A Blue Badge guide and volunteer on one of the south coast’s most familiar historic ships has plenty of tales to tell about its past.

Nigel Philpott is a registered Blue Badge guide for south central England and has worked along the south coast for over 20 years. Previously the commercial manager at Exbury Gardens and Steam Railway in the New Forest, Nigel began volunteering for Southampton’s heritage steamship SS Shieldhall in 2013, where he can be found on the bridge wing on sailings, giving an informed commentary on the sights and history of Southampton Water and the Solent.

Nigel reveals: “I get the best view in the house as we pass the mighty cruise ships moored on Southampton Water, before sailing by the listed pier at Hythe; the former Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley, and Henry VIII’s device forts at Netley and Calshot.

“The Shieldhall is a rare survivor, a seagoing time capsule – she celebrates her 70th birthday in 2025. It is a privilege to help keep her operational and to introduce new generations to the magic of steam at sea.”

The largest operational passenger cargo steamship in Europe, Shieldhall is a regular sight on coastal waters during the warmer months, with her distinctive siren and whistle recognised as one of the sounds of the summer.

Nigel adds: “Shieldhall doesn’t have the most glamorous past. She was constructed on the banks of the Clyde to act as a sludge ship for the Glasgow Corporation in the 1950s, and then performed a similar role for Southern Water during the late 1970s.

“Today she is managed and operated entirely by volunteers, who take great delight in showcasing her twin scotch boilers, triple expansion steam engines and original bridge instrumentation – it’s ‘access all areas’!

Shieldhall’s story is but one of hundreds we recall in connection with Southampton Water and the Solent – references to The Mayflower; RMS Titanic and the Queen Mary are interlaced with tales of flying boats and seaplanes; the 100 Years War and the First and Second World Wars, when Southampton was the country’s major military embarkation port.”

2024, of course, marks the 80th anniversary of D-Day, and Shieldhall will be staging themed cruises into the Solent over the weekend of June 8/9, remembering the lives of those serviceman who took part in the Normandy landings.

Nigel concludes: “Every guest has a tale to tell; every trip I collect anecdotes and stories of this treasured part of our coastline, which in turn can be passed on. It is a constant source of fascination, and as volunteers we will look to keep Shieldhall and her tales ‘alive and steaming’ for many years to come.”

ss-shieldhall.co.uk; visitsouthampton.co.uk