Maritime Tales - Holts around the world

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colour poster showing an illustration of a large ship with the words 'Blue Funnel Line'

Blue Funnel Line poster. Image courtesy Liverpool Daily Post & Echo.

Since childhood I, Stephen Guy, have loved visiting Sudley House, Mossley Hill, Liverpool, which reopens this Saturday 26 May following a £1 million refurbishment.

It is the former home of George Holt, a member of the Victorian shipping family dynasty. When he retired from his company, Lamport and Holt, he extended Sudley to house his magnificent art collection where it remains to this day.

One of his brothers was Alfred Holt, founder of the legendary Blue Funnel Line. Alfred aimed to build safe, reliable and economic ships and achieved this with great distinction. From the 1890s his vessels were of such high quality that the term Holts’ Class was used to describe such excellence. The technical distinction of Holt ships became a great source of pride within the company.

The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 was a major boost to Blue Funnel because it shortened the UK to China route by 3,300 miles. From the 1890s it had a worldwide network covering Java, Australia, USA and across the Pacific Ocean. However, the China and Far East trade remained Blue Funnel’s core business until the early 1970s. Blue Funnel later became the Ocean Group, ceasing to own ships in the late 1980s.

The Merseyside Maritime Museum has many Blue Funnel-related items in its collections. The ship models include the motor vessel Priam of 1966, among the last conventional cargo liners to be built for the company. In just a few years she became outdated due to the advent of huge container ships.

Another model is one such container ship - the 58,000 ton Liverpool Bay of 1971 built for Overseas Containers Ltd (OCL), of which the Ocean Group was a founder member.

A fascinating map shows where 41 Blue Funnel ships were sunk in the Second World War. A total of 324 of the company’s seafarers lost their lives. There is a builder’s half-model of one of these unfortunate ships – the Cyclops of 1906. She was sunk by the U-23 submarine in the north Atlantic in 1942 with the loss of 87 lives.

There is the ship’s bell from the Demodocus (1912) which hung for many years in the old Liverpool Institute (now Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts). It was presented by Lawrence Durning Holt, chairman of the school governors, in the early 1950s.
A new Maritime Tale appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo.