On Thursday 11th March 1953 Maid of Ashton, sister of the Maid of Argyll pictured above, was in the fitting out basin at Yarrow’s Clyde shipyard having been launched on 17th February.
She was the first of four new diesel passenger ships being built that spring for the “bus stop” style services connecting Clyde piers including Maid of Argyll, Maid of Skelmorlie and Maid of Cumbrae. Compared with the paddle steamers still running in the Clyde fleet at that time and their predecessors at 161ft LOA they were small. With their lesser crew numbers they were therefore cheaper to operate in terms of both fuel and wages as well as being cheaper to maintain. Also having diesel motors they could be flashed up at a moment’s notice rather than having to wait to get up steam and pay wages for doing that. They also had a speed through the water in excess of 15 knots so anything the paddle steamers could do, they could do too.
Maid of Ashton ran trials on 21st May and four days later took over the Gourock to the Holy Loch route berthing at Kilmun overnight and calling at Craigendoran in the morning as she made her rounds of the associated piers including at Blairmore, Kilcreggan and Hunter’s Quay which was specially re-opened for the new service in 1953. In this she displaced the much larger paddle steamer Marchioness of Lorne, which had been built as a smaller version of Caledonia for this same route just eighteen years earlier in 1935. How times were a changing.
Marchioness of Lorne was transferred to run on the Millport ferry but on this she was not a great success. It was said that as paddle steamers go she lacked a bit of oompth and that she was was ever prone to run late when pushed. On this new service she survived only until 1955 when she was scrapped. That’s like scrapping a paddle steamer today built in 2001.
Having played her role in the general demise of paddle steamers, Maid of Ashton was herself withdrawn in 1971. By then cars were the thing to carry and car ferries were in the ascendant with those which could not carry cars on the way out however cheap they were to run.
After that Maid of Ashton found a new life as an up market but static restaurant called Hispaniola alongside the Embankment in London just upstream from Hungerford Bridge. There she remains today although sadly the business ceased trading on 23rd March 2020.