After the heady innocence of its 1930s infancy, and the travails of wartime and postwar austerity, CRSC enjoyed a period of stability and consolidation in the 1950s. Club activities took on a settled pattern. A typed and printed annual Review, initially running to no more than a handful of pages, was first issued in 1953. The Club’s 25th anniversary dinner in December 1957 and a charter cruise of Countess of Breadalbane downriver from Paisley in May 1959 were well supported occasions, indicating that this polyglot association of ship enthusiasts had hit its stride. After the untimely death in July 1950 of Norman Shields, our first Honorary Secretary, Graham Langmuir was elected to replace him and went on to serve the Club in that post for 40 years. The 1950s brought another personality to the fore — Captain Alex Rodger, a respected seafarer who had already been President twice (1937-38 and 1951-52) and, from 1953 until his death in 1971, served as Honorary President with great distinction. In the words of his obituary in Clyde Steamers, Captain Rodger’s ‘very presence in our midst added immeasurably to the status of the Club’.
The decade began with CRSC rejoicing in the success of its first publication, celebrating the 60th anniversary in 1949 of the Caledonian Steam Packet Company and the opening of the Gourock route. It was written by Rev. William C. Galbraith, who had given a talk to the Club on this very subject in December 1948 and also featured in the 1949-50, 1950-51 and 1951-52 winter programmes — his subjects being ‘Around Broomielaw’ (November 1949), ‘North British Steamers’ (December 1950) and ‘From the Castle Company to MacBrayne’ (December 1951). Willie Galbraith had served as president in 1947-48 and remained a committee member until 1958.
Throughout the 1950s two of CRSC’s founder members, George Stromier and Leo Vogt, continued to play an influential role behind the scenes, but it was in a very public forum — the pages of the Glasgow daily newspaper The Bulletin — that George began to make his mark as a writer, popularising the steamer scene through a long-running column about the Clyde, its ships, piers and personalities. With characteristic modesty, he did so under the pen name of St Mungo, using his job in the paper’s advertising department as a platform to inform the public about the history and character of river steamers — in a way that stimulated widespread interest in Scotland’s shipping heritage, to the Club’s benefit.
Here is a cross-section, copied from an album in the Stromier-Vogt Collection. George’s ‘River Reverie’ column, running from mid 1949 to early 1955, illuminated such topics as ‘The Blockade Runners’ (September 1949) and ‘Sailing on the Sabbath’ (December 1949) that might otherwise seem esoteric. He also informed his readers about our Club (10 October 1950, below), which by then had 200 members:
The St Mungo series included a potted history of piers, providing inspiration for George’s expanded articles about piers in Clyde Steamers in the late 1960s and 1970s.
Famous and not-so-famous steamers of the past were well represented….
…. as were steamer personalities:
But there was one unusually nostalgic column early in the series that conjured the sense of a vanished world — mourning all that had been lost not just in the war but also in the 1948 nationalisation of railway-owned steamer fleets, when so much that was valued by George Stromier’s generation of steamer enthusiasts was swept away:
Those sentiments — comparing the ‘desolate and practically deserted’ winter scene at Bowling Harbour with the ‘halcyon days…and myriad funnel colourings’ of a lost past — were to characterise the Club’s mindset throughout the 1950s, which was a time of great flux in the Clyde river fleet. Old favourites like King Edward, Duchess of Argyll and Duchess of Fife were withdrawn, to be replaced by diesel-driven ‘Maids’ and car ferries which, at first sight, had far less personality. It was this backward-looking mindset that the author George Blake characterised, in his 1952 book The Firth of Clyde, as the ‘cult of the Clyde steamer’ — a cult embodied by ‘a Clyde River Steamer Club which sedulously collects and preserves and records the memories and emblems of the brave days of free enterprise on the Firth…. The cult is a clear symptom of nostalgia; it harks back to the days when life was cheaper, easier, simpler and brighter in colour. It recalls the youth of a generation only now middle-aged. It exists, as it were, to register a protest against change and to declare for values in danger.’
Whether or not you agree with that slightly sniffy assessment, you can’t help sympathising with CRSC stalwarts who had grown up with the old steamers and were now seeing them withdrawn, one by one. Just as we do today with our favourite ageing ferries, Club members celebrated the old-timers while they could, as illustrated by these two photos taken by Leo Vogt on 19 July 1950, capturing King Edward from the bridge of Caledonia as the 50-year old turbine swept past the paddler at the entrance to the East Kyle.
