Queen Mary II
Current / Last Route
Lady Colquhoun, wife of Sir Ian Colquhoun of Luss
William Denny & Bros. Ltd., Dumbarton
William Denny & Bros. Ltd., Dumbarton
Three steam turbines, direct drive. New boiler, 1957
Hoist & Lifts:
Observation Lounge, First Class Dining Saloon, Third Class Tearoom, Smoke-Room and Bar
Sorry, Not Compiled Yet.
The Company's last steamship – and Scotland's last turbine steamer – was built by Denny's of Dumbarton for the Williamson-Buchanan fleet; and specifically for the “doon the water” excursion trade from Glasgow to the Clyde resorts. QUEEN MARY was launched on Thursday 30th March 1933 by Lady Colquhoun, wife of Sir Ian Colquhoun of Luss, to grandiloquent praise by the shipyard's company chairman, Mr Maurice Denny, who was sure the Glasgow folk would embrace the new vessel to their hearts. “The QUEEN MARY, as they would learn when they took their first trip in her, had special and improved accommodation, far outstripping anything hitherto attempted in the Clyde River steamer.
This was “a proud boast for the new ship,” notes her 1976 biographer, Robin Orr, “but it has proved fully justified.”
In many respects QUEEN MARY closely resembled the new generation of turbine steamers, like KING GEORGE V or the two LMS “Duchesses”. Unlike KING GEORGE V, though, she had solid bulwarks rather than an open rail to the bow, and her first-class accommodation was forward, in reverse of Clyde custom hitherto. She was also, mechanically, much more traditional, with three direct-acting turbines to her three screws and steam raised from a Scotch boiler. Though her normal service speed was fifteen knots, she was fully capable of eighteen when pushed.
Yet there were novelties too. The fully enclosed observation lounge, forward, was most spacious and untroubled by the draughts and disturbance of folk seeking access to the foredeck. (Instead of a door, this area was reached by a companionway from the boat deck, above.) Much more usefully, the upper deck ran almost all her way to her stern, providing not only more deck space in total but shelter for those on the promenade deck below. The first class dining saloon was forward, not aft, and so granted passengers a fire outlook and freedom from vibration. Her third class accommodation – tearoom, smoke-room and bar – lay towards the stern.
The engine room was enclosed in a way that completely cut off bow from stern accommodation on her main deck and only after the 1950 introduction of one-class operation was throughfare possible – via the gents' toilet! There was a large galley amidships and, in another innovation for the times, this boasted a splendid refrigerator. With all this enclosed passenger-space, her sleek white bulwarks rather than rails, a raked bow and cruiser stern, QUEEN MARY had a remarkably modern profile and, at the end of her career – when she had acquired the single large funnel – it was hard to remember how old she actually was.
One reason for all this was that in truth she was a purpose-built excursion ship – which very few of the twentieth century Clyde steamers actually were; most had to be designed to allow capacity for mails, light freight, and on occasion even motor-vehicles. QUEEN MARY was also, at thirty-five feet, unusually beamy. Purists might – and often did – complain of her “tubbiness”, and she could never match, for instance, the DUCHESS OF HAMILTON for speed; but the new time turbine-steamer was unsurpassed for roominess and comfort, and in her original two-funnel profile looked most attractive in the elegant black-and-white livery of her original owners.
Her base was Bridge Wharf in Glasgow and she sailed most days at 10 am for Dunoon and Rothesay, with non-landing excursions to Arran, Skipness, etc. On Saturdays she did the most famous Clyde cruise of all – leaving Bridge Wharf at 1:45 for Dunoon, Rothesay and the Kyles of Bute. Until 1969 – with the exception of the war years – there was little variation on this routine; and indeed she would resume it in her very last seasons.
The new ship's impact was immediate and Mr Denny's prophecy abundantly fulfilled; her “roominess and unique amount of sheltered accommodation and open deckspace had instantly endeared the 'Mary' to the Glasgow public,” records Ian McCrorie, “and she remained a firm favourite both for regular sailings and special charters.”
