Dead in the water

TSS T/T Calshot is a tug tender built in 1929 by John I Thornycroft & Co, and completed in 1930 – by Andrew Lisowski

A unique and historic ship that helped tug the Mulberry Harbour pieces to the French coast following D-Day will be cut to pieces unless a new owner is found by the end of the month.

Tug Tender Calshot is languishing in a berth at Southampton dock – far removed for her glory days transporting the most famous people in the world to luxury liners that arrived in the port.

Calshot alongside Queen Mary in Southampton Docks

THE TITANIC CONNECTION: Calshot with RMS Olympic, sister ship of RMS Titanic. The maiden voyage of RMS Olympic from Southampton was on 14 June 1911.

Built by John I Thorneycroft in 1929, the ship is the only one of her kind in existence and the Trust that owns her is preparing to run up the white flag.

Calshot shortly after her completion in January 1930

The vessel is available for a nominal sum of £1 – and if no buyer is found she will be ‘deconstructed’.

Calshot is one of only 200 vessels listed by the National Historic Ships UK as being the best representatives of their type remaining; the exclusive list is named the National Historic Fleet.

With Associated British Ports (ABP) wanting Calshot to vacate her berth by July 1, and the Tug Tender Calshot Trust (TTCT) unable to secure a future for her, the vessel appears doomed.

Hannah Cunliffe from National Historic Ships UK said: “She is a significant vessel, but we really are at the end of the road.

“The Trust has had her for around 25 years and have done what they can, but it requires a new owner who is willing to invest in her.

“She was designed for a duel role; as use as a tugboat but also as a tender to take passengers, luggage and post to the great liners of the day.

“She carried many of the world’s most famous people including Churchill, Cary Grant, Judy Garland and Elizabeth Taylor.

“She also served some of the great liners such as the Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and the Mauritania.

“In the war she was requisitioned and served at Scapa Flow, in Orkney, on the Clyde and returned to her home city ahead of the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

“She was selected to serve as Headquarters ship for the Juno Beach sector of the landings as well as being used to tow pieces of the Mulberry Harbour.

“In 1964 she was moved to Ireland and until 1986 worked as a ferry out of Galway.

“In 1986 she was purchased by Southampton City Council and was acquired by the Trust in 2005.

“Losing her would not just be extremely sad for the city – but for the country as well.”

Wyn Davies, a naval architect specialising in historic vessels and who sits on the National Historic Ships UK’s expert council, said: “It would be a travesty to lose her.

“If this were an historic house – the last of its type in existence – it would be saved for the nation.

“Despite our nation being built upon our maritime expertise, we are awful at preserving its heritage.

“The hull of Calshot is robustly built and while she needs investment I am sure she could have a viable future as a static or sea-going vessel.”

Terry Yarwood, chairman of the trust that owns her, said: “Calshot was built in Southampton and has spent almost all her life in the city.

“We would be very sorry to see her leave, but if selling the vessel means she’ll end up going somewhere else then so be it. We just want to save the ship.”

At 157ft long, Calshot was designed to accommodate four officers and eight crewmen, as well as a shipping agent and 566 passengers in first class saloons and on second class deck promenade space. She is largely unaltered.

Much of the interior remains untouched

Hannah added: “Much of her classic interior remains including oak and mahogany companionways, the officers’ quarters with fitted furniture, the dining area with specially designed swivel seats, bespoke dining tables and original light fittings.

“Her first class passenger saloon with upholstered banquette seats and the bar are virtually as built and reflect the style of the 1930s period.

“At the end of the Second World War, Calshot was reconditioned and extra crew cabins were built in the second class accommodation area, signalling the demise of the class division.

“Her black and cream paintwork depicts the Red Funnel colours of her working life. She also retains the same type of swivel chairs as those in Titanic’s second class dining saloon and the same Welin quadrant davits for her lifeboats.”

With a notice of ‘intent to deconstruct’ issued, Calshot’s demise will be slow. As she is broken apart she will be recorded in great detail and as much of her as possible will be retained and displayed in museums.