven on Friday 30th January 1970.
Kingswear Castle returned to service in 2023 after the first part of a major rebuild which is designed to set her up for the next 25 years running on the River Dart. The Paddle Steamer Kingswear Castle Trust is now fund raising for the second phase of the rebuild. You can read more about the rebuilds and how you can help if you can here.
This article was first published on 30th January 2021.