HISTORICAL BACKGROUND AND ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY OF ALEXANDRA TOWING CO., LTD., 1882 - 1994
The company's origins date back to 1882 when George Bell Cowl established a towage firm in Liverpool. Unfortunately, the firm ran into financial difficulties, caused by the salvage operation on one of its tugs, the Flying Breeze after it sank in Langton Dock whilst assisting the Johnston liner, Thanemore. In 1887 Mr. Cowl's business was taken over a newly formed company, which included amongst it's founders, Henry Bicket. The company was given the name of Alexandra because it was based in Liverpool's Alexandra Dock, and in deference to the, then, Princess of Wales.
The first chairman was William Poulson, and the five tugs taken over, the Flying Breeze, Flying Kestrel, Flying Tempest, Flying Whirlwind, and Turbot, were supplemented within a year by the company's first new tug, the 197-ton Alexandra, built by S. Knight & Co. Two further vessels were acquired, the Conquerer and the London in 1889. In the 1890s a number of new single screw tugs were bought and the tradition of naming the vessels after Liverpool docks was begun.
In 1904 when King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra arrived in Liverpool aboard the RY Victoria & Albert, it was Alexandra's newest tugs, Victoria and Albert which towed her into the Mersey. The company had secured contracts with the Cunard Steamship Company and the White Star Line to handle their liners, and in 1907 the order of the 307-ton tender, Herald, reflected the need to meet the demands of the growing number of large transatlantic liners, including the Lusitania and Mauretania. In 1912, the Herald, together with other Alexandra tugs, assisted the ill-fated Titanic when she sailed out of Harland & Wolff's Belfast Yard.
In 1908 W. & T. Joliffe of Liverpool, a long established (1854) tug company specialising in river and ocean towage and North Wales excursion services was taken over with its fleet of six tugs. The first expansion of the company outside Liverpool followed the transfer of the Cunard Steamship Company's express passenger service to Southampton in 1919 when four Alexandra tugs established a tugboat service there. In 1924 operations were begun in Port Talbot and Swansea.
Alexandra Towing played an important role in both World Wars, managing tugs for the government and assisting convoys in and out of the Mersey, from the naval base at Gladstone Dock and the movement of corvettes and frigates in the Second World War. After the conclusion of the First World War, Germany was deprived of her large passenger liners. The biggest ship left to Norddeutscher Lloyd was the tender Gruesgottwhich, was placed under the management of Alexandra Towing Co., Ltd. at Southampton, but was owned by the Southampton Steam Ship Company Ltd.
The 1950s was a period in which over twenty new or replacement tugs were acquired, including the company's first motor tugs, North Isle and North Loch. The 1960s was also a time of great development. In 1962, interests in South Wales were consolidated by the acquisition of the Britannia Steam Towing Company and the tugs Brynforth, Craigworth and Clyneforth. In 1966, the Liverpool Screw Towing Company and its subsidiary, North West Tugs, were added to the Alexandra Group. The company was founded in 1877 by W. Beckett Hill, and seven steam tugs and five motor tugs popularly known as the "Cock Tugs", became part of the Alexandra fleet. Liverpool Screw Towing was greatly involved in deep-sea work and after the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894, operated a fleet of flats, barges and steam barges.
The fleet was further expanded in 1968 when the Liverpool firm of J.H. Lamey was acquired. The Cock tugs handled most of the launches of both merchant and warships from Cammell Laird including the second Mauretania in 1939 and the aircraft carrier Ark Royal. J.H. Lamey had been founded in 1916, as the Hero Tug Company, named after the steamer Hero, which serviced merchant ships during the First World War and coastal sailing vessels carrying cargoes of china clay from Cornwall.
One of the biggest expansions, the acquisition of a further 22 tugs, occurred in 1975 when Alexandra took control of London Tugs, a company formed in 1969 when W.H.J. Alexander & Co. (est. 1883) owners of Sun Tugs joined Ship Towage (London). Ship Towage (London) was established in 1950 by the merger of William Watkins (est. 1833) and the Elliot Steam Tugs Company (1949) with Gamecock Tugs (1880). One of the most famous of all maritime paintings, that of J.M.H. Turner's "The Fighting Temeraire" depicts the old warship being towed on her last journey by Monarch, W. Watkins's first tug in 1839.
The towage heritage of both the Thames and Mersey were thus united with the creation of Alexandra Towing Company (London) and the erection of Alexandra House, as headquarters for the Thames based operations at Gravesend in 1976. The Medway Dry Dock and Engineering Company at Sheerness and Britannia Marine Towing Equipment also came under its control at this time.
In 1975 Alexandra Aviation was formed followed by Euroair Transport at Gatwick and the Business Air Centre based at London and Aberdeen. Towage activities in the South-East were extended to Felixstowe, Harwich, Ipswich and Ramsgate. A tug operation was also established in Gibraltar.
A division of the company, Alexandra Marine Transportation was formed to cater for the offshore oil industry in the U.K. and West Africa. Tugs of the company have played an important role in the exploration and extraction of North Sea oil, for example, Alfred, Crosby, Albert and Margam towed out the 150,000 tonnes base of the world's largest offshore production platform at that time from Loch Kishorn in September 1976. Alexandra Tugs also helped in the construction of the Thames barrier in 1979.
In 1994 Alexandra Towing was taken over by the Australian Howard Smith Group, retaining its company name and headquarters in Castle Chambers. This collection of records was deposited by the Howard Smith Group in July 1994. In May 2001 the towage operation of Howard Smith was acquired by Adstream Marine Ltd., and was re-named Adstream Towage Limited, with offices in North Huskisson No. 1 Dock and its head office in Marina Court, Castle Street, Hull.