Monday, 30 May 2011

Waverley - 23rd August 1954

Another short piece from Robin Copland.

On the 23rd of August 1954, I had yet to reach my first birthday, so I am fairly certain that standing on my own two feet was not yet one of my major strengths.  The power of speech still eluded me, though doubtless I exercised my vocal chords when stressed or needing fed.  Food would probably still be limited to milk and perhaps the odd solid.  Perambulation would be by pram and my mother and father probably still thought of me as the apple of their collective eyes.

Of PS Waverley, I knew precisely and exactly nothing, but I have in front of me form E.R.O. 13826 – and please don’t ask; suffice it to say that it involves Ebay and a wife who wonders just which planet it is that I am from – the daily report of traffic carried on that good ship on that, for all I know, fine day.  And it makes interesting reading for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the route that she took.  Why don’t you come with me, whilst I explain all...

Craigendoran knew not of its fate twenty years down the line.  It remained a busy pierhead despite the takeover of the north bank fleet some six years previously by the “auld enemy”, those nice folk from Gourock.  Stubbornly, the crews of PS Waverley and PS Jeanie Deans stuck to their traditions.  Their erstwhile Craigendoran consort, DEPV Talisman had defected to the Caley stronghold that was the Millport station but at least she had seen off PS Marchioness of Lorne, already withdrawn and sitting idly in the Albert Harbour awaiting her fate – as it turned out, an appointment with the breakers torch in Port Glasgow the following year.

Waverley sat at the pier, steam wisping from her funnel and her paddles turning ever-so-gently as she was coaxed into life.  Her paddleboxes remained black and, though her funnels were painted in the buff and black of the Caledonian Steam Packet Company Limited, the line on them both told of a different heritage.  She was in the prime of her young life at this point in her career – barely six years after her launch.  Her older sister, Jeanie Deans lay parallel to her on the pier.  Both their angled bows had gently kissed the sand under their keels as the tide went out from the notoriously shallow pier.  Later on, both the deeper-drafted Duchesses made calls at the pier, but one imagines that everyone on board was on high alert as the approach was made!  The last thing that anyone wanted as the famed turbines visited the north bank terminal was the ultimate embarrassment of being stuck fast to the seabed!

Life, in the form of a steam-hauled train puffed into the adjoining station; the odd car pulled up and was parked adjacent to the station entrance – nothing fancy in those days, mind you, nothing fancy at all.  An old Austin Seven perhaps, or maybe the still relatively new Morris Minor – the German invasion was still far into the future.  In any case and one-by-one, sixty one hardy souls boarded Waverley that morning – sixty-one hardy souls and five goats!  History does not tell us where the goats were headed, nor indeed where they were stored on board, but I imagine that they would have been tethered to a rail somewhere on board and that a sign would have been hastily erected – something to the effect that there were goats on board and to avoid wherever they were for fear of a kicking!

At ten o’clock, she beat across the estuary to Gourock where five of her number disembarked (the goats, I wonder?) and where 288 passengers joined.  Presumably, this being still the relatively early fifties, the bulk of those had travelled by train from points east.  She sailed across to Dunoon where 212 passengers joined but where 94 left the ship.  I presume that a goodly number of these had travelled either via Craigendoran or, more likely via Gourock and were using Waverley as a ferry service and nothing more.  In any case, she travelled next to Innellan, where 44 joined and 10 disembarked; at this stage, there were 496 people on board ship as she went round Toward Point and into Rothesay Bay.  At Rothesay 77 joined the ship and 118 left to enjoy the splendours of the Winter Gardens or the Old Pavilion.  She sailed from there through the Kyles of Bute to Tighnabruaich for a quick stop to let 9 off and take 22 on.

And now it gets interesting because our ship carries on through the Kyles of Bute, passing to the west of the Wee Cumbrae and on down to Brodick, there to pick up a solitary passenger and let 158 off.  Round the point she sailed to Lamlash next to drop off 41 passengers – doubtless they all went to the Aldersyde hotel just along from the pier, there to imbibe the odd pint or two or foaming ale.  She was not finished yet though, for her next and final stop was Whiting Bay where the remaining 244 passengers disembarked for a short stay ashore.

What happened next was also interesting, for the 244 who had left at Whiting Bay became 265 for the first leg of the return trip.  I can only imagine that a goodly few had disembarked at Brodick and Lamlash, travelled by road to Whiting Bay and rejoined the ship there.  Maybe some did the same in reverse – in other words, disembarked at Whiting Bay, then made their way north to Brodick or Lamlash.  For 65 joined at Lamlash and 135 joined the ship at Brodick, though 3 left at that point. 

So where does that leave us?  Well 442 passengers were disembarked at the three Arran ports and, when she left Brodick on her return trip around the east coast of Bute (and therefore not calling at Tighnabruaich), she had 445 passengers on board.  I do not have a 1954 timetable to hand, but I assume that there was a connecting service from Rothesay to Tighnabruaich to allow the nine passengers who embarked there the chance to get back home; I also assume that the 22 who disembarked in the Kyles of Bute resort would have used TS Queen Mary II perhaps – or even St Columba, I suppose, to return whence they came.

When she came alongside Rothesay, there were 177 passengers waiting to board and 75 to clear, so for her trip from Rothesay to Innellan, she was again at her busiest – carrying 544 people.  At Dunoon, 141 joined her and 211 left; at Gourock, 301 left and 15 joined her, so for her final leg to Craigendoran, she still had a relatively healthy 171 passengers on board.

She was never near her capacity throughout the day, to be fair, but pause and reflect on this for a moment.  Waverley was but one of a large number of Clyde River Steamers, visiting different parts of the estuary.  What is more, you could plan to stay on one ship, or you could devise all kinds of weird and wonderful combinations of ships as they – and you – danced your way around the firth.  Even relatively remote outposts like Tighnabruaich received regular steamer visits each day.  The major resorts like Dunoon and Rothesay had multi-berth piers, but more importantly, they were still needed.  Often there would be two or sometimes three steamers tied up, but straining to get on their way again.  The great difference between then and now was the sheer number of inter-resort sailings available to the travelling public of the time.  Not many people had access to cars and most folk were still reliant on public transport.

There is one more thing of interest to note.  On the return journey from Arran, there were three barrows of general freight and – one dinghy.  I ask you – one dinghy!

 Robin Copland