Feature: The Story of the Clyde
As giant shipyard crane is
opened to the public, Shipping Times looks at the history of one of
the world's most famous shipyards...
Part Three: The Roaring Twenties
from Part Two )
Through the 1920's a wide variety of vessels were built, from cross channel
steamers, to cargo vessels, and of course ocean liners. But not in the same
league yet as the pre-war race for larger ships.
However, a four stacker did appear! This was in a way a bonus order for John
Brown, as the order for two vessels for the Union Castle company had gone to the
Belfast yard of Harland & Wolff. Due to capacity restraints, the order for one
of them, the WINDSOR CASTLE was given to the Clydebank yard and completed in
1922. At around 19000 tons she was smaller than the mega-ships of earlier years,
but imposing nonetheless. Younger readers may not be aware of the singular
livery of the Union Castle Line: with their lilac hulls and red and black
funnels, they made for an arresting and gorgeous sight. With her four funnels
the WINDSOR CASTLE was amongst the most pleasing.
The colourful WINDSOR CASTLE. Unfortunately her appearance
was altered radically in a refit in the 1930's. Her four stacks became two
and her bow was 'modernised' The effect was in the author's opinion
affected! She came to grief in WW2 being sunk by aerial torpedo 23rd March
1943. Miraculously out of over 3000 troops and crew aboard, only one lost
The Cunard connection kept going in the twenties with the construction of two
vessels for the company, the FRANCONIA of 1923 and the AULANIA of 1925. They
were typical builds of the day for Cunard with one single funnel, but the
FRANCONIA was the largest at 20,000 tons whilst 'little' AULANIA boasted a mere
A much more significant relationship for the period though came from another
company, the Canadian Pacific Steamship Co. In 1921 and '22 they built the
sisters MONTCALM and MONTCLARE for service from Liverpool to Canada. Twin
funnelled liners of 16,400 grt they would end their days as depot ships.
MONTCLARE came to be a familiar sight when based of Rothesay on the Isle of
Brown's built more ships during the decade for CPR. In 1925 they produced for
the Canadian company two handsome coastal passenger steamers for services
between Seattle, Victoria and Vancouver, the PRINCESS MARGUERITE and the
PRINCESS KATHLEEN. They were unusual in design to modern eyes, with three close
packed funnels amidships and elegant counter sterns and powered by the now
seemingly ubiquitous marine turbine engines.
Another coastal steamer the PRINCESS ELAINE came in 1928 and although she too
had three funnels, her tonnage was less than half of the 1925 vessels at
But the bigger vessels were appearing again by this time. First of all came the
DUCHESS OF BEDFORD and the DUCHESS OF RICHMOND for Canadian Pacific of around
20,000 tons in 1928. These two would become better known to a later generation
as EMPRESS OF FRANCE and EMPRESS OF CANADA. The FRANCE survived until she was
scrapped in 1960 but the other one met a bad end in Liverpool on the 25th
January 1953 when she caught fire in the Gladstone Dock. Her burned out and and
sunken hull remained in the dock for over a year before a half million pounds
salvage operation righted her. This was a phenomenal sum of money, and it was
ill-spent. The poor old girl was declared a total loss and she was scrapped.
The magnificent EMPRESS OF BRITAIN, the first of the giant
liners. She was the largest vessel of WW2 to be sent to the bottom by
U-boat. A sad end to an unjustifiably unsuccessful liner.
Although the depression set in after 1929, CPR came to John Brown again and this
time it was for a much larger vessel. In 1931 they produced the handsome EMPRESS
OF BRITAIN - she was a truly beautiful big liner of 42,348 grt and with three
massive funnels she was to become one of the most familiar looking of vessels
and was the last word in luxury.
Unfortunately her career was never profitable, in fact it was said she was the
least profitable liner on the North Atlantic.
Her life was cut short in 1940 off Ireland when as a requisitioned troopship she
was bombed by German aircraft and set on fire. After being evacuated the ship
was inspected and towing operations began, but the next day she was torpedoed by
enemy action and sank. As an interesting aside, it was rumoured she had been
carrying gold bullion and it was later admitted, years later, that she had been,
but it had been taken off. In 1995 a team of divers found her and located the
bullion room. The government had not been lying, there was no bullion, just the
skeleton of some unfortunate who had been employed in it's removal!
Continue to Part Four: The Queens