OUR latest maritime heritage story, by Roy Pedersen, tells the tale of the two Arrans - Arran Mail and SS Arran.

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THE typical Clyde steamer of former times was designed for carrying passengers.

There was little provision for accommodating freight. The occasional motor-car could be shipped on passenger steamers at suitable states of the tide by the use of stout planks to bridge the gap between pier and deck – a precarious operation, not for the fain-hearted. Transport of goods and livestock to and from the Clyde coastal and island communities was provided by specialised scheduled cargo steamers operating from Glasgow and Greenock.

In this way the Campbeltown & Glasgow Steam Packet Joint Stock Company served Lochranza and Pirnmill while the ships of Clyde Cargo Steamers Ltd. served the eastern Arran ports.

In 1933 for Clyde Cargo Steamers Ltd. placed an order with Ardrossan Dockyard for a new ship. This was SS Arran for operation between Glasgow and the Clyde coastal communities and in particular the Arran piers.

She was a neat engine aft single screw steamship of 208 gross tons, 120 feet in length by 23 feet beam powered by a compound engine that gave her a top speed on trials of just shy of the contracted 11 knots.

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The yard was penalised £150 for failure to meet the specification, the final price being no more or no less than £9,581 12 shillings and 9 pence.

Such arrangements for shipping cargo had functioned well enough until the 1930s by which time two issues exercised the denizens of Arran. These were the late arrival of mail and the unsuitability of the service for carrying growing numbers of motor-cars.

To resolve this, a small twin screw motor ship was ordered by the Caledonian Steam Packet Co. from Denny’s yard at Dumbarton and commissioned in 1936. She was named Arran Mail and, had the appearance of a small but modern engines aft coaster with one large hold, served by a 2¼ ton derrick. The deckhouse aft had accommodation for the five crew and ten passengers.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: Car ferry Arran, from a painting by the authorCar ferry Arran, from a painting by the author

Arran Mail departed from Ardrossan at 6.45 each weekday morning with mails, newspapers and cargo to reach Brodick at about 8 o’clock so that, for the first time, mainland letters could be delivered and answered on the same day. This facility was suspended for the duration of the Second World War, but reinstated on cessation of hostilities. As mid-century approached, however, the pattern of freight transport had changed. Road haulage had rendered scheduled cargo steamer calls at mainland ports uneconomic which led to their ultimate withdrawal.

Of course, the islands still required a freight service and in 1949 the former Glasgow – Arran cargo run was rerouted via Ardrossan.

The increased traffic was too much for the wee Arran Mail and her place was taken by the larger SS Arran.

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With the rerouting of the Arran (and Millport) cargo service to Ardrossan, Arran had reverted to the place of her birth and returned a profit to her owners. Big plans were afoot, however, that in 1953 necessitated the ageing cargo steamer to change her name to Kildonan.

These plans, announced in February 1951 by Lord Harcomb, chairman of the British Transport Commission, were for a radical modernising the now nationalised Clyde fleet. They included the building of three new “general purpose” motor vessels to carry passengers, cars, cargo and livestock between Gourock and Dunoon, Wemyss Bay and Rothesay, and Ardrossan and Arran. The first of the trio was launched from Denny’s yard and named Arran.

The new Arran was innovative. At 179 feet between perpendiculars with a beam of 35 feet, the forward half of the main deck was fitted out as a garage for cars. Amidships was an electric lift that could be raised and lowered to enable cars to be driven on and off at any state of the tide. Aft of this was a cargo space also accessed by the lift and served by two goal post derricks. Accommodation for up to 650 passengers was utilitarian, but included a small tea room and bar.

On 4th January 1954 Arran commenced operation on the Gourock – Dunoon run and by the end of that first winter month she had carried 400 cars.

As her sister ships Cowal and later Bute entered service, Arran was able to take up sailings to her namesake island, operating from Fairlie to Millport and Brodick and assisting between Ardrossan and Brodick at busy times.

The growth in vehicular traffic was so rapid that it quickly became clear that the combined efforts of Arran and Kildonan were inadequate to handle it and a new larger vehicle ferry was ordered to enter service in 1957. She was the third Glen Sannox, but her story will be told in my next article.

The now redundant Kildonan was scrapped at Port Glasgow, but the pioneering “dual purpose” car ferry Arran was to have a long and varied career, on both the Firth of Clyde and in Hebridean waters.