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The Clyde Steamers

Caledonian Steam Packet Company Steamers

Caledonian Steam Packet Company Steamers. Caledonian Steam Packet Company Steamers.

With their small size and fearfully high coal consumption the early Clyde steamers were suitable for river and estuary services only, and on the Clyde their success was immediate. Within a few years the Clyde Steamer was an easily recognisable ship type with shallow draft and in most cases side paddles, a tradition that persisted until 1946 when the Waverley was launched.

By the 1840s the Clyde resounded with the sound of paddle wheels, the increase in the number of ships resulting from a lack of road and railway connections as well as successful speculation by local shipowners.  Once the railway networks spread, the steamship fleets enhanced their position through operating agreements with the individual railway companies and by dovetailing timetables. Three new fleets were formed, each associated with one of the main railways serving the Clyde coast and each with its own distinctive naming system and carefully chosen colours. Such co-ordination encouraged holiday makers as well as casual travellers and helped build up a lucrative business with baggage and mail. Limited commuter services developed as wealthy business people built resplendent villas on hitherto inaccessible shores.

Towards the end of the 19th century imbalances between ships and passenger demand arose with the boom in summer holiday trade and a new type of steamer was developed to operate for four or five months a year. Such ships were elegant and fast and exhibited many features developed by the Clyde shipyards while supplying lightweight blockade runners for the American Civil War. Steamship owners recognised that they had to cater for a public with many tastes, and they sought to maintain patronage by good quality catering, German bands and the excitement of the occasional race with a rival steamer.

In keeping with the times some steamers were strictly
teetotal. Church groups and other organisations chartered steamers on a one-day basis, and pick-up points could be arranged at Govan, Partick, Dumbarton and even Paisley, before the ships steamed on to give city dwellers their annual sight of the hills.

In 1901 the world's first passenger turbine ship, King Edward, was delivered. This was followed by many similar and superb vessels in the next 35 years. Two world wars with heavy ship losses in many parts of the world, and the massive growth in private car ownership, changed the shape of the fleet still further. Remaining innovative, the Clyde fleets did profit by supplying diesel-powered car ferries giving a frequency of service impossible in previous years.

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