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Our living history - Shieldhall

6 November 2020

Since the article we ran earlier in 2020 on maritime museums, readers have been writing in with information about their own local historic ships around the UK – many of which use the expertise of volunteers from the seafaring community for restoration, maintenance and even operation. Here we have the story of the Shieldhall, sent in by ticket manager and volunteer Nigel Philpott

Steamship Shieldhall is a heritage steamship based in Southampton, run by a team of dedicated volunteers. Constructed at the Lobnitz shipyard at Renfrew in 1955, it served as a Glasgow Corporation River Clyde 'Banana Boat', carrying treated sludge to the dumping grounds south of the Isle of Bute.

Shieldhall later performed a similar role for Southern Water, before rising costs threatened it with the scrap heap. However, a body of local heritage enthusiasts saw value in its triple expansion steam engines, and a charity – today the Steamship Shieldhall Charity – was established, purchasing Shieldhall for its scrap value of £20,000 in 1988.

Shieldhall this year would have celebrated its 65th birthday, with plans to retrace its Southern Water sailings from Southampton Docks to the Nab Tower, on the eastern extremity of the Solent. Covid-19 unfortunately meant all its 2020 sailings had to be cancelled, but the birthday sailing is planned for 2021, together with other trips including the marking of 200 years of steamships operating out of Southampton.

Sailings take place between May and September, and typically include: 2hr docks trips; 3.5hr 'sailaway' trips to the head of the Solent, coinciding with departing cruise ships; specialist interest trips including 'Titanic' and 'Mayflower' sailings; and trips to view spectacles such as the Cowes Fireworks and Bournemouth Air Festivals. In recent years Shieldhall has offered popular Steam Experience courses staged over one or two days.

Shieldhall has an active membership totalling some 900 people and approximately 100 active volunteers. The team are very proud of Shieldhall's 'No 1 thing to see and do in Southampton' TripAdvisor rating, with passengers particularly enjoying the access given to Shieldhall's engine and boiler rooms and bridge when under sail. A full commentary is given on the sights and sounds of Southampton Water and the Solent, amongst the most historic stretches of water in the country.

Shieldhall's design – with the classic lines of a 1920s steamer, a partly riveted and welded hull, and original steam engines, telegraphs and binnacle – mean it is in constant demand for films and documentaries. The ship has been seen on the big screen in Angela's Ashes and Grimsby. Shieldhall was awarded a Heritage Lottery Grant in 2013 and this summer received a Heritage Emergency Grant. Shieldhall's trustees have the ambition of keeping Shieldhall 'alive and steaming' until 2050.

When not sailing, Shieldhall is based at 110 Berth in Southampton's Western Docks. Volunteer days are traditionally Wednesdays and Saturdays, and volunteers are welcome across all areas of the ship, including the bridge, deck and engine room – not forgetting the important purser, catering and retail teams. A new website has seen the integration of the ticketing and membership functions, and gives visitors the opportunity to purchase Shieldhall gifts for friends and family. We have recently seen the launch of a new 50:50 lottery that will further assist in raising much needed funds for Shieldhall. For more info, please visit


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