nansy thomas


The Nancy Thomas was one of a series of ships owned by the Williams Thomas's nephews.

homas Brothers Shipping Co. Ltd.

Thomas Coaster Ltd. Liverpool

 All three Thomas brothers were nephews of the successful Anglesey-born Liverpool ship owner William Thomas. Owen Henry Thomas became joint owner of the coaster NETTA in July 1909, and traded her around the Irish Sea; she visited several South Wales ports before being lost in 1916.William Glynne Thomas was a ship broker, and is the first encountered in 1915 managing the HERCULES on behalf of the third brother, Robert Thomas, who was also a ship broker. In 1917, when coasters were in short supply, William Robert and Owen formed the Hercules Steam Shipping Co. Ltd. To own the HERCULES, which was a converted Trinity House Vessel and cost just under £2,000.

In April 1920 in conjunction with their cousin Sir Robert J. Thomas the son of William Thomas - the three Thomas brothers floated the Thomas Brothers Shipping Co. Ltd. with an ambitious nominal capital of £250,000. The company’s prospectus was also written on the grand scale, and it is worth quoting from it extensively.

The company has been formed for the purpose of acquiring and working a fleet of new or recently built steamers, suitable as regards size and type for the coasting trade.

The demand for steamers of this class is greatly in excess of the supply, and the importance of the coasting trade to the community is universally recognized. Coastwise freights are high, and it is believed that if shipping were released from Government control, still higher rates would rule. The recent advance in Railway rates will, it is anticipated, increase coastwise traffic in which case freights will naturally rise, and the Managers are confident that the prosperity of the home trade is assured for a considerable time to come.

The Managers have already acquired a new steamer to be called “Lady Thomas”, of 340 tons deadweight capacity and classed 100 Al at Lloyds for £34,500. The net earnings of this Steamer, calculated at the controlled rates of freight, are estimated at about £12,500 per annum. A freight of 85/- to 90/- per ton d.w. per month could be obtained for her on time charter and allowing for stoppages, it is estimated she would, if thus engaged, earn a net profit of £11,000 or £12,000 per annum, but the Managers consider that they can work her to better advantage on the open market.

In addition to the “Lady Thomas”, the Mangers have taken over a contract for a steamer of 500 tons d.w., which is being built by Colby Brothers Limited, Lowestoft, and engined by the shields Engineering Co. Ltd.

The purchase price of this steamer is £43,500 and she is expected to be ready for work in two or three months.

Both of these vessels will be turned over to the company at cost price, and such price will be payable in cash.It is intended to acquire further tonnage of the same class from time to time, as suitable opportunities offer until the Company has a fleet of 8 or 10 vessels, and it is estimated that with a fleet of this size the company would make a nett profit of £90,000 to £100,000 per annum such a sum after making ample provision for depreciation and reserves, should enable the Company to pay a substantial Dividend.

Sir Robert Thomas, the Chairman of the Directors, has had over 25 years experience of the management of ships, first as a partner in William Thomas and Co. Liverpool, and subsequently as the Director of William Thomas, Sons and Co. Ltd., of London and Liverpool, and he is now Governing Director of RJ. Thomas and Co. Ltd., the Managers of the William Thomas Shipping Co. Ltd. There is probably no Ship owner in the country with a better record of success as a Ship Manager. Mr Robert Thomas has carried on business as a Ship Broker and Ship Owner in Liverpool for many years under the style of Thomas Brothers and Co., and he and the other two Directors, who have been associated with him in his business, are well and favourably known in the Mersey District and out ports, and particularly to Shippers in the home trade.’

The cynical may well think that Sir Robert J. Thomas had been brought in because of the reverence with which his father’s name was held in shipping circles. Despite the glowing terms of the prospectus, Sir Robert did not have his father’s skill as a ship manager, as investors in his deep-sea steamer venture, the William Thomas Shipping Co Ltd., were to find to their cost. In any case, he had minimal experience in the coasting trade and, resident as he was in Anglesey, could have had little to do with the day-to-day running of the Liverpool office of Thomas Brothers Shipping Co.Ltd.

