On Tuesday 8th May 1934 a press cruise was organised to show off the brand new paddle steamers Mercury and Caledonia which had been built for the London, Midland and Scottish Railway ferry connections on the Clyde. It was not a great day with incessant rain but the trip proceeded nonetheless giving all a good look at these two fine new paddle steamers cruising to Ardlamont Point.
Built by Fairfield Mercury was the first to arrive and had already been put into service from 14th March. Caledonia came from the Denny yard and was delivered from the builders on 28th March. Both were built with scantlings to make them suitable for year round sea-going work beyond Categorised Waters so that they could serve Brodick and beyond day and night throughout the year. For this as built they could carry 600 passengers on a Class II Passenger Certificate with correspondingly more on the Class III & IV and almost 2,000 on a Class V in summer only on what then were called “Smooth Waters”. The “Partially Smooth Waters” (today called Category D Waters) was then, and remains today, a line from Skipness to a position one mile south of Garroch Head thence to Farland Head and this enabled a trip round Bute to be within the Categorised Waters limits on a Class IV Passenger Certificate.
They were both highly effective people movers and could really shift the queues on those busy summer holidays when the world and his wife were on holiday and everyone clamoured to board ferries to cross the Clyde. Both ships cost £46,000 which scales up to around £3.4 million each in today’s money.
Mercury had a short career hitting a mine on 25th December 1940 whilst on tow in the Irish sea. Caledonia was returned to service after the war and continued right up to 1969 after which she became a bar and restaurant in London. A decade later she was damaged by fire and was scrapped at Sittingbourne in Kent in 1980.
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 8th May 2021.