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Waverley is the world's last seagoing paddle steamer
Fascinating facts and photos
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The story of PS Waverley - the world's last seagoing paddle steamer

Photo by Andrew Gladwell
Waverley's launch in October 1946The Birth of Waverley

Waverley is the last seagoing paddle steamer in the world. Waverley's story goes back to the Second World War when the previous holder of the name was sunk at Dunkirk. Plans to replace the steamer were quickly drawn up and the London & North Eastern Railway placed the order for the new steamer with A. & J. Inglis Ltd. at their Pointhouse yard in Glasgow.

On 2nd October 1946, the Waverley was launched by Lady Matthews, wife of the LNER Chairman and was the last paddle steamer built for service on the Clyde. Waverley provided accommodation for two classes and was coal-fired (until conversion to oil in 1957). Once the fitting out of the steamer was advanced she was towed to the Victoria Harbour at Greenock where Rankin & Blackmore fitted her magnificent triple-expansion steam engine and boiler. Waverley ran her trials in June 1947 when a top speed of 18.5 knots was obtained.

Waverley's first Master was Captain John Cameron along with William Summers as her Chief Engineer. Her maiden voyage was on Monday 16th June 1947 on the route that she was primarily intended for which was the route up Loch Goil and Loch Long to Lochgoilhead and Arrochar. This was part of the famous 'Three Lochs Tour' that enabled passengers to enjoy a further cruise on Loch Lomond by another paddle steamer. During her first season, Waverley sailed to Arrochar six times a week.

Early Years

The original LoungeBy 1948, things were changing and Waverley's attractive LNER livery changed to a rather drab one that belonged to the British Transport Commission. By 1951, things had changed again and Waverley was transferred to the Caledonian Steam Packet Company Limited. During this time she saw more service on the ferry routes from Gourock and Wemyss Bay. She also started a Monday trip from Craigendoran through the Kyles of Bute to Brodick, Lamlash and Whiting Bay. Other routes soon became a regular feature of Waverley's sailings such as the Friday trips to Glasgow Bridge Wharf and the 'Round the Lochs' trip on Wednesdays. By the late 1950s, Waverley was reaching her peak when under the command of Captain Colin MacKay she became a byword for punctuality and smartness.

By the 1960s, things were changing and Waverley's reputation was changing somewhat. By the mid 1960s, Waverley's old stablemate the Jeanie Deans was withdrawn and it was left to Waverley and the Caledonia to carry on the great paddle steamer tradition on the Clyde.

The Last Survivor

By 1972, Waverley was the last paddle steamer on the Clyde and as a tribute to show her uniqueness, her paddle boxes were painted black. As the 1973 season drew to a close, it was clear that Waverley's future was in question as her season hadn't been good and several days sailings had been cancelled. The ageing Waverley was therefore withdrawn at the end of the season leaving the Queen Mary II to carry on the cruising tradition.

A New Beginning

Waverley for a £1Very quickly in November 1973, Douglas McGowan of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society was called to Caledonian MacBrayne and was offered the Waverley for the sum of £1! The Society had been actively promoting the uniqueness of the steamer for several years and it now had the opportunity of actually owning it! Thoughts of turning it into a static exhibit soon turned to more ambitious ones of actually operating it. A small but forward thinking team was bought together and the struggle really began. PSPS members and supporters soon realised that they would need to launch a huge appeal if they were to operate the steamer once again. Councils, tourism authorities and countless companies were approached and somehow the money was raised that enabled the steamer to operate her celebratory first cruise on Thursday 22nd May 1975 - the first under the Waverley Steam Navigation banner.

At the end of the season, despite more than a few teething problems, the venture of operating Waverley had been a success. The 1976 season was yet another struggle for survival but the operation of Waverley had caught the imagination of countless people around the UK!

A Wider Audience

Waverley at Deal in 1980The short season of operating on the Firth of Clyde as well as the ports from which Waverley sailed somewhat limited Waverley's potential for revenue. In late 1976, an invitation was made for Waverley to visit Llandudno in 1977 to help celebrate its Centenary. On 28th April 1977, Waverley departed for Liverpool in a bold and exciting venture that would see the old steamer gain a new life and fame far away from her native Firth of Clyde. The venture was a great success and in 1978, Waverley sailed on an even more ambitious programme that saw her visit the Thames and South coast for the first time. 1979 saw her make her first visit to the Bristol Channel.

The 1980s saw Waverley take on an ever increasing programme of cruises around the whole of the UK with visits to the Republic of Ireland as well. Highlights included a memorable cruise that involved her first master Captain John Cameron laying a wreath to mark the 40th Anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation in 1980.

By the late 1980s, Waverley urgently needed a refurbishment and an ambitious 'Heritage Rebuild' was planned that was heavily funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The first phase commenced in 2000 with the project being completed in 2003.

Waverley Reborn

Today, Waverley looks better than ever in her original and highly attractive livery. That once unremarkable Clyde steamer launched in 1946, is now very much a national treasure bringing great pleasure to countless thousands around the UK each year by providing a glimpse of travel in a bygone age!


 

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