Saturday, December 2, 2017

New Glen Sannox - what's in a name?

Photo credit inverclydenow
Last week, Caledonian MacBrayne's latest ferry (strictly, Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd's latest ferry which will be chartered to Calmac Ferries Ltd branded as Caledonian MacBrayne) was launched from Ferguson's yard at Port Glasgow. Destined for the Ardrossan to Brodick run, she was christened Glen Sannox and the name recalls three previous vessels serving Arran dating back to 1891.

Most shipping companies have themed names for their ships - think Cunard and its Queens and Roman provinces such as Aquitania, Mauretania etc. The White Star Line had its "-ic" names the most famous of which, of course, is Titanic but there were also her less well known sisters Olympic and Britannic. Recently, Calmac have taken to naming their "major units" after previous vessels in their fleet, notably the new (2015) Ullapool to Stornoway ferry Loch Seaforth named after the mail steamer of that name which ran from Mallaig and Kyle to Stornoway from 1947 to 1972.

Loch Seaforth (I) (1947-73) at Kyle of Lochalsh. Photo credit George Woods
Loch Seaforth (II) (2015) Photo credit Chris Murray

When I first encountered MacBrayne's ships in the early/mid 1970s, the ones I knew best were the steamers Loch Seaforth and Claymore and the car ferries Columba and Clansman. These were what I considered to be "proper" names for Western Isles ships and when new additions to the fleet came along in the mid 70s with names like Pioneer, Jupiter and Juno, I thought someone was just making up what they thought were snappy modern names for the sake of it and with no regard to the heritage. Little did I know how wrong I was and that there had been Pioneers, Jupiters and Junos serving the Clyde and Western Isles since Victorian times! So this post is about the various naming themes amongst the fleets which merged to form today's Calmac. And it's a good excuse to showcase some pictures of the ships involved!

Pioneer (III) (1974-2003) at Mallaig

I go into the corporate history of Calmac in exhaustively boring detail here but recall that it was formed in 1973 from the merger of David MacBrayne and British Railways' Clyde shipping subsidiary, the Caledonian Steam Packet Company. The CSP had started out in 1889 as the Caledonian Railway Company's shipping arm and it absorbed the Clyde steamer fleet of the Glasgow & South Western Railway Company (GSWR) when these were merged into the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in 1923. There was also the Clyde steamer fleet of the North British Railway Company which was absorbed by the London & North Eastern Railway in 1923. So let's look at the ship naming themes of these companies - MacBrayne's, CSP, GSWR and NBR/LNER - and trace the continuities down to the present day.

Clansman (II) (1870-1909) Scan from Duckworth & Langmuir's "West Highland Steamers" attributed to McIsaac & Riddle

Start with the oldest, MacBrayne's. It began in 1851 with the formation of a firm called David Hutcheson & Co (DH&Co), a partnership between two brothers Hutcheson and David MacBrayne: the Hutchesons had retired by 1879 after which DMacB carried on the business under his own name. The eight ships (all paddle steamers) DH&Co started out with in 1851 were called Shandon, DolphinDuntroon Castle, Edinburgh Castle, Cygnet, Lapwing, Curlew and Pioneer. Already, there's that name I so reviled in the 70s but reflecting the ad hoc nature of how that fleet had been assembled by DH&Co's predecessors there's not much of a theme there except castles and birds. Except for an Inveraray Castle (1851-95), castles never gained traction as a naming theme but birds were better represented with subsequent Lapwings, Cygnets and also Plovers in the fleet (see my posts about the Inner and Outer Isles Mail services for them.)

Pioneer (II) at Port Askaig

The first ship DH&Co commissioned was called Mountaineer (1852-89) and thus was set the pattern for what became the dominant trend in DH&Co/MacBrayne names until the first quarter of the 20th century, the -eer/-ier names. As well as two subsequent Mountaineers, notable amongst these were some long lived ships such as the Grenadier (1885-1928 most closely associated with the Oban-Iona-Staffa cruise), Gondolier (1866-1939 - Caledonian Canal), Chevalier (1866-1927 - Crinan-Oban) and a second Pioneer (1905-45 - West Loch Tarbert-Islay). So that confirms the heritage of the name revived for the new Islay car ferry in 1974.

Grenadier (1885-1928) at Iona

There was also the Cavalier, Fusilier, Brigadier and Carabineer (have I forgotten any?) but this was not the only DH&Co/MacBrayne theme. For their prime Glasgow to Ardrishaig route, there were three Ionas (the last surviving on other routes until 1935) and then the biggest and grandest Clyde paddle steamer of them all, the Columba (1878-1935). Hence why these names were revived for car ferries in 1970 and 1964 respectively.