Aware that 1951 was likely to be the pioneering turbine’s last season, CRSC members partook of a nominated excursion on her to the Kyles on 12 May, marking the occasion with a group photo — ship’s lifebelt to the fore. Graham Langmuir stands sixth from left and Geoffrey Grimshaw three further along, peering at the camera from behind another gentleman:
On 26 April the following year, King Edward was pictured (with Wee Cumbrae and Ashton) in the Albert Harbour, Greenock, shortly before being towed to Troon for breaking up:
Despite the dread of modernity felt by some members, the arrival of the ‘Maids’ and car ferries in 1953-54 gave everyone plenty to talk about — and photograph. Graham Langmuir visited the Inglis yard at Pointhouse on 2 April 1953 to snap Maid of Argyll and Maid of Skelmorlie on the day of the latter’s launch. Two years later Leo Vogt caught the new mood at Craigendoran with a photo of one of the diesel passenger vessels (Maid of Ashton) with a steam-driven paddler — the eight-year old Waverley:
In the annals of the Clyde River Steamer Club, December 1953 saw an important milestone — our 21st anniversary, marked by a gathering at which Captain Alex Rodger was invited to become Honorary President. He is pictured accepting the badge of honour from Leo Vogt, with an entourage that included Club members Graham Langmuir and George Stromier (first and third left) and William Paul and John Pollock (first and second right), framing a group of leading Clyde captains — ‘Big Bob’ MacLean (Saint Columba), John Cameron, Donald Crawford, James Murphy, Alf Purves, Fergus Murdoch (Duchess of Hamilton) and Hector MacKenzie. Their presence was a mark of the esteem in which Captain Rodger was held in the wider shipping community.
The Club’s 1953-54 winter programme (below) saw the committee debut of Robin Boyd, who went on to become Honorary President (2006-2015). It also featured the first CRSC talk by Alan J. S. Paterson, whose immaculately researched books would later set new standards for Clyde steamer literature.
It was in 1954 that CRSC first published an annual Review, which until then had taken the form of a talk given by a Club member tasked with summarising the previous year’s shipping activity on the Firth. Although modest in scope, Review 1953 set a marker for the future: the annual publication quickly grew to become a valuable part of what CRSC offered to members in return for their subscription. Published initially in typed and duplicated form, it proved so successful that, from Review 1965 onwards, it was properly printed with illustrations.
Those early Reviews are now increasingly scarce collector’s items, and so all the 1950s Reviews have been digitised for the benefit of paid-up CRSC members: a complete page-by-page, year-by-year library of 1950s editions is now available as a ‘Members Only’ post, which you can access by clicking here. Page 1 of the 1953 Review is reproduced below:
The next three photographs characterise the opportunities Club members took in the mid 1950s to sail together and enjoy each other’s company on trips to island destinations.
On a 1956 excursion to Lochranza, Club stalwarts Oliver Dewar, Willie Robertson, Donald Robertson, Leo Vogt and George Stromier were pictured relaxing together at the north Arran village, and a year later they gathered with others at Wemyss Bay for a winter sailing on Maid of Skelmorlie: the four individuals at the front are Willie Robertson, Michael Warren, Donald Buie and David Landale. In 1958 Donald Robertson, Jimmy Gilbert, George Stromier and Oliver Dewar were snapped by Leo at Cumbrae’s Wishing Well during a cycle round the island. Dress code in those days was strictly shirt-jacket-and-tie — plus a heavy overcoat in winter.
In 1956 Donald Robertson became president and George Train took over responsibility for the annual Review from Jim McCaul, who had been Review editor for the previous five years. The 1956-57 winter programme was the first in which R. N. W. Smith addressed the Club (13 March): Dick Smith would go on to be not only an influential voice in promoting research into Clyde steamer history, but also a regular contributor to Clyde Steamers. Also worthy of note here is David Morton, who had created the post of Curator in 1955.
The Club’s silver jubilee (25 years) took place on 4 December 1957 in the Ca’doro Restaurant at Gourock. Billed as a ‘Conversazione’, this social event was attended by two of the most respected steamer captains of the day, Fergus Murdoch and John Macleod, both of whom were on friendly terms with leading Club members. They are pictured below holding a model of a ‘Duchess’ with (left to right) Club president David Landale, George Stromier, Graham Langmuir and Leo Vogt. Click on images to enlarge.