The two steamers were transferred to the company within days of its formation in April, having been acquired by the Thomas’s in February and March, respectively. The LADY THOMAS, which had been ordered by Mann, MacNeal of Glasgow, was delivered in April but the MIRIAM THOMAS did not arrive from Lowestoft until November. Did this reflect Colby’s slower building rate, or the fact that Thomas Brothers Shipping Co. Ltd. took overlong to raise the cash to make the final payment? The managers took up far less of the shares than they promised in their prospectus, and although the minimum subscription for allotment was reached, by June 1920 only £73,000 had been subscribed insufficient to meet the cost of both steamers.

Profits nowhere near met the promoters’ expectations, with a massive slump hitting trade in 1920. Trading figures for the first year are not known, but a loss of £1,701 was recorded for the year to April 1922. A smaller loss of £396 was reported for the year to April 1923, as there was a slight revival of trade in the last months of 1922, coinciding with the arrival of the ELSIE THOMAS and NANCIE THOMAS, but this upturn was not sustained. As if to justify their acquisition of further ships, the managers claimed that the new ships cost £16,000, but could not be built for less than £25,000. The purchase price was less than a half of that price for the LADY THOMAS two years earlier. The directors were still optimistic, and foresaw ‘an increased demand for small boats’ Indeed, things looked up slightly in 1924, with a profit of £800 - but still a far cry from the predicted £100,000.

The year also saw the arrival of the DORIS THOMAS, at £8,000 a real bargain, but perhaps reflecting the desperation of her builders, the Manchester Dry Docks Co. Ltd. of Ellesmere Port, to get her off their hands. She was one of a quarter begun during the First World War, but whose completion proceeded at a leisurely pace. Notwithstanding the yard’s inexperience of shipbuilding, DORIS THOMAS lasted well and when withdrawn from service as the BEN AN in 1963 she was the last single hatch steam coaster on the Irish Sea.

After 1924, however, the financial story of Thomas Brothers Shipping Co. Ltd. was one of continuing and, indeed, deepening losses. In May 1929 it was decided to wind up the company, an operation completed in 1930 when the MIRIAM THOMAS, NANCIE THOMAS and ELSIE THOMAS passed to the National Provincial Bank ­a major creditor — for a mere £19,000 for three ships.

With the exception of bridge-amidships MIRIAM THOMAS, the company’s ships were archetypal Irish Sea Coasters with single hatches and of a size which allowed them to squeeze into almost any port in Ireland or on the West coast of England, Wales or Scotland. Those who served on the ships remember their almost invariable cargo as being coal out of the Mersey or Preston to Ireland. where they would drop back in ballast to the Llyn to load road stone for the Mersey. The granite quarries on his Peninsula had their heyday in the nineteenth century when there insatiable demand for setts for road-making, and enjoyed a revival in their fortunes in the 1920’s with the need for crushed granite for macadamised roads. There was a tendency for coaster companies to form loose alliances with particular quarries, and it was to the exposed jetty of the Yr Eifl Quarry (also known as Caer-Nant or Nant­Gwytheryn) belonging to Croft Granite Brick and Concrete Co. Ltd. that Thomas’s coasters gravitated. There they would load stone in any form from dust through chippings to large blocks and deliver it to Mersey ports, of which the West Bank Dock at Widnes was favored by Croft Granite - at least when the tide served. It was not known for all five of the coasters of Thomas Bothers to be in this dock at once. In later years, stone was brought to the West Float, Birkenhead for the construction of a new road along the Wirral Peninsula, the New Chester Road.

Occasionally this trading pattern would be broken, with coal shipped from the Mersey to St Ives, Appledore or another West Country port with a return cargo of china clay lifted for Runcorn. Photographs also show that the ships were not strangers to Bristol and the Avon, and the ELSIE THOMAS visited Dublin and Belfast.

Many of the crew’s of Thomas’s coasters came from Amlwch, and indeed whole families from the Anglesey port served on the ships. The brothers Sam and Hugh Evans were masters of the LADY THOMAS and MIRIAM THOMAS, the former having two of his sons as mate and able seaman. William Jones, also of Amlwch, was master of the NANCIE THOMAS, later transferring to the J.F.V. In the years between the wars when jobs were by no means easy to find, the crews rarely changed. One trend that became apparent, however, was the gradual arrival at Arklow seamen after Jim Tyreli replaced Evans as mate of the LADY THOMAS.

