Historic steamer TS Queen Mary to sail on River Clyde again

Huge donation boost to steamer project

TS Queen Mary
TS Queen Mary is currently berthed in Glasgow near the Science Centre.

By Lucy Ashton

The restoration of a 90-year old Clyde steamer has been boosted by a £1 million anonymous donation.

The money will be used to upgrade steel decks on TS Queen Mary in the hope it can carry passengers again.

The vessel, currently berthed at Glasgow’s Pacific Quay, is the last remaining turbine steamship built in Scotland.

The fund-raising campaign to restore the vessel so it can sail again is now nearly halfway towards its £10 million target.

Iain Sim, Chairman of Friends of TS Queen Mary said: “We are overwhelmed by the generosity of this individual. It delivers a massive boost to our fundraising endeavour which has caught the public mood across Britain and around the world.

“The individual who made such a substantial cash gift wishes to remain anonymous and we, of course, respect that request. But to say we are over the moon is putting it mildly.”

TS Queen Mary
TS Queen Mary carried thousands of passengers from Glasgow on “doon the watter” trips on the Clyde

In its heyday TS Queen Mary carried 13,000 passengers each week and was known as “Britain’s finest pleasure steamer”.

Because of her strong connection to Glasgow she was also affectionately known as “The Glasgow Boat.”

The steamer was eventually retired in 1977 and spent several years as a floating restaurant on the Thames before being towed back to the Clyde in 2016.

Initially it was thought it might become a static attraction but two years ago, Princess Anne – who is Royal Patron of TS Queen Mary – announced plans to restore the ship to working order.

The steamer was named after her great-grandmother Queen Mary, who was the wife of King George V.

The late Harry Potter and Cracker actor Robbie Coltrane was an enthusiastic supporter of the restoration project, while Hollywood star Sam Neill is TS Queen Mary’s “Commonwealth Patron.”

TS Queen Mary was built in 1933 by shipbuilders William Denny in the Leven shipyard at Dumbarton, for many years providing “doon the watter” trips from Glasgow to destinations such as Dunoon, Rothesay, Millport and Arran.

In 1935 it was renamed Queen Mary II at the request of Cunard White Star Line to release the Queen Mary name for the much larger liner that was being built at the John Brown shipyard in Clydebank.

Princess Royal, TS Queen MaryDuring a visit to the ship, the Princess Royal confirmed it would sail again to boost post-pandemic recovery and tourism.

Originally, it was planned for the ship to be permanently berthed at Pacific Quay, next to the city’s Science Centre, where the focus would have been on heritage and maritime training.

The Friends of TS Queen Mary charity, which is carrying out the restoration, said it had been “overwhelmed by the generosity of corporate donors and individuals”.

Since restoration work began, the group has raised and invested £3.8 million of cash and in-kind support.

Chairman Iain Sim said it was fitting for Princess Anne to make the announcement given the strong connection to her wider family.

He 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 un-rivalled place in the life of the River Clyde.

“While TS Queen Mary’s incredible history can only be understood looking backwards, her legacy must be lived looking forward.”

TA Queen Mary, undated handout
The Queen Mary previously carried passengers including the Queen mother and King George V.

The TS Queen Mary was built in 1933 and was affectionately called “The Glasgow Boat”, having sailed daily from Broomielaw.

Once known as Britain’s finest pleasure steamer, it formerly carried about 13,000 passengers per week.

At the outbreak of World War Two, the steamer – known as TS Queen Mary II at the time – became a lifeline for Scotland’s island communities.

While other vessels were commandeered to sweep for mines or other military roles, it helped maintain a vital passenger and freight service between the mainland and the islands.

As cars became more affordable and British holiday habits changed, the ship was eventually retired in 1977 and spent several years as a floating restaurant on the Thames.

Royal passengers included then-princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, while other famous people to step aboard included then US first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Viscount Montgomery of Alamein and music hall legend Sir Harry Lauder.

Substantial work is needed before the TS Queen Mary can sail, including replacing the engine.

It is hoped it will be back in service by the summer of 2024.

Top picture: Denny’s Leven shipyard where the Queen Mary was built in 1933.

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