The Scottish Maritime Museum on Irvine Harbourside, North Ayrshire, has welcomed visitors back for the first time in almost five months with a 100 ton, 66 feet long major new exhibit and visitor experience.
For the first time, visitors can now step inside the hold of MV Spartan and see the last surviving Scottish-built puffer in Scotland up close.
Inside, visitors can immerse themselves in the life of this 1940s Clyde puffer and the story of the hundreds of other puffers which performed a lifeline service delivering everything from cows, cars and cabbages to Scotland’s islands and remote coastal communities for over a hundred years.
The permanent exhibition, created through the Museum’s ‘Spartan: Inside Out’ project, which was made possible by a grant from Museum Galleries Scotland, charts the evolution of the puffer, which came to dominate cargo trade around Scotland from the mid 1800s.
Named after the ‘puff, puff’ of spent steam spewing out of the boat’s funnel, puffers were designed to travel where larger vessels couldn’t. With their unique flat-bottomed hulls they traversed the canal highways of mainland Scotland and, where there was no suitable pier or jetty, they ‘beached’ at low tide, dropped their cargo and sailed away at high tide.
The exhibition also features unseen photographs from the Museum’s collection. These include images of early 1800s steam-powered boats through to the seagoing steam, and later diesel, puffers working from the 1870s up until 1994 when the last ‘puffer’ company, which also owned Spartan, Glenlight Shipping Ltd., ceased trading.
As well as the launch of the new Spartan experience, the Museum has extended ‘Woven Waves: The Jutland Tapestries’, a poignant exhibition reinterpreting one of the world’s largest naval conflicts by award-winning tapestry artist Katie Russell.
The Museum’s second location in Dumbarton, which centres on the Denny Ship Model Experiment Tank, has also re-opened with a captivating photographic exhibition, ‘Window on the Clyde: Family Photos of the River’s Golden Age’.
David Mann, Director of the Scottish Maritime Museum, explains the importance of the new Spartan experience:
“We’re delighted to welcome visitors back safely to the Scottish Maritime Museum and open our doors with such a fantastic new experience based around Spartan, which was the first historic vessel in the Museum’s collection when it opened back in 1983.
“As well as making the necessary changes to ensure public safety, including asking visitors to book their visit in advance on our website, we wanted to open with a compelling and exciting offer for visitors of all ages to pack in over coming months.
“With Spartan, our current exhibitions and some diverse and intriguing exhibitions coming up, we hope to attract an increasing number of visitors, ensure we sustain Scotland’s maritime heritage and also support tourism locally, regionally and across the country as a whole.”
Matthew Bellhouse Moran, Curator at the Scottish Maritime Museum, adds:
“With the new Spartan experience, we continue to give our visitors engaging and exciting access to our collection of historic vessels and tell the fascinating stories of the inventors, sailors and engineers who made Scottish shipbuilding, engineering and design famous across the world.
“It’s wonderful to see visitors jump onboard and explore Scotland’s iconic and much-loved little puffer boat in a completely new way.”
Spartan has been recognised as a National Historic Ships UK 2020 Regional Flagship in recognition of the Museum’s work continuing to raise the profile of historic vessels during the Covid-19 pandemic through online activities and resources.
Spartan, alongside SY Carola, which is believed to be the world’s oldest seagoing steam yacht, is one of almost 50 of Scotland’s most important historic vessels, maritime artefacts and shipbuilding tools in the Scottish Maritime Museum’s new online collection of 3D models and 360° virtual tours designed to help preserve and increase public access to Scotland’s national maritime heritage collection. The Museum is one of the first of such size in Scotland to embark on a major 3D scanning project to digitalise a whole collection.
MV Spartan Background
VIC18 was built at Hay’s yard in Kirkintilloch in 1942 for service as a ‘Victualling Inshore Craft’ delivering supplies to Naval ships and installations on Scotland’s west coast during the Second World War.
In 1946, the puffer, which at a length of 66 feet, was the longest a canal dock would allow, was re-acquired by Hay’s, renamed MV Spartan, and, after a change from the original steam engine to a six cylinder diesel engine, delivered cargo such as coal and bricks around the Firth of Clyde, Mull, Islay and Iona until 1980.
Spartan, which went on to appear in the TV series of Para Handy tales in the 1990s, was sold to the Scottish Maritime Museum for £1 in 1982.
The new Spartan experience and current exhibitions, ‘Woven Waves: The Jutland Tapestries’ by award-winning tapestry artist Katie Russell (Irvine) and ‘Window on the Clyde: Family Photos of the River’s Golden Age’ (Dumbarton), are included in Museum admission.
Up to three children go FREE with each Adult or Concession ticket.
To book or for more information about the Scottish Maritime Museum, please visit scottishmaritimemuseum.org