OUR latest maritime heritage story, by Roy Pedersen, takes a look back at the Glen Rosa, which took on the winter Ardrossan – Arran sailings in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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THE 1890s witnessed a wondrous transformation of the steamer connection between Ardrossan and Arran.

For the previous 16 years the trade had been in the capable if unspectacular hands of Captain William Buchanan on which he had employed in succession the paddle steamers, Rothesay Castle, Brodick Castle and latterly Scotia in connection with Glasgow & South Western trains from Glasgow to Winton Pier.

Then in 1990, with the opening of the new line of the Lanarkshire & Ayrshire Railway, protégé of the Caledonian Railway, terminating at Ardrossan’s Montgomery Pier, the fun started.

On May 30, the Caledonian Steam Packet Company, introduced their splendid new fast steamer Duchess of Hamilton to serve Arran from the new pier with fast train connections from Glasgow Central.

Scotia was completely outclassed and, in order to withstand the onslaught on what they regarded as their province, the Glasgow & South Western secured parliamentary powers to run steamers themselves in competition.

On April 13, 1892 their new Neptune was placed on the route to take on the Caley. Then Neptune was superseded on June 6 by the magnificent new Glen Sannox.

The morning G&SWR express train from Glasgow St Enoch via Winton Pier gave an arrival at Brodick in 88 minutes, about three quarters of an hour faster than today’s timings.

Season after season the Sannox and Hamilton fought it out for public favour, Sannox having the edge in terms of speed and elegance.

The completion between the G&SWR and Caley was fast, furious and extravagant – far too extravagant to cater for the sparse winter traffic.

By 1891, the Caley had commissioned a smaller paddle steamer Marchioness of Lorne to handle the Arran winter service and to undertake excursion work in summer.

The G&SWR were obliged to follow suit. What was needed was a smaller, economical ship, but stout enough to cope with winter sea conditions.

The G&SWR board had authorised the construction of two new sister ships from the yard of J & G Thomson of Clydebank, forerunners of the famous John Brown yard.

The new ships were named Minerva and Glen Rosa, the latter being deigned to undertake the winter Ardrossan – Arran sailings.

A third vessel of the same design was also built for the Belfast & County Down Railway and named Slieve Donard. The outmoded Scotia was sold in September 1993 for a knock-down price.

Of 306 GRT, the main dimensions of the new sister ships was 200 feet in length by 25 feet beam powered by compound diagonal engines taking steam from a double ended boiler rated to 150 psi.

They were more robustly built than the run-of-the-mill Clyde steamer of the period and were unique in one respect.

The deck at the bow was raised to the level of the bulwarks with an open rail fitted above. The reason for this arrangement was to avoid the risk of flooding of the fore deck in heavy sea conditions, although it must have been an uncomfortable place in rough weather.

Glen Rosa was launched on 31 May 1983 and named by Miss Guthrie, daughter of the deputy chairman of the company.

On her trails on June 27 she achieved a very creditable speed of 17¾ knots. The spacious first class saloon on the main deck aft was panelled in oak, with the upholstery and decorations in harmony.

The dining saloon with pantry and bar was below. Forward, the accommodation for the second class passengers, officers and crew was described as “exceptionally comfortable”.

It seems that Glen Rosa’s first known sailing was a special slow run on Saturday, July 1, 1893 to carry luggage “for the convenience of families removing to Arran”, that is to say families taking up summer holiday accommodation for a fortnight, a month or even longer on the island.

She sailed from Ardrossan in connection with the 12.35 pm train from St Enoch calling at Corrie, Brodick, Lamlash, King’s Cross and Whiting Bay.

This of course released Glen Sannox to undertake her regular fast service unencumbered by large quantities of luggage.

Otherwise, in her early career, Glen Rosa’s summer duties were sailings from Greenock, Princes Pier to Ayr and excursions from that port.

Such was the stoutness of her build that her passenger certificate enabled her to ply in open waters north of a line from Stranraer to Campbeltown – the entire Firth of Clyde in other words.

Then, as intended, she would take up her role of the Sou’ West’s Arran winter boat, making calls on the first and last run at Millport, Kepple Pier and Fairlie.

After the advent of the turbine steamer Atalanta in 1906, Glen Rosa became associated with the run from Fairlie to Millport, Kilchattan Bay and Rothesay, then with the outbreak of the Great War, she was called up to the colours, serving as a minesweeper on Belfast Lough under the name HMS Glencross.

On the cessation of hostilities, Glen Rosa resumed her peacetime occasions.

With the grouping of the railways, Glen Rosa was inherited by the LMS, was reboilered in 1926 while other alterations were made such as moving the bridge forward of the funnel and enclosing the companionways with deckhouses.

Glen Rosa, while unpretentious and modest in size, can be regarded as a useful and successful ship that served her owners well for 46 years. She was finally withdrawn in 1939 and laid up in Albert Harbour, Greenock before being sold to Arnott, Young & Co (Shipbreakers) of Dalmuir, where she was broken up.