1935 was an eventful year for QUEEN MARY. That spring the Cunard White Star Line prevailed on Williamson-Buchanan to change her name, in order to free it for the splendid new liner nearing completion at Clydebank. So the Clyde excursion steamer became QUEEN MARY II; and an elegant plaque, as well as a portrait of King George V's consort, was presented to her owners by a grateful Cunard in acknowledgement of their gracious act.
In October that year QUEEN MARY II passed to the ownership of the CSP (itself a subsidary of the LMS Railway) though it was December 1939 before she acquired yellow funnels; and they did not long survive until the adoption of hideous wartime livery – first all grey; later black hull with dingy “horizon yellow” funnels and superstructure. She spent the war period almost continuously on the Gourock-Dunoon run and it was 1st June 1946 before she resumed service from Glasgow. She also enjoyed the company of a distinguished consort; the pioneer Clyde turbine, KING EDWARD, which undertook the 10 am secondary run from Glasgow (QUEEN MARY II would sail at 11 am) till her withdrawal in 1951.
QUEEN MARY II became a one-class ship in 1950 and acquired a mainmast in 1953. In 1954 a cafeteria was installed. She was reboilered in the spring of 1957 – a Yarrow water-tube oil-fired boiler was installed- and emerged with a startling new look; one modern funnel in place of her original two. It was well-proportioned, though, and “many think her appearance has been improved,” mused G E Langmuir sourly, “though it is difficult to resist the preference for two funnels.”
In 1960, QUEEN MARY II was fitted with radar and in 1965 adopted the new CSP livery – her hull painted that strange “monastral” blue, and two Caley lions rampant fitted to her funnel. (A these were of a standard size, ill-suited to the bast range of CSP lums, they were mere red splodges from a distance.) In a regrettable move that ruined her lines and appalled her admirers, her masts were shortened for the 1969 season, in order to allow her passage under the new Kingston Bridge. (As Bridge Wharf was closed for ever at that season's end – before the Kingston Bridge was even finished – the mutilation, which was never reversed, was entirely pointless.)
STG ownership saw reversion to black hulls and, her Glasgow base withdrawn, QUEEN MARY retreated once again to Gourock and added a few Round Ailsa Craig trips to her schedule. The withdrawal of DUCHESS OF HAMILTON led to considerable refit in the spring of 1971. The most urgent task was the improvement of her electricity supply. This done, her facilities were massively revamped.
The deck lounge was refurbished and the dining saloon forward became a modern cafeteria. The bar was promoted from the lower deck to the main deck aft – it became the “Firth Lounge”- and a daft plan to build a new bar on her upper deck (and thus reduce open deckspace for passengers) was averted. A a new dining saloon was, bizarrely, put in the lower deck in what had been the traditional Clyde steamer location – though forward rather than aft – and this became the “Queen's Restaurant”, though in the grotty cheapskate atmosphere of the 1970s this was frequently out of use.
Thus QUEEN MARY II sallied forth for the summer of 1971, adding various ports of DUCHESS OF HAMILTON to her roster – and thus she operated a lively mix of cruises from Dunoon, Largs and Rothesay to the Kyles of Bute, Inveraray, Arran and Campbeltown
“QUEEN MARY II, though not as fast as the last Caley 'Duchess', and perhaps lacking some of her character, is the more sensible choice as the premier cruiser,” admitted Iain C. MacArthur, “for she is more economical with her water-tube boiler installation of 1957 and has more spacious accommodation, now properly modernised...”
It was enough to ensure that QUEEN MARY II survived WAVERLEY, when the Compan's last sea-going paddlesteamer was withdrawn (as it seemed) at the end of the 1973 season, the year QUEEN MARY II acquired a CalMac red funnel. She survived even KING GEORGE V – though never reciprocated that ship's brief 1970 fling on the Clyde with a West Highland jaunt of her own. The (brief) demise of WAVERLEY saw QUEEN MARY spend the 1974 season as the very last Clyde steamer, adding certain WAVERLEY jaunts like Round the Lochs or Round Bute to her increasingly complicated schedule of all-day cruises, with a sortie to Arran on Wednesdays.