Columba (I) 1878-1936

Beyond the Clyde, another of MacBrayne's premier routes until the Second World War was the "all the way" run from Glasgow up the west coast and Inner Isles terminating at Stornoway for the carriage of cargo primarily but also passengers and marketed as cruises in summer. The ships most closely associated with this route were two called Clansman (1855-69 & 1870-1909) and the first Claymore (1881-1931) so there's the inspiration for another of the inaugural 1964 car ferries and 1955 mail steamer (see here for the latter). Also in this "clannish" theme was a relatively short lived ship called Chieftain (1907-19) although that name has never been repeated.

Claymore (I) at Gairloch

Another thin strand of Hutcheson/MacBrayne names in the late 19th century were the -dales including Clydesdale (1862-1905 and revived for another ship 1905-53), Flowerdale (1878-1904), Lovedale (1867-1904) and Glendale (1875-1905). These are worth mentioning for the fact that, along with Pioneer, Glendale was proposed as one of the names for the new Islay ferry in 2011 although these ended up being outvoted by Finlaggan.

Lovedale at Lochmaddy - scan from Duckworth & Langmuir's "West Highland Steamers" 2nd ed. credited to M J MacLean courtesy of R B McKim

MacBrayne's was taken over from the MacBrayne family in 1928 by a consortium between the LMS Railway Co and Coast Lines. This change of management brought in a new naming theme to go with it, the Loch names. There had been occasional Lochs before, usually the fresh waters upon which they served (Lochawe 1876-1924, Lochness (I) & (II) 1885-1912 & 1912-29). Lochinvar (1908-60) which served on the Sound of Mull was really a literary rather than a loch name, Young Lochinvar being a character in Walter Scott's poem Marmion. But the Loch theme really took off with the new acquistions and builds under LMS/Coast. The first was Lochdunvegan (cargo steamer, 1929-48 and repeated for another cargo ship 1950-73), followed by Lochness (1929-55, Stornoway Mail), Lochshiel (cargo ship 1929-52), Lochearn (1930-64, Inner Isles Mail), Lochmor (1930-64 Outer Isles Mail), Lochbroom (I) & (II) (cargo ships 1931-37 & 1947-71) Lochfyne (1931-70, Ardrishaig mail), Lochnevis (1934-70, Portree Mail). There were many other Lochs and it remained MacBrayne's dominant naming theme until the early 1960s after which newbuilds increasingly recalled earlier names from various strands (Columba, Clansman, Iona etc.) until the 1980s since when lochs have been the almost exclusive naming theme for car ferries for short crossings, thus Lochs Striven, Linnhe, Riddon, Ranza, Buie, Bhrusda, Alainn, Portain, Dunvegan, Fyne and Shira.

Lochfyne (1931-70) - Photo credit David Shire

*PEDANTRY ALERT* - not that the spelling of Loch ships until WW2 was all one word, thus Lochfyne not Loch Fyne. After the War, it became two words - e.g. Loch Seaforth (1947), Loch Carron (1951), Loch Ard (1955) and Loch Arkaig (1959) - unless a post-War ship was being named after a pre-War one when it continued to be one word e.g. Lochdunvegan (1950), Lochmor (1979) and Lochnevis (2000). (That said, this "rule" didn't apply to the 1991 Kyleakin ferries Loch Fyne and Loch Dunvegan.)

And while we're being pedantic, a word about Lochiel. There were four ships of this name in the Hutcheson/MacBrayne fleet, the last and best known being the Islay mail steamer from 1939 to 1970. Note first that the spelling is "i before e" which is the territorial designation of the chief of Clan Cameron whose estates lay on the north and east sides of Loch Eil ("e before i" and note also that the part of Loch Linnhe above the Corran narrows used to called Loch Eil as well). So Lochiel is not really a Loch name, IMO. It was another candidate (with Pioneer and Glendale) for the name of the 2011 Islay ferry which became Finlaggan and is surely a prime candidate for revival for a future Calmac ferry.

Lochiel (IV) (1939-70) at West Loch Tarbert

Finally, before we go south to the Clyde railway fleets, you're probably thinking I've forgotten about Hebrides. This was originally a ship built in 1898 belonging to John McCallum (merged with Martin Orme to become McCallum, Orme & Co in 1929) which also sailed "all the way" from Glasgow on cargo and passenger/cruise runs up the west coast and throughout the Inner and Outer Hebrides. McCO merged with MacBrayne's in 1948 and the Hebrides continued in their fleet till 1955. As Lochmaddy and Tarbert (Harris) had been among her regular ports of call, it was almost a no-brainer that this would be the name chosen for the 1964 car ferry destined to serve these ports from Uig on Skye. And the name was repeated again for the 2001 ferry which still serves the "Uig Triangle" today. (When I first encountered the 1964 Hebrides in the mid-70s, I remember thinking, in my ignorance and prejudice about MacBrayne names, it was an OK-ish name, superior to Pioneer et al, but wouldn't Loch Erisort or Chieftain have been better?)

