The thread about the Clyde Shipping Company, who plied the Irish Sea for 130 years, serving people and cattle alike

Today’s auction house artefact is this charming and rather Old Testament early 1960s advertising poster for the Clyde Shipping Company (incorporated in Scotland).

The name on the bow of the ark is Tuskar, in reference to the company’s (then) new motor vessel of that name. This ship was built for the Liverpool to Waterford service and despite the company’s name, most of its business was on the Liverpool to Ireland routes. Tuskar is a lighthouse on the rock of that name that has to be passed (and avoided) to enter the port of Waterford. Clyde Shipping Company named nearly all its ships after lighthouses.

Tuskar, via Ships Nostalgia

The Tuskar didn’t last long in this service, a downturn in traditional coastal shipping as it was replaced by lorries and roll-on-roll-off ferries and cheaper flights meant that she was out of service by 1968, sold to Yugoslavia as Brioni. She did 20 years Adriatic service before being broken up in Split in 1988.

Clyde Shipping were one of the first steamship companies, with a history going back to 1815, operating steam tugs and luggage vessels on the eponymous river and firth. The house flag, featuring a Scottish lion and Irish harp, was changed in 1924 due to the political environment. The new flag featured a lighthouse and the initials CSC and was based on a suggestion by a Miss Blakiston-Houston. I believe the Blakiston-Houstons were Northern Irish gentry with shipping interests.

Post-1924 Clyde Shipping House Flag. © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Pope Collection
Post-1924 Clyde Shipping House Flag. © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Pope Collection

Tuskar’s main purpose was to have carried live animals from Ireland to the English market. It was reported in 1967 that she carried 1,000 pigs to Liverpool after a “bacon strike” had caused a dockside build up. Perhaps that’s what inspired the poster artist to choose an ark full of farmyard animals. Such was Clyde Shipping’s focus on the Irish market that in 1912 they bought the Waterford Steamship co. and built a fine quayside office in that city, with much ornamental shamrocks and thistles in evidence.

Clyde Shipping office in Waterford. © Irish National Inventory of Architectural Heritage
Clyde Shipping office in Waterford. © Irish National Inventory of Architectural Heritage

Indeed the importance of Clyde Shipping to Irish trade was such that the “Clyde Boats” became a byword for shipping from Ireland to the ports on the eastern side of the Irish Sea. The Wateford Civic Trust have placed a blue commemorative plaque on this building to the Clyde Shipping Company which reads “From this quay Clyde ships plied regularly to the ports of Glasgow, Liverpool, Bristol, Plymouth and London“.

While they remained important on the Clyde itself as a tugboat company, it was the Irish services that made them their money and these destinations featured prominently on advertising materials.

1902 Clyde Shipping advertisment
1902 Clyde Shipping advertisment

In December 1917, Clyde Shipping suffered a double loss on the Irish Sea route when the German submarine U62 sank their ships SS Formby and then the SS Coningbeg within days of eachother. All hands were lost on both ships; 83 lives in total, comprising 30 crew and 9 passengers from Formby and 32 crew and 12 passengers from Coningbeg.

Back on the Clyde, the tugs later began to be given names beginning with “flying”, which were painted with the same black hulls and funnels and bronze-coloured upperworks as the company’s steamers. Here is the Flying Duck in the 1960s.

Tug The Flying Duck River Clyde 1960s
Flying Duck towing a drilling rig on the Clyde. Embedded from the Flickr of the Cranhill Arts Project

The Flying Mist, Flying Spray and one other “Flyer” in 1975.

Clyde Busy Tugs 02
Clyde Tygs on the Clyde, embedded from the Flickr of Gillfoto

And the Flying Childers, Flying Fulmar and Flying Phantom in Greenock in the 1990s


Tragically, Flying Phantom – by then under different ownership – capsized one foggy December night in the Clyde in 2007, with the three crew losing their lives. This was the result of a string of safety failings on the part of the operators and Clydeport, with the former being fined £1.7 million and the latter £650,000 as a result, although inquiries and court cases took nearly 7 years to result in this outcome.

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These threads © 2017-2023, Andy Arthur

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