What are Clyde Steamers?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Clyde steamers are boats which once plied the River Clyde in Scotland in large numbers. These boats famously took holidaymakers “doon the water” from the early 1800s to the mid-1900s, and as of 2009, one Clyde steamer, the Waverly, was still offering trips and tours for visitors. The Clyde steamers were famous for being the last major fleet of steamboats in use in the world, and the Waverly carries the distinction of being the last known sea-going steamboat.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

A steamboat route along the River Clyde was established in 1812, not long after steamship technology was developed. The Clyde Steamers were primarily paddle steamers, using steam to drive a large paddle which provided a source of propulsion, and the trips were mostly aimed at lower and middle class holidaymakers who wanted to get out of the city. A trip on a Clyde steamer was a pleasant way to get some fresh air and see the country without spending a lot of money. The boats were also used for commuting by some Scots.

Later incarnations of the Clyde steamers eschewed the paddle for steam-driven screws. Day trippers on the Clyde steamers could cruise along the River Clyde and enjoy the passing scenery. Passengers could carry luncheon or a snack to eat along the way from Glasgow to Greenock. Numerous towns along the route offered food and rooms for visitors, becoming resorts which catered to passengers on the Clyde steamers. Passengers could also connect with trains traveling to various locations, and many of the Clyde steamers were in fact operated by railroads.

During the summer months, the Clyde steamers were packed with people escaping the congestion, heat, and smog of the city. Many people who rode on the Clyde steamers during their heyday had fond memories of their trips and the ships they sailed on, with ships being built to ply the route as late as the 1940s. Steamship companies producing ships in the 1940s were using old shipbuilding plans to help them recover quickly from the Second World War, getting ships in service as quickly as possible to replace ships destroyed during the war.

While interest in the Clyde steamers has waned, the boats which offer tours and day trips along the River Clyde still do a brisk business among holidaymakers and people who are feeling nostalgic. For enthusiasts of an earlier era in shipping, a trip on the Waverly can be a treasured treat; the Waverly also travels in other areas of Great Britain, offering more extended tours.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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