But 1957 also saw the introduction to Clyde service of a controversial newcomer, the car ferry Glen Sannox: her first public sailing to Brodick on 29 June was well patronised by Club members. The young Richard Orr photographed her from the shore, and Graham Langmuir snapped two fellow members on the vessel’s capacious upper deck (can anyone identify these two individuals? If so, please email email@example.com). While some enthusiasts saw this new member of the fleet as a sign of progress, many viewed Glen Sannox’s unprecedented top hamper with disdain, referring to her as ‘a block of flats’ and ‘Moss Heights’ (a reference to the first high-rise flats to be built in Glasgow in 1953). It would be a good 10 years before the ‘Sannox’ won acceptance from the Club’s older diehards. In later life she became a Club favourite. The third of these three pictures shows her at Gourock in her first winter of service, with Talisman, a ‘Maid’ and (far right) Granny Kempock.
Dick Smith was president for the 1958-59 session — the title of his president’s address was ‘The Opening Years of the Century’ — but the 1958 event that touched most hearts was the Club’s farewell visit to Saint Columba at Greenock on 30 November, three weeks before the venerable MacBrayne turbine (built in 1912 as Queen Alexandra) was towed to Port Glasgow for breaking up. To commemorate the occasion, Leo Vogt photographed a group of members next to those famous three funnels, with George Stromier and Neil McArthur holding the ship’s lifebelt, and her bespectacled chief engineer Davie Phillips (a survivor of King George V’s heroic role in the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation) standing second right. While at the East India Harbour, the same group took the opportunity to visit Lochinvar, MacBraynes’ veteran Sound of Mull mailboat, while she was undergoing overhaul at Lamonts: in the foreground are Willie Robertson, George Stromier and Reg Collinson, with Edwin Wylie, Neil McArthur, James McNair, Tom Haddow and David Landale further behind, peering into the ship’s quaint crane mechanism. Saint Columba made her final journey to the breakers (below) under tow on 23 December.
On 9 May 1959 CRSC undertook the first of what was to become, over the following decade and more, a series of highly successful charters of Countess of Breadalbane, a vessel with her own peculiar history of cruising on inland loch and open sea — big enough to host a group of CRSC’s size but also small enough to visit the sort of unusual places members wanted to keep alive as cruising destinations. One such was Paisley, where the ‘Breadalbane’ is pictured (below). This is where the 1959 charter began: she then proceeded to the mouth of the River Cart and down the River Clyde, stopping for a short detour at the mouth of the River Leven at Dumbarton, scene of the birth of so many distinguished ships at the Denny yard. The starboard side shot by Richard Orr (further down the page), taken off Dumbarton Rock, shows the distinctive figure of Graham Langmuir on the top deck. The group photograph taken on the same day features (left to right) CSP traffic manager Eddie Baker with Club members Reg Collinson, Ewen Hurry, George Stromier, Captain Alex Rodger, David Morton and Willie Robertson.
The 1959-60 winter programme included a presentation that demonstrated the Club’s willingness, after a decade of huge upheaval in the Clyde fleet, to accept change and examine the diesel newcomers on equal terms with the traditional steamers. It took the form of a film and slide show on 9 December, titled ‘Clyde Steamers and Motor Vessels of to-day’. Even if this hardly represented an open-hearted acceptance of modernity, it indicated that CRSC was ending its decade of postwar stability in good humour, with solid foundations on which it could build in the 1960s — a decade that would see the old guard of steamer enthusiasts making way for a new generation of dynamic ‘young Turks’ and a rejuvenation of all that the Club stood for.
Compiled by Andrew Clark, with thanks to Fiona Stromier and Irene O’Brien, chief archivist at the Mitchell Library, Glasgow; also thanks to Iain Dewar and Richard Orr for their photographs.
Stromier & Vogt, Co-Creators of a Club Culture (members only)
CRSC Reviews 1953-59 (paid-up CRSC members only)
CRSC Reviews 1960-64 (paid-up CRSC members only)
CRSC Reviews 1965-69 (paid-up CRSC members only)
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Published on 25 January 2023