Eric Schofield remembers a ‘little bit of local history-in-the-making’ — the last sailing from Glasgow’s Kingston Dock — and reflects on the circumstances that led to an under-exposed photographic record of the occasion.
The date was Friday 2nd December 1966. With a half-day of outstanding holiday entitlement to be taken before the end of the year, I left the office at midday and walked over the River Clyde by way of the King George V Bridge, before turning right into Clyde Place on the south side. I was not heading for Bridge Wharf, as one would do during the spring or summer months to join Queen Mary II or some other steamer for a trip ‘doon the watter’, but continued westwards to where the road turned away from the riverside, eventually to arrive at the entrance to the furthest upriver of Glasgow’s docks.
I had planned this visit well in advance, having read in the Glasgow newspapers of the imminent closure of Kingston Dock, the base from which David MacBrayne’s cargo ships sailed to the Western Isles. Loch Carron would be departing that afternoon on what would be the last ever sailing from the dock. I was determined not to miss out on photographing this little bit of local history-in-the-making.
The morning had seen steady rain, and although the early afternoon had brought some respite, the weather was so typical of a West of Scotland winter’s day – cold biting wind, somewhat blustery, with little in the way of brightness even at midday. But as time passed there were indications that some breaks in the cloud cover would develop. Hanging around next to the dockside sheds, some of which were already derelict, did nothing to improve the mood as time passed, with daylight gradually filtering away and the threat of another shower of rain growing.
Eventually, nearing 3pm, there were signs that Loch Carron was about to sail, and on the hour she slipped her moorings and slowly moved toward the dock exit and out into the river. Whether it was the boredom of watching nothing much happening, or the winter chill seeping into my mindset, I failed to make the correct setting to my camera’s exposure time, and so regrettably ended up with a badly under-exposed picture of this historic moment. But I never had the heart to dispose of this transparency. It is only recently that I decided to digitise it, and then use Photoshop to try and get something more legible from that afternoon 50 years ago.
Now, if only the final sailing had been at a better time of year, as illustrated by the accompanying pictures of Loch Carron at her Kingston Dock berth in August 1964 and of Loch Ard in March 1965, perhaps I would have had a more fitting historical record. So remember the old adage: ‘The camera never lies – it is the photographer that is the problem’.
Kingston Dock’s original name was Windmillcroft Basin. It opened in 1867, and by the 1960s was Glasgow’s oldest ‘off-river’ wet dock, used principally for the coastal trade. It was about 5-6 acres in area.
After its closure Queen’s Dock was used as MacBrayne’s Glasgow base, and then Springfield Quay. Cargo-only services to the West Highlands ceased in October 1976, Loch Carron being the last of the line. She was sold abroad early in 1977.
For memories of Loch Carron readers are directed to the excellent article on pages 19-23 of the CRSC magazine Clyde Steamers No 49 (2013). See also Clyde Steamers No 28 (1992) for an article on sailing by Lochdunvegan from Kingston Dock to Stornoway.