WAVERLEY, however, proved spectacularly undead; she was recommissioned under private (charitable) ownership in 1975 and resumed steamer sailings from Glasgow – at weekends – for the first time since 1969. These were a big hit and CalMac took note.
There followed an unedifying dual and without quarter; the STG had had the foresight, in the famous £1 sale of WAVERLEY to her new owners, to insert a conditional clause precluding the use of the paddler in direct competition with CalMac vessels on CalMac routes. There was no reciprocal clause to stop CalMac muscling in on the restored Glasgow excursion business; even better, Strathclyde Regional Council was persuaded in 1976 to grant subsidy to the Company for MAID OF THE LOCH and QUEEN MARY II – and nothing at all for the “poor old WAVERLEY”.
So the turbine resumed “doon the water” cruises from Glasgow on Sundays and Mondays in 1976, joining WAVERLEY at her Anderston Quay berth; more, the demise of the great Cunarder – now entombed in Los Angeles concrete – allowed her to revert to her original name, with a special ceremony held on board on 6th May 1976.
Yet, despite all these advantages, QUEEN MARY could not finish off the world's last sea-going paddlesteamer; and as the public spending crisis mounted and the screws tightened on CalMac's budget, it became obvious they could not afford to retain this expensive summer butterfly. There was but a limited, and dwindling, market for a Clyde excursion steamer; and WAVERLEY, with the thrash and dramas of paddles, had pretty well cornered it.
In the winter of 1976-1977 the STG Board committed themselves to a major refit of the 1957 car ferry, GLEN SANNOX, and it became apparent that this would allow her to replace QUEEN MARY as summer excursion vessel while earning a useful crust, in relief work, every winter.
But QUEEN MARY would enjoy a last, forty-fifth season on the Clyde through the summer of 1977. She made her very last sailing on 12th September; it was an “Evening Showboat” excursion from Largs to Rothesay and the Kyles of Bute. She then repaired forlornly to Greenock's East India Harbour to await her fate.
There followed several nerve-shredding years of speculation and uncertainty, expectation and dashed hoped. On 30th June 1978 it was announced Glasgow District Council had purchased the QUEEN MARY, for use up-river as a static but floating maritime museum. The advent of a new Conservative government, and savage public spending cuts, put paid to the plan and in April 1980 the old turbine was sold to Euroyachts Ltd. There was the usual gossip about possible static use in an atmosphere not helped by the destruction, in just over a year, of the OLD CALEDONIA and the KING GEORGE V by fire; and an unhelpful reminder, in Ships Monthly, that QUEEN MARY enjoyed a scrap-value of around £30,000.
She was acquired by a London company, Tesright, in 1981; it emerged that there were Chinese-born businessmen involved in the venture, though Tesright made plain she was not to become a Chinese restaurant. Towed to the Thames that January – though only after her rusting lions were removed by order of Lord Lyon King of Arms; and much of her steam plant stripped out and freighted to the National Maritime Museum - QUEEN MARY lay helplessly in Tilbury Docks for several years and was eventually restored for a static role in 1987, and indeed to a two-funnel condition, after being sold yet again to Toby Inns Ltd.
Though much altered internally, QUEEN MARY still lies at the Victoria Embankment in the berth once occupied by the OLD CALEDONIA, serving as a pub and restaurant with somer rented office accommodation besides; in 1997 she enjoyed another refit, at Chatham, and the twin white funnels once again became yellow. “She remains open to the public on Victoria Embankment,” writes Colin Smith, “regularly visited by Glasgow businessmen who find themselves in London and in need of refreshment in familiar surroundings.”