Hebrides (I) at Lochboisdale - Photo credit Ballast Trust

The Clyde railway fleets
Let's begin with the Caledonian Railway Company's shipping subsidiary, the Caledonian Steam Packet Company. Their earliest vessels' names didn't follow any particular theme although one is worth mentioning for having been in use almost continuously over three ships for nearly a hundred years: Caledonia. The first was a paddle steamer from 1889 to 1933, the next (1934-69) bears the distinction of being the second last Clyde paddler (the last being the Waverley, of course) and the third and last was a car ferry which served Brodick from Ardrossan 1970-75 and then Craignure from Oban 1976-88.

Caledonia (I) (1889-1933) - scan from 1949 CRSC publication
Caledonia (II) (1934-70) Photo credit Kenny Whyte via
Caledonia (III) (1970-88) in the Sound of Mull

In the 1890s, however, the dominant theme of CSP names became local female aristocrats, thus, to name just a few examples, Duchess of Rothesay (1895-1946), Duchess of Montrose (1902-17) and Marchioness of Lorne (1891-23). To compete with the CSP's Duchess of Hamilton (1890-1915) on the prime Ardrossan-Brodick run, the Glasgow and South Western Railway Company in 1892 commissioned a splendid paddler called Glen Sannox. She was replaced by a turbine steamer of the same name in 1925 which served Arran until 1954. It was therefore another "no-brainer" that, in 1957, the first car ferry for Brodick also be named Glen Sannox. She served Arran until 1970 (being replaced by the third Caledonia that year) and thereafter operated various routes in the CSP/Calmac network until sold in 1989. The choice of the same name for the latest Arran ferry, launched last week, is therefore easily explicable if not almost unavoidable.

Glen Sannox (I) (189-1922). Picture Credit
Glen Sannox (II) (1925-54). Picture credit Hugh Spicer
Glen sannox (III) (1957-89) at Port Askaig. Photo credit The Original Whisky Galore

The GSWR also had a Glen Rosa but otherwise their consistent naming theme was classical deities and characters from mythology, for example Neptune (1892-1917), Mercury (1892-1933), Jupiter (1896-1935), Juno (1898-1932) and Atalanta (1906-23).

PS Juno (I) (1898-1932). Picture credit Michael Brown via

After the merger of the Caledonian and G&SWR railways and their associated steamer fleets into the LMSR in 1923, as well as the succession of Caledonias and Glen Sannoxes already noted, the naming themes of peeresses and deities was continued with subsequent Duchesses of Montrose and Hamilton (1930-65 & 1932-70), a new Marchioness of Lorne (1935-55) and a Marchioness of Graham (1936-58). There were also a new Mercury (1934-40), Juno (1937-41) and Jupiter (1937-60).

Jupiter (II) (1937-60). Picture credit - Ballast Trust

Finally, the North British Railway, merged into the London & North Eastern Railway in 1923 and operating from their Clyde railhead at Craigendoran, had an uninterrupted naming theme of Sir Walter Scott works and characters, for example Diana Vernon (character in Rob Roy: 1885-1901), Lucy Ashton (Bride of Lammermoor: 1888-1949), Jeanie Deans (Heart of Midlothian: 1931-65), Talisman (novel title, 1935-67) and, of course, Waverley (original one, 1899-1940 lost at Dunkirk and the second one commissioned in 1947 and still with us today).

Lucy Ashton (1888-1949)

Upon railway nationalisation in 1947, the LMSR and LNER fleets were amalgamated with the joint operation being branded simply British Railways until 1957 and thereafter as the Caledonian Steam Packet Company. New naming patterns were adopted in the changed circumstances of the 1950s which led to new diesel powered passenger vessels (the Maids of Ashton, Cumbrae, Argyll and Skelmorlie the so-called "Maids") in 1953 and car ferries (Arran, Bute and Cowal - the so-called "ABC class") in 1954 although we've already seen how Glen Sannox and Caledonia was revived for ferries in 1957 and 1970)

Maid of Skelmorlie (1953) at Largs. Picture credit Paul Thallon
Scotland's first seagoing car ferry - Arran (1954-78)

Looking at the names of the fleet inherited by Calmac when it came into existence in 1973 and the ships it acquired during the rest of the 1970s, then, their names mostly all make perfect sense and are of excellent provenance given the history. They were, in alphabetical order (omitting some minor vessels):-

