Volunteers prepare for next stage of Queen Mary restoration

LIFE could easily have been very different for the last remaining Clyde-built turbine steamer.

Friends of Queen Mary trustees Iain Sim (left) and Calum Bryce by the steamer they helped return to the Clyde. Picture: Ross Easton
Friends of Queen Mary trustees Iain Sim (left) and Calum Bryce by the steamer they helped return to the Clyde. Picture: Ross Easton

The Queen Mary looked destined for the wrecker’s yard, her decades of faithful service worth nothing more than scrap.

But thanks to the hard work of a small but dedicated team of volunteers, the vessel has escaped her certain fate and returned to Scotland for restoration work.

The Friends of Queen Mary first met in 2011 with the intention of saving the steamer, which was then slowly rotting at Tilbury docks in Essex.

The TS Queen Mary returns to the Clyde. Picture: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

The group became a registered charity the following year but had to wait until 2015 for the opportunity to buy the vessel.

After a deal was concluded it was towed to Greenock last week to undergo essential repairs.

While the Queen Mary’s short-term future is now secure, the charity must begin the difficult task of raising an estimated £2 million to fund her complete restoration.

“We’ve had so much good will we are confident we can soon raise what we require,” said Iain Sim, founding trustee.

The TS Queen Mary returns to the Clyde. Picture: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Several businesses have donated their services to help bring the Queen Mary home. Forth Ports, which operates Tilbury, even waived the outstanding berthing charges which had accumulated under its previous owner.

“We didn’t go public with the fundraising campaign until we purchased the ship,” added Sim. “It was our own efforts, and other people we had been in dialogue with, up until that point.

“But when we did go public, we soon raised £100,000. We had donations from all across the UK. The heartening thing was the number of small donations we received. Some were only a couple of quid - but that doesn’t matter, because if we’re a pound short, we can’t afford to take the project forward.”

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Historic steamship Queen Mary returns to Clyde for restoration

Iain and his team are regularly asked why they made so much effort to bring a dilapidated steamship all the way back to Scotland.

But there is no denying the Queen Mary’s illustrious history. Built by the respected Dumbarton shipbuilder William Denny & Bros Ltd, she was launched in 1933 and was the last boat built for excursion sailings from Glasgow city centre to resorts along the west coast of Scotland.

She sailed daily from Glasgow Bridge wharf to Dunnoon and Rothesay, with non-landing excursions to Arran and Skipness.

This service perceived until 1970, when she was transferred to Gourock. By then, the Queen Mary was one of only two Clyde steamers still in operation.

Unlike the paddlesteamer Waverley, the Queen Mary was turbine-powered. With a passenger capacity of 2000, she was the largest excursion steamer on the Clyde.

But Iain’s motivation was more personal.

A lawyer based in Glasgow, he inherited his merchant seaman grandfather’s love of boats from a young age.

“My father grew up surrounded by Clyde steamers - and my mother has many unhappy memories of being courted on them,” he said. “My dad always found excuses for why they had to meet on the Queen Mary or the Duchess of Hamilton.”

“I was taken to see the Waverley when she was in Govan Graving Docks in the early 1980s and was transfixed.”

Iain decided to launch his campaign when the Queen Mary came up for auction in 2011 and attracted little interest in Scotland.

“I thought if no one was going to do anything about it, I would stand up and make a fuss,” he said.

He was soon joined by other volunteers, including master mariner Calum Bryce and marine engineer Ronnie Keir.

The eventual plan for the Queen Mary is for her to be moored in the Clyde as a permanent heritage attraction.

Her trustees hope her berthing place will be as close to the city centre as possible.

“There is only one Queen Mary left in the world,” added Iain. “She is unique. But that’s now to her advantage - people will want to come and see her.

“Our aim is to restore her to her 1933 condition to make her as resplendent as possible, and the very best heritage destination she can be.

“We’re keeping an eye on modernity - we have looked at turning the ship’s bridge into a virtual reality suite so people who visit can experience taking command of the Queen Mary.”