Brief History

Home Page


Photo Album



Alexandra Towing Co. Ltd.’s

Brief History

The Alexandra Towing Company Limited was established in 1887 and played a leading role in the British towage industry. The company was formed in Liverpool to take over the business of Mr George Bell Cowl and his five tugs, the four ‘Flying’ tugs and the ‘TURBOT’ for which they paid £13,000.00. These vessels proved to be inadequate for the job and within a year the company had taken delivery of its first new tug appropriately named ‘ALEXANDRA’.

A policy of fleet expansion was consistently followed and in 1908 the old established firm of W & T Jolliffe of Liverpool was acquired with their six tugs. The company meanwhile had built the first of a series of passenger tenders, the ‘
HERALD’, which attended the largest Cunard and White Star liners both in Liverpool and in Southampton. Some of these tenders, including the ‘HERALD’ and later the ‘FLYING KESTREL’, were sent as far afield as Monaco to convey passengers to and from the visiting Cunarders. In 1912 the ‘HERALD’ along with four other Alexandra tugs went to Belfast to assist the ill-fated “TITANIC” leaving her builders yard.

By 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War the company had attained a prominent position in towage on the Mersey and a number of tugs were entrusted to its management by the Wartime Shipping Controller. When the Cunard Steamship Company transferred its express service from Liverpool to Southampton in 1919 the tender ‘
FLYING KESTREL’ and four tugs were also transferred to the southern port and Alexandra Towing have maintained a presence there ever since.

In the years between the wars The Alexandra Towing Company pursued a constant policy of modernisation with regular orders for

new tugs and the disposal of older and less economical vessels. In 1924 the company decided to base tugs at Swansea and nearby Port Talbot, the ‘CANADA’ and the ‘ALBERT’ were the first tugs to operate in the port, while at Liverpool contracts were secured to serve vessels of many of the major shipping companies using the Mersey port. Alexandra tugs attended the launch of both the “QUEEN MARY” and the “QUEEN ELIZABETH” at Clydebank and assisted in the maiden voyages of both liners.

The outbreak of the war in 1939 brought immense difficulties for the company. Unlike the earlier conflict, the port of Liverpool attracted enemy aircraft, Swansea was an enemy target and the Southampton tugs were withdrawn altogether when the port was closed down. Convoys demanded towing services and the naval base at Gladstone Dock in Liverpool became a priority for tugs but much of the hazardous work undertaken by the tugs and their crews was never made public because of wartime censorship.

Tugs were again entrusted to the company’s management by the wartime government including two of the small “
TID” class tugs which were used to assist in the movement of frigates and corvettes in the dock systems of Liverpool and Birkenhead. Heavy air attacks caused untold disruption and crews worked under the greatest of difficulties, tugmen have always had to face natural hazards but, to these were added bombs and mines which destroyed homes, offices and ships indiscriminately. The Alexandra Towing Co. did not actually lose any tugs but much re-organisation was required to carry on the essential work and to eventually meet the challenge of the post war world.