SS Shieldhall

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Shieldhall on the Clyde
Name: Shieldhall
Owner: The Solent Steam Packet Ltd
Port of registry:

United Kingdom Glasgow
Builder: Lobnitz & Co., Renfrew, Scotland
Laid down: October 1954
Launched: July 1955
In service: October 1955
Identification: IMO number: 5322752
Status: In service
General characteristics
Tonnage: 1,792 GT[1]
Length: 81.69 m (268 ft 0 in)
Beam: 13.56 m (44 ft 6 in)
Draught: 4.11 m (13 ft 6 in)

SS Shieldhall is a preserved steamship that operates from Southampton. She spent her working life as one of the "Clyde sludge boats", making regular trips from Shieldhall in Glasgow, Scotland, down the River Clyde and Firth of Clyde past the Isle of Arran, to dump treated sewage sludge at sea. These steamships had a tradition, dating back to the First World War, of taking organised parties of passengers on their trips during the summer. SS Shieldhall has been preserved and the accommodation is again being put to good use for cruises.


Passengers can go down into the engine room between the two steam engines.

The 1,972-ton Shieldhall was laid down in October 1954, built by Lobnitz & Co. of Renfrew who also constructed the two triple expansion steam engines which are set vertically in a similar way to the much larger engines on the RMS Titanic. By the 1950s Lobnitz usually built its engines with enclosed crankcases but the Shieldhall was deliberately fitted with traditional open-crank engines. Glasgow Corporation had long allowed day-trippers access to the engine room of its ships while at sea and the older-style engines allowed passengers to see the workings of the engines in operation.

She was built on classic lines with a traditional wheelhouse of riveted and welded construction, a straight stem and a cruiser stern. Her length is 268 feet (82 m) and breadth 44 feet 7 inches (13.6 m). Accommodation was provided for 80 passengers. She entered service in October 1955 and was operated by Glasgow Corporation to transport treated sewage sludge down the Clyde to be dumped at sea.

In 1976 after 21 years of service on the Clyde, Shieldhall was laid up, and in the following year was bought by the Southern Water Authority to carry sludge from Southampton, England, to an area south of the Isle of Wight.


SS Shieldhall moored at Custom House quay, Greenock in 2005.

Due to rising fuel prices she was withdrawn from service in 1985, then was taken over by a preservation society, The Solent Steam Packet Limited, which operates as a charity. All work associated with the Society and Shieldhall is carried out by unpaid volunteers. The remaining Glasgow sludge boats kept going into the 1990s, when changing environmental standards led to new ways of treating the sludge.

With a great deal of work by these volunteers she has been restored to sea-going condition, and now listed as part of the National Historic Fleet, the Shieldhall is now a frequent sight around the Solent running excursions, crewed by volunteers. She has been to the Netherlands for the Dordrecht Steam Festival and has been at International Festivals of the Sea at Bristol and Portsmouth. Passengers are encouraged to visit the bridge and see the engine room, getting an understanding of the days of steam.

SS Shieldhall sets out from Greenock on a cruise in 2005. (alternative image).

In July 2005 the Shieldhall made a return visit to the Clyde, taking part in the River Festival in Glasgow, and berthing at Custom House Quay, Greenock. She made a number of excursions, taking passengers on cruises from Greenock on her old route down the Clyde to Arran.

In 2012, to mark the centenary of the sinking of RMS Titanic, the Shieldhall was repainted in the same colour scheme as the doomed liner.

A £1.4 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) will enable charity The Solent Steam Packet Limited (TSSP) to secure the future of the largest steamship of her type in Europe. The HLF award, announced in April 2013, is for a three-year project Saving Shieldhall – Learning through Conservation in Action. Essential hull works to meet modern regulations, improved passenger facilities and state-of-the art interpretation will enable the volunteers who maintain and operate this unique vessel to preserve and deliver the living experience of a steamship at work for future generations.

Although Shieldhall is currently restricted to Solent waters, she will open her sailing programme in May for the Southampton Maritime Festival. Throughout the summer and autumn, HLF funded work will be going on behind-the-scenes, preparing for major hull repair and modification work to be carried out in dry dock next spring. Then, fully certified to UK Class III standard, she will be fit to carry her passengers, and her message, around and way beyond the Solent. There are plans for apprenticeships and other learning opportunities for young people, and for ‘alongside’ events of all kinds for young and old, including performance work with the Nuffield Theatre. A new Learning and Participation Officer will be recruited and will help deliver visitor and learning activities alongside the volunteers.

Today the 2,000 tonne Shieldhall is a unique seagoing ‘time capsule’. She provides a working example of steamship machinery both above and below deck, typical of the cargo and passenger ships that plied the oceans of the world between the 1870s and 1960s, after which they became all but extinct. Whilst other heritage ships are held permanently in dry dock, Shieldhall remains active, with a cruise programme that allows passengers to access the engine room with its two impressive 800HP steam engines at work and the bridge, complete with traditional instruments and gleaming brasswork.


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