Southampton’s heritage steamship, SS Shieldhall, has received a Heritage Emergency Grant which will assist the former ‘Flagship of the National Historic Fleet’ to re-start the essential maintenance programme that was hastily halted as a result of the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Shieldhall’s team of volunteers were forced to cancel her 2020 sailing programme earlier in the summer, missing out on excursions set to include a celebration of her 65th birthday and 200 years of steamships operating out of Southampton.

Shieldhall’s Graham Mackenzie noted: ‘We are thankful for the grant funding which will enable our volunteers to continue with Shieldhall’s maintenance and conservation work, supporting the fund objectives of economic regeneration, inclusion and well-being. Everyone was so disappointed when we were forced to cancel our 2020 sailings. With no revenue coming in from ticket sales, this grant will assist us to maintain our work programme. Many of our approximately 100 active volunteers are now returning to the COVID-19 compliant ship, carrying out essential maintenance roles. Behind-the-scenes, a new website will be launched next month, together with details of our 2021 trips, the earliest we have ever published. We will be looking to re-instate a number of this years cancelled sailings including trips to the Needles, The Nab Tower and Poole, and will mark Solent sailing events such as the Round the Island and Fastnet Races. The project allows us to stage a full, uncompromised excursion programme. This will be open to all, including popular ‘Heritage Adventure Training Days’ offered to young people, enabling them to enjoy time on board one of Britain’s last sea-going steamships.’

Steamship Shieldhall is one of the UK’s most significant historic ships. She is the country’s last and largest cargo steam ship and is one of just 200 vessels forming the National Historic Fleet (equivalent significance is to being Grade I listed in historic building terms). As a member of the Fleet she is recognised by National Historic Ships as being of pre-eminent significance, providing an insight into the UK's maritime history and technology and meriting the highest priority for long term preservation. Central to Shieldhall’s significance is the fact that she remains fully operational, each year providing thousands of people with the opportunity to experience steam-powered sea travel.

Built in 1955, (and celebrating her 65th birthday in July 2020) Shieldhall was constructed to traditional lines and consequently her classic lines are more evocative of the 1920s than the 1950s. She forms an important connection with steam ships and the Merchant Navy of the pre-Second World War era, representing the thousands of cargo steam ships built by Britain for the merchant fleets of the world.

Shieldhall remains substantially unchanged since the time of her construction. Her hull and superstructure are as they were when she was built. Her boilers and steam engines are original and of a similar configuration to those of far earlier vessels, such as RMS Titanic.

Find out more about Shieldhall and the Solent Steam Packet, one of our Shipshape Network South East Projects here.