Historic Queen Mary steamer to make surprise return to Clyde cruising – 45 years after retiring

A historic Clyde steamer that took thousands of daytrippers a week “doon the watter” is to make a surprise return to cruising – 45 years after retiring.

 Since 2015, turbine ship (TS) Queen Mary has been undergoing restoration as an intended static “heritage destination and education/training centre” beside the Glasgow Science Centre.

However, in a dramatic change of direction announced by the Princess Royal, the ship’s royal patron, the 89-year-old vessel which was built at Denny’s Leven Shipyard in Dumbarton,  is due to return to active service in summer 2024.

Its owners said they had been “overwhelmed by the generosity of corporate donors and individuals who were keen to see the ship restored to its former glory”.

However, they admitted “substantial work” remains to be completed on the 252-foot-long vessel, including new engines.

It also remains to be seen whether the move will grow the market by increasing interest in Clyde cruising, or take business from the Waverley paddle steamer, which has lost significant revenue after losing almost two seasons due to major boiler replacement work, Covid lockdowns and damage from colliding with Brodick pier in September 2020.

But Queen Mary’s owners said the vessels, which are docked beside each other at Pacific Quay, “complement each other other wonderfully”.

TS Queen Mary berthed beside Glasgow Science Centre on Friday. Picture: John Devlin

Dumbarton-built Queen Mary berthed at Glasgow Science Centre. Picture: John Devlin

The announcement was made exactly three years after Princess Anne became patron of the Dumbarton-built ship, which was named after her great grandmother.

Decades after sailing from Bridge Wharf, opposite the Broomielaw in Glasgow city centre, TS Queen Mary will again head down the river under Erskine Bridge, which she officially opened in 1971, to resorts such as Dunoon and Rothesay.

In its heyday, the steamer carried 13,000 passengers a week and its owners said it was known as “Britain’s finest pleasure steamer”, with those carried including members of the royal family, along with US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Viscount Montgomery of Alamein and music hall legend Sir Harry Lauder.

The ship changed its name to Queen Mary II in 1935, two years after being built, in deference to the new Cunard-White Star liner Queen Mary.

Princess Anne visiting the ship on Friday as Friends of TS Queen Mary chairman Iain Sim looks on. Picture: Martin Shields

Princess Anne visiting the ship as Friends of TS Queen Mary chairman Iain Sim looks on. 

Queen Mary’s cruising days ended in 1977 and it became a bar and restaurant until 2009 on the Thames in London before being rescued from dereliction at Tilbury in Essex and towed back to the Clyde in 2015.

Since then, Friends of TS Queen Mary have raised £3.8 million of cash and in-kind support for the restoration, which has a £6m target.

Chairman Iain Sim said: “TS Queen Mary has a special place in the hearts and minds of those in Britain and beyond who recall this iconic ship and its unrivalled place in the life of the River Clyde.

They are seen sailing in a combined charter in 1977 in this YouTube video from the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society, which contains footage from the Dr Joe McKendrick collection.

The steamer in its heyday. Picture: Friends of TS Queen Mary

The steamer in its heyday. Picture: Friends of TS Queen Mary

“Thanks to the backing of our wonderful supporters – both individual and corporate and those whose hard work is defining this restoration – TS Queen Mary will set sail once again.”

Actor Robbie Coltrane, a patron of the charity and among celebrities to have pledged support, said: “I always dared to say we could put engines back in her and sail her down the Clyde like she did in 1933.

“TS Queen Mary is as relevant in the 21st century as she was almost 90 years ago.

“Now she is coming back to reclaim her throne.”

Restoration work has involved more than 300 nautical studies and marine engineering students from City of Glasgow College in a special training academy.

Picture: Denny’s Shipyard in Dumbarton where the Queen Mary was launched 90 years ago.

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