Arran, Bute, Caledonia, Clansman, Claymore (one sold 1976, new one acquired 1979), Columba, Cowal, Glen Sannox, Hebrides, Iona, Juno, Jupiter, King George V, Loch Arkaig, Loch Carron, Lochmor, Loch Seaforth, Maid of Cumbrae, Maid of Argyll, Pioneer, Queen Mary II, Saturn, Suilven, Waverley

As I type this, I realise that Saturn, while being a classical deity, obviously, was not a name previously used. Anyway, you'll immediately spot the exceptions to the rules in the list. King George V (1936-74, Iona and Staffa cruise) and Queen Mary II (1933-78, Clyde cruises) were acquired second hand in 1935 by MacBrayne's and the CSP respectively already named by their previous owners and it wasn't thought appropriate for whatever reason (deference to royalty?) to change their names. Which leaves the Suilven - named by Calmac, the 1974-95 Ullapool to Stornoway ferry is a true outlier in naming terms as mountains have never otherwise featured in the names of the various fleets under discussion.


To round off the 1970s, there were eight small car ferries commissioned by the CSP/Calmac between 1972 and 1976. Carrying 6 cars each for short crossings (e.g. Lochaline to Fishnish on Mull and Lochranza on Arran to Claonaig on Kintyre) or to small islands (Iona, Raasay & Gigha), these were known as the "Island class" even though not all were named after islands: Bruernish, Canna, Coll, Eigg, Kilbrannan, Morvern, Raasay, Rhum.

Kilbrannan (1972) - the first Island Class was actually a Sound! Seen here at Lochranza and note the CSP yellow funnel and house flag

1980s to date
Apart from the "Loch Class" of small car ferries we've already noted (these were really the next generation follow up to the "Island Class" for small islands and short crossings), in the 1980s and 90s Calmac departed from previous naming themes for their major units. Now they were either named after the island the ship was designed to serve (thus Isle of Arran (1984) for Brodick, Isle of Mull (1988) for Craignure and Isle of Lewis (1995) for Stornoway) or else had an Isles name such as Hebridean Isles (1985 - Uig Triangle), Lord of the Isles (1989 - routes from Oban and Mallaig) and Caledonian Isles (1993 - Ardrossan-Brodick). With the exception of LOTI, these are the most uninspiring, not to say artificial (just where are the "Caledonian Isles", exactly?), names ever devised, IMO.

Happily, Calmac reverted to more traditional names for their major units in the later 90s with a new Clansman (1998, routes from Oban), Lochnevis (2000, Small Isles) and Hebrides (2000, Uig Triangle). But there were new departures for "sheltered water" ferries in the noughties, namely Coruisk (2003, Mallaig-Armadale - Loch Coruisk would have been preferable, IMO) and Argyle and Bute (2007) for Rothesay although these last two arguably carry on the tradition of the "ABC" names of the very first sea going car ferries on the Clyde in the 1950s.

Coruisk (l) (2003) and Lochnevis (r) (2000) off Mallaig. Photo credit Stuart Mackillop

The first west coast major unit for 11 years, the new Islay ferry in 2011 named Finlaggan after the castle on Islay where the Lordship of the Isles had its headquarters, was also a new departure in naming terms. Although perhaps not too much because, if not seen as being of a piece with Clansman, Claymore, Iona, Columba etc., it could have marked the beginning of an explicit Lordship of the Isles theme.

Meanwhile, the third generation of small island/short crossings ferries' names have had a literary theme: Hallaig (Sorley MacLean poem); Lochinvar and Catriona (Robert Louis Stevenson novel).

Glen Sannox (IV). Picture credit CMAL

Calmac's next ship
The recently launched Glen Sannox has a sister still under construction and yet to be launched destined to serve the Uig Triangle - what will she be called?

The shortlist of four names the public will be invited to vote on hasn't been announced yet but if it were my job to choose them, they would (assuming these names are all available and not already taken by a currently registered ship) be Claymore, Lochmor, Lochiel and Columba. These all have excellent provenance but if we were to score them for suitability for a vessel to serve Lochmaddy and Tarbert, Lochmor must come out on top as the name of the steamer which ran the Outer Isles Mail from 1930 to 1964. So too did the first Lochiel from 1891 to 1907. The first Claymore is more closely associated with sailing to Stornoway than ports further south in the Outer Hebrides but the second Claymore sailed to Lochboisdale and Castlebay (see here) so why couldn't the name make a second migration to Harris and North Uist? A similar point applies to Columba, the first of which sailed only on the Clyde but the second of which was mostly based at Oban sailing to the Inner Hebrides. I just can't decide which of these names I'd vote for. Lochmor probably. No, Claymore ...

Lochmor (I) (1930-64) at Tarbert. Photo credit Kenny MacAskill

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