Captain Ken #32 - Historic ship Shieldhall

Captain Ken Owen had a long career at sea which included sailing as master with Overseas Containers Limited (OCL), P&O Containers and P&O Nedlloyd.   Ken is now retired and in 2020 he started writing a monthly article for publication using the pen name 'Captain Ken' in the Mellor Church Outlook magazine.

A number of articles that Ken has written are about his time at sea and he has very kindly agreed that we can share them here.  

This is the 32nd in the series of Captain Ken's articles that we have published on the PONL Heritage site.  It tells of his association with the historic ship ss Shieldhall and a film that nearly was...    

This article was first published in the church magazine in May 2023.

(This article was first published in the May 2023 edition of the Mellor Church Outlook Magazine).

During my earlier years at sea, in the Blue Funnel Line, we regularly called at Glasgow loading and discharging cargo, to and from the Far East. 

This of course required the most attractive route of the Firth of Clyde, passing the Isle of Arran. And I remember occasionally passing a steam passenger vessel filled with seemingly happy passengers cheerfully waving to us, The ship was the 'Shieldhall' and it was some years before I discovered she was actually a sewage ship carrying sewage from Glasgow city, to dump in the sea just past Ailsa Craig Island, outside the Firth,' Most of the passengers didn't know this was her purpose, as she was such a lovely ship, carefully designed as a passenger ship. 

Many years later, I was surprised to see her in Southampton, as she had been purchased by Southern Water, and it wasn't long before she was declared an Historic Ship, and began carrying passengers again, Although she was only built in 1954, she was now the largest British steam driven ship. She had two perfect reciprocal steam powered engines, very similar to those of the 'Titanic'. 

As the Container Revolution gradually changed our lives in the cargo liners, we were now based in Southampton rather than Liverpool and Glasgow, began to become familiar with the Charity operating the 'Shieldhall 'and had several retired friends, amongst her volunteer crew.

Just at a time I was retiring from P&O Containers and transferring to Hanseatic, a German company based in Cyprus, then managing the foreign section of the U.S Sea Land company, the famous Film company Paramount, asked to charter the'Shieldhall', to star in a film they were making. This of course was wonderful news to the Charity operating 'The Shieldhall' as it included, painting the ship as required for the film, and then when the film was finished, re-painting in her original colours. It was planned for her to sail to Dublin Bay, where the ship would become an Irish Emigrant ship. and the Star was to be Helen Mirren, acting the part of Bobby Sands' mother. The volunteer crew, would take part in the film. Then a problem arose.

Although the' Shieldhall' crew contained several retired captains, none held the latest requirement for a Foreign going ship master's qualifications, a GMDSS certificate, (Global Maritime Distress and Safety System).

Luckily the Company had sent me for a week's course in Leith Collage Edinburgh, to obtain the certificate, and so I was the only one already holding this qualification. And, thus, I was asked to take the job.

So there I was, having just retired from the M.V. Peninsular Bay' in Southampton, found myself appointed Captain of the S.S. 'Shieldhall.' I was told that I would be supplied with the uniform of an Emigrant ship master of the time, and together with the Committee, ordered £,5000 worth of fuel, sufficient for the voyage to Dublin, and back.

However, it was to be my shortest command ever as due to some unexpected terrorist activity in Belfast, the film company decided to withdraw the ship's part in the film and cancelled the charter. The film 'Some Mother's Son' was eventually made but our ship did not get its free coats of paint, and a large amount of fuel. Nor did the crew become film stars.

 I'm very pleased to say that 'The Shieldhall' is still operating from Southampton, and is well worth visiting, should you be in that area.

See also:

For further articles in this series:

Captain Ken Owen has kindly provided us with a new series of articles which will be published on a regular basis here.  If you are interested in reading other articles that he has written which we haven't yet used then please feel free to go to