The Solent Steam Packet Limited, the charity operating Southampton’s heritage steamship SS Shieldhall, are celebrating as the vessel recently embarked upon her 500th voyage since charitable status began in 1988.

Originally constructed in 1955 as a vessel to carry treated sludge down the River Clyde to the dumping grounds for the Glasgow Corporation, Shieldhall was sold to Southern Water in 1977 to perform a similar role out of Southampton.

Her role was discontinued due to rising costs and Shieldhall was due to be sold for scrap. However, a group of enterprising individuals saw her heritage value, forming the charity and purchasing her for her scrap price of £20k.

Among the 500 sailings since have been been trips to Dordrecht in Holland and to her home port of Glasgow for Shieldhall’s 50th birthday celebrations in 2005. Although currently limited to sailing in Solent waters (with passengers) it is hoped to extend the list of cruise destinations in future years.

Shieldhall’s 500th sailing saw her set sail at 10am on Saturday 1 July for an all-day Solent cruise, giving passengers the opportunity to enjoy the spectacle of what turned out to be a record breaking Round the Island Yacht Race.

As with all Shieldhall cruises, passengers were able to see the impressive Shieldhall engine room with its original steam engines at work, and the Bridge, with its traditional instruments and gleaming brasswork. Warm weather also meant the bar and saloon were busy with a steady stream of visitors for Shieldhall’s renowned real ale, bacon butties and ice cream!

Shieldhall Chief Engineer Graham Mackenzie was delighted at reaching the 500th voyage milestone. ‘It is a credit to our loyal band of volunteers that Shieldhall is 500 voyages strong, with the promise of many more to come. We are all united in our love of steam and keeping the tradition of steamships in Southampton going strong. The first steam packet companies operated out of Southampton in the 1820s and nearly 200 years later passengers can still get to appreciate this wonderful mode of travel. Shieldhall is a living time capsule, the skills of our volunteers fast belonging to a forgotten age. However, thanks to a recent HLF grant we have been able to secure her future for many years to come, and are reaching out to new audiences who have never set foot on board a steamship. The smell of the steam, the distinctive sound of the Shieldhall whistle, the opportunity to feel the heat of the Boiler Room – these are experiences that are never forgotten by our passengers.’

Today Shieldhall is the largest operational, passenger-cargo steam ship in Britain. A member of the National Historic Fleet she serves as a sea going tribute to Britain’s maritime heritage. Shieldhall is based in and sails from Southampton Docks (except for a few days in September in Poole where she is moored for the Bournemouth Air Festival). Full details of the 2017 cruise programme and berthing information can be found at www.ss-shieldhall.co.uk

Photos show Solent Steam Packet Chairman Doug Brodie, Shieldhall Captain Peter Roberts and Shieldhall Chief Engineer Graham Mackenzie with a 500th sailing cake – full steam ahead!