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Kyles is a rare survivor, a representative of Clyde shipbuilding dating from the 1870s - a period of expansion both the shipbuilding on the west coast of Scotland and for Glasgow as a whole.

Kyles was launched on Tuesday 12th March 1872 at the Merksworth yard of John Fullarton & Co of Paisley. Her engines were supplied and fitted by Wm. King & Co of the Dock Engine Works, Glasgow. Her first register entry in Lloyds lists her as a 90A1 flush deck lighter with an iron hull and a pitch pine deck. She was fitted with a single pitch pine mast and derrick and carried a single suit of sails.

She was registered in Glasgow and her first owner was one Stuart Manford of 24 Oswald Street in the city. Kyles was a basic cargo coaster, typical of the many built by the smaller yards on the Clyde. Manford worked her as a tender for the firth of Clyde fishing fleet. The fishing fleet tenders collected the catch from the fishing boats and transported the fish to railheads on the coast allowing the fleet itself to remain profitably at the fishing grounds.

In 1881 Manford sold Kyles to William Vietch, a chemical manufacturer resident in Creiff in Perthshire. Only a few years later he sold her on to another owner in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Records show that Kyles was bought and sold several times over the next fifteen years, although her port of registry remained Glasgow. It was not until 1900 that this was altered and she was registered at Hull.

Kyles seemed destined to be moved rapidly from owner to owner, for only a year later she was purchased by a grocer and corn dealer from Pontypridd in Wales, who was the first in a succession of owners in the South Wales area. From 1919 to 1921 she was working in the East Kent and Thames waters, before once again being bought by a Welsh owner - this time a Cardiff tug master. During all these years she had been used for the purpose she had been built for and carried heavy and general cargoes on short coastal voyages. The first major change in Kyles’s structure was made in 1921 when she was converted to work as a sand dredger in the Bristol Channel, lifting sand and gravel for the building industries. The sand dredging fleet contained many such conversions of small, often Clyde built, coasters.

By the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 Kyles seems to have been taken out of service and de-registered. She was surveyed in 1942 while laid up on the Glamorganshire canal, and was found to be in poor condition. She was acquired by a salvage contractor and sold on to Ivor P Langford, a ship owner and ship repairer based at Sharpness near Gloucester. Langford bought her in 1944 and had her repaired and structurally altered, removing the dredging equipment to return her to a modernised cargo form. The alterations were substantial and included enlarging the forecastle and poop and adding improved and expanded crew quarters. Kyles was reregistered at Gloucester.

Langfords fleet was made up of second hand barges and small coasters which he used for a variety of trades. Members of the Langford family recollect that he had a particular affection for Kyles. She was the only vessel in his fleet that he did not rename, possibly because he respected the fact that she had managed to keep her original name for such a long time. Langford worked Kyles as a steamer in the Bristol Channel for a number of years, then in 1953 had her converted from steam to a diesel engine. In 1960 she converted structurally once again to function as a sludge tanker for dumping industrial waste in the Bristol Channel. Eventually she was downgraded even from this lowly work and became a storage hulk for the waste, which was taken out for dumping by another, more modern, tanker.

The Langford family had by this time retained a long association with Kyles and were keen to ensure that a vessel to such age and varied history should be preserved. There were moves to establish a maritime museum at Gloucester but in the meantime the Langfords accepted an offer from Captain Peter M Herbert of Bude, who had himself a long career in the coasting trade. Kyles became a celebrated vessel in the Bude area.

During the early 1980s the West of Scotland Boat Museum Association, precursor of the Scottish Maritime Museum, was established and came to the notice of Peter Herbert, who offered to sell Kyles to the group. On the 8th of November 1984 the Scottish Maritime Museum became the 24th registered owner of the vessel and Kyles was reregistered in Glasgow, 112 years after her first appearance in the records.

In 1996 funding for a full restoration of the vessel became available. It was decided to recognise Kyles’ long and varied career in the restoration and that the most suitable appearance to restore her to was to take her back to her 1953 refit when she was changed from steam to diesel power. Work began in 1997 to strip out the sludge tanks, reinstate the original hatch and hatch cover and replicate the mast and derrick. Her wheelhouse had been removed in the 1970s and this was replicated from old photographs of the vessel. Work was completed in 1999 and after sea trials Kyles made a well publicised arrival back to her birthplace on the river Clyde where she forms part of the displays at Clydebuilt, the Scottish Maritime Museum at Braehead.

Dimensions: Length of deck 83ft, breadth 18ft and draught 8ft 1in

Construction: Iron and steel hull. Steel deck. Much of hull is 1872 iron in original condition, most of upper works date from major restorations in 1945 and 1998.

Vessel is operational.

Included in “Designated List” of National Register of Historic Ships.


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