Owen Thomas and William G. Thomas have to be credited with perseverance, as after the liquidation of their first venture they began in business again, as Thomas Coasters Ltd., buying back all five ships of the original company. In place of the high ambition of Thomas Brothers Shipping Co Ltd., austerity was now the order of the day, and offices were taken at Wellington Buildings, Litherland Alley, off South Castle Street , which are remembered as being Dickensian in their pokiness . Life in the coastal trade was now more a matter of survival than prosperity, and Thomas Coasters Ltd. is recalled as being a very poor company indeed. Even relatively routine repairs seemed to put an insuperable burden on it. In 1934 the DORIS THOMAS was loading at the Yr Eifl jetty when one of the big swells which made any jetty on the north coast of the Llyn an unpopular place for ships to linger caught her so that her forecastle windlass was pulled out. This event, too trivial to merit an entry in the Weekly Casualty Returns, led to her being laid up in Stanley Dock when she arrived at Liverpool, and to her eventual sale.

Trade did not improve during the early thirties, and Thomas Coasters Ltd. was wound up in 1936, with the two brothers going their own ship owning ways. DORIS THOMAS and ELSIE THOMAS were sold (NANCIE THOMAS had gone the previous year) and William G. Thomas took the LADY THOMAS under his own name, operating her from his home.

Owen Thomas took the company’s largest ship, the MIRIAM THOMAS, bought from the National Provincial Bank who had mortgaged her to Thomas Coasters Ltd, and she was initially registered under his own name. He then fell back on his old association with Croft Granite, as his ship was registered under the ownership of a consortium consisting of a member of his own family, Mrs Annie Thomas, L.F Briggs (a civil engineering contractor) and John J. Griffiths of Widnes who was manager of the granite company. The two last-named gentlemen also bought another elderly steamer, the J.F.V., which was also placed under Owen Thomas’s management. The final change was to register the MIRIAM THOMAS in the ownership of the Carriers Shipping Co. Ltd. With two respectably - sized coasters, and freights showing vague signs of recovery with the approach of war, prospects should have been brighter for Owen Thomas. But his little company does not seem to have thrived: the J.F.V. was sold in 1939 and the MIRIAM THOMAS was lost in collision in 1942 and never replaced.

Brother William G. Thomas fared better. The LADY THOMAS came through the war unscathed and lasted long enough to see William form a new limited company, the Glynwood Navigation Co. Ltd. This company than sold the LADY THOMAS and bought the VICTOR, which was renamed LADY WOOD. An older steamer, the LADY WOOD was considerably larger than LADY THOMAS, allowing the company to make the most of the improved trading conditions followed the Second World War. William G. Thomas died in July 1951, and the management of his solitary ship passed to his son Peter. LADY WOOD herself gave a further two years’ service before she was fit only for scrap and the days of the steam coaster, it seemed, were over.

Or were they? The Glynwood Navigation Co. Ltd. reappeared in Lloyds Register almost two years after the LADY WOOD had gone, but it now hailed from Hufl, where it shared an office with the Holderness Steamship Co. Ltd. Over the next two years it was to own three steamers, two named CUPHOLDER (the second beginning life as Richard Hughes’ DORRIEN ROSE) and one LOGHOLDER (already encountered in this book as CELIA MARY in the fleet of Mersey Ports Stevedoring Co. Ltd.). The HOLDER names help to confirm that the company had been bought by Thomas E. Kettlewell, and was used to register some of his large fleet of ageing and life-expired coasters, most of which he bought at scrap prices, and traded them for as long as he could. In 1958 the second CUPHOLDER was transferred to the Holderness Steamship Co. Ltd. and the same Glynwood Navigation Co. Ltd. disappeared a second and final time.

Perhaps we should not be too hard on the Thomas brothers. It was their misfortune to experience one of the longest and deepest recessions the shipping industry had suffered. That at least one of the brothers survived in the coastal shipping business for 35 years speaks of a tenacity that belies the get —rich quick promises of the prospectus out by Thomas Brothers Shipping Co. Ltd.