THE END OF THE CLAN LINE AFTER 103 YEARS OF SERVICE

The Clan Line of Steamers commenced in October 1878 when Charles Cayzer, in partnership with Captain Alexander Irvine and shipbuilder Alexander Stephen, despatched his first steamship, the Clan Alpine, from Glasgow and Liverpool to Bombay. More vessels were acquired, and business steadily developed so that by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the fleet comprised 62 steamers.

The acquisition of the Houston Line and Scottish Shire Line expanded the fleet further. Services ran from UK and Continental ports and East Coast USA to South and East Africa, the Indian Sub-continent, Indian Ocean islands, Australia and South America, (the latter served by Houston Line).

At the start of World War II the Cayzer family operated 68 vessels under several company names within the Cayzer Irvine Group. After heavy losses during the war, a rebuilding programme was instigated. A notable event took place in 1956 when British & Commonwealth Shipping Co Ltd was formed by a merger of the Group with Union-Castle and its associate and subsidiary companies. Clan Line and Union-Castle continued to trade separately although crews became interchangeable.

By Sept 1965, the Clan Line fleet, together with Houston and Scottish Shire, stood at 45 ships. It was a large, relatively modern fleet of handsome and distinctive vessels and Clan Line was still one of the foremost British cargo liner companies.

From then on, however, the fleet went into decline for a number of reasons. Containerisation was imminent, with British & Commonwealth making a 20% investment in Overseas Containers Ltd. Competing national shipping lines, sponsored by governments of countries to which Clan Line traded, were going from strength to strength. Some of the cargo liner trades were being taken by specialist vessels such as bulk carriers and reefers. In 1978 the British & Commonwealth Group reported the first trading loss on its shipping business. A trickle of ship sales became a flood.

During the 1960s and early 70s, I had seen quite a number of Clan Line ships in the Mersey ports and at Manchester Docks, where they discharged regularly and sometimes also loaded for outward voyages. Although I moved to the South with my job in 1976, I still took an interest in shipping movements in my former stamping-ground, aided by the shipping press, to which I had access in my office.

In October 1981, I noticed from Lloyd’s Daily Index and other sources that the last remaining Clan Liner in service, the Clan Macgregor, was nearing the end of her final voyage from India and was to discharge part of her cargo at Avonmouth and then the remainder at Manchester before being transferred to new owners. I also knew that she was likely to be the last large, (in Ship Canal terms), cargo liner to visit Manchester Docks. I thought this was an occasion worth recording so, when dates became more certain, I booked a couple of days off work and drove up to my mother’s house in Stockport, where I stayed overnight.

Early the next morning, 15th October, I drove over to Barton Locks on the Ship Canal, arriving around 5.30am, just as the Clan Macgregor and her tugs were entering the locks. I then followed her progress at various places on the Canal until she arrived at Manchester Docks and finally berthed in No 9 Dock. This was the end of the Clan Line services after 103 years. (At that time they still owned a bulk carrier, the King Alfred, but she was not on liner service). A week or so later the Clan Macgregor left the Canal under her new name Angelika R, now owned by a Greek company.

The following are some of my photos taken on that sad occasion.

PHOTO 1) Early morning at Barton Locks as the Clan Macgregor sails towards Manchester on her passage up the Ship Canal.

PHOTO 2) The ship passes the Barton swing bridges. The road bridge is hidden by the ship but part of the swing aqueduct is visible on the right.

Note that, by this time, the ship’s hull no longer had the traditional white upper strake which had formerly enhanced the appearance of Clan Line ships.

PHOTO 3) Entering the lock at Mode Wheel, the last set of locks before Manchester Docks.

PHOTO 4) Having passed Mode Wheel Locks, the tugs assist the turn to port into No 9 Dock, Salford.

PHOTO 5) Looking along 9 Dock. On the right we can see the Clan Macgregor berthing for the last time as a Clan Liner, bringing to an end 103 years of service by this once-great shipping line.

As can be seen, No 9 Dock was quiet, apart from two small containerships. During the heyday of the port, up to the mid – 1970s, this dock was frequently full of ships. However ocean-going ships were now rapidly out-growing the canal. No further ships the size of the Clan Macgregor arrived at the docks after this date, apart from the bulk carrier Carchester. Some smaller ships used the docks until 1983 but after that the docks area, as with those in London, Glasgow and other traditional ports, was transformed into a land of swanky apartments, offices, hotels, cinemas, galleries, etc. plus Media City. It is now known as Salford Quays. What was once No 9 Dock can often be seen today in the background to ‘live’ TV news broadcasts, etc from Media City.

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