Michael Bowyer recalls a trip he made in the early 1960s to see the ships in London's Royal Docks as a passenger on one of
the regular dock cruises operated from Tower Pier by the Port of London Authority.
"Sailing down river towards Silvertown, we passed more than 50 short sea or coastal traders either waiting in the river
or undergoing cargo transfer. During our trip on the river we passed shaols of lighters lashed together with many being towed
by tugs. Over half of the ships we could see had conventional black hulls and white superstructure with almost all the rest
having light grey hulls. Only three were painted green, one was blue and none displayed the bright colour schemes of today.
Funnels - centrally sighted on all but a few vessels - were traditionally coloured black, yellow, white or red in varying
patterns and quantities.
Above, August 15th. 1962 was just another working day in London's busy inner docks. Shaw Savill's PERSIC at 13,594 grt was the largest ship in King George V Dock during the author's cruise with the PLA. The tug PLAYBOY steams into the picture, whilst at a berth at the opposite side of the dock Blue Funnel's LAOMEDON (1953/ 7,684 grt) prepares for her next voyage and the tug RACIA awaits orders.
Built in 1959 by Lithgows Ltd. Port Glasgow, the 6,159 grt JAMAICA PLANTER was renamed FINE FRUIT in 1974.
"We proceeded to the long Royal Albert Dock, 16 of whose berths were occupied by ships of around 500 ft. in length and all ideally positioned for photography. Alongside New Zealand Shipping Co. Ltd's RANGITOTO (1949/21,809 grt) was the large floating crane TRITON with two other New Zealanders, PAPAROA (10,006 grt) which entered service at the start of 1944, and TAKEA (8,213 grt) introduced in mid-1945. The second largest vessel in the dock was Shaw Savill's elegant CERAMIC (1948/15,896 grt) while across the basin was Brocklebank Lines' impressive 1952 built black-hulled MAIPURA (9,748 grt). Another black-hulled beauty close by was P & O's 7,065 grt CANNONORE."
The Calcutta-based India Steam Ship Co's 7,422 grt general cargo vessel INDIAN RESOLVE was built in 1955 by Howaldswerke AG of Hamburg.
"For me, stars of the day were the Glen Line ships, one of which was the 1938-built DENBIGHSHIRE (8,983 grt). She was the oldest ship present in the Royal Docks and had served throughout World War II. Other ships in the Royal Albert Dock were LAGANBANK (1955/5,671 grt) of the Inver Transport & Trading Co, Shaw Savill's AFRIC (1957/6,553 grt), NEWCASTLE STAR (1956/8,398 grt), EBRO (1952/5,881 grt) of Royal Mail Lines, CHILKA (1950/7,083 grt) of British India and Brocklebank's MATHURA (1960/8,782 grt). The smallest ship, NORSE, was the only vessel with a funnel positioned aft."
Tugs assist Blue Star's 9,996 grt ENGLISH STAR as she manoeuvres in the Royal Albert Dock on 28 August 1963.
"The largest vessel in King George V Dock was Shaw Savill's PERSIC (1949/13,594 grt). Again it was a Glen Line ship,
the 1940-built GLENGYLE, a close relation of DENBIGHSHIRE, which caught my eye. At the far end of the Dock was P &
O's CHITRAL beyond which was United States Line's AMERICAN STAR (8,279 grt). Another old vessel present was PORT MAGUIRE
(1944/7,329 grt) which was berthed near Blue Star Line's CALIFORNIA STAR. Cunard's ARABIA (8,720 grt) and ALAUNIA (7,004
grt) were also present."
The short sea trader AGROTAI loading on the Thames at Duncan's Wharf was one of many vessels using the river in the 1960s.
Union Castle Line's KENYA CASTLE (1951/17,041 grt), known in the Company as an 'Intermediate', gained the domed top to her funnel during a major refit in 1961.
"During our return to Tower Pier we sailed by many more interesting ships. BRIM RIVER passed, heading out to sea, while the cable layer IRIS rested at anchor off Greenwich. WHITE ROSE could be glimpsed in the East India Dock and near the Surrey Comercial Dock was the Russian vessel ANGARSK."
Port Line's grey hulled 10,470 grt PORT MELBOURNE was built in Belfast by Harland & Wolff in 1955. She was converted 20 years later by a Greek shipyard into the cruise ship DANAE for Carras ruises.
Built by Barclay Curle of Glasgow in 1948, P & O Line's 7,065 grt motor ship CANNONORE was operated by British India Steam Navigation Co. in 1962 on its route from Northern Europe to India. She transferred back to P & O General Cargo Division in 1971.
"To the very end of our journey interest was sustained, as DIANNEL and AGROTAI were both close to Tower Bridge. GNSC's
AUSTERITY, masts flat, sailed alongside as we passed under.
Cunard Line's SAMARIA enters London's Royal Docks.
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