Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Wordies of Glasgow

Alinda V, formerly Fiumara

"Twenty horses in a row
Everyone of Wordie & Co"

William McGonagall

In the course of researching the history of the Scottish Islands Class I am learning about some of the interesting people who sailed these boats eighty or so years ago. The Islanders attracted some quite unusual personalities to their ranks and I have already introduced some of them on

The Islander Fidra was commissioned in 1930 by Colonel William Wordie, OBE, TD, MA, who was 46 years old at the time. He was the managing director of William Wordie & Co, the biggest carrier and haulage firm ever to operate in Scotland, which had been founded by his great-grandfather John Wordie in the early Nineteenth Century. The history of the firm gives a fascinating glimpse into social history. 

From humble beginnings as a Stirling carter, carrying among other things illicit mail between Stirling, Glasgow and Edinburgh undercutting and contravening the Royal Mail's monopoly, the firm, consisting of half a dozen horses and carts, passed on John's premature death to his son William.

This first William saw the future of rail transport and in 1851 became the agent for the Caledonian Railway and later for Scottish Central Railway. When he died in 1874 an enormous business passed to his son John, who moved the family to Glasgow, where he built the family home, a substantial property at 52 Cleveden Drive in the West end, around 1880.

The future Colonel Wordie was born in 1884. He attended Glasgow Academy and then obtained a Master of Arts degree at Glasgow University. The 1911 Census shows that by then he had inherited the business and the house, describing him as the head of the house, employer and "railway carrier and marking contractor", aged 26, unmarried and living with a housekeeper, table maid and cook.

He went on to serve in the First World War in the Royal Army Service Corps (Territorial Force) being awarded the Order of the Nile and the OBE.

He had joined the Royal Northern Yacht Club in 1924 and presumably owned a yacht in order to join, but to date I don't have details. Fidra was his first commission for a new boat and he raced her for only two seasons, managing 30 starts in 1930 and 20 in 1931 without much success. He was to own her until 1934, when he sold her to A R Keith Thomson. After forty four years with the Thomson family Fidra passed through a couple of further owners before being acquired by Rick Standley, the double bassist, who still owns her.

In 1932 he commissioned Alfred Mylne to design the eight-metre Froya, which I was delighted to discover is still in existence and sailing on Lake Constance. My guess is that one-design racing didn't appeal to Colonel Wordie, with its focus entirely on the ability of the helmsman and crew. By contrast with a yacht built to one of the metre rules one had a chance of getting a hull that would simply go faster through the water and money was not a problem for him. Also he was probably too busy to spend the time on the water necessary to develop winning skills.

In 1934 Mylne designed and Alexander Stephens built him a massive auxiliary ketch Fiumara, which suggests his interests were moving on from racing. She also survives today as Alinda V and has recently been extensively refitted by Southampton Yacht Services.

In February 1945 Colonel Wordie was appointed a Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Glasgow and shortly thereafter Wordie & Co was nationalised and became part of British Road Services. He died in 1952.

In accordance with the tradition in Scottish families the younger brother James Mann Wordie inherited neither house nor business and had to make his own way in the world, admittedly with a share of the family fortune. After taking degrees at Glasgow and Cambridge, where he studied geology, he had a distinguished and highly productive career. He accompanied Shackleton on the Endurance expedition, returning for war service in the Royal Field Artillery, after which he returned to polar exploration and ran numerous privately-financed Arctic explorations. Throughout his base was St John's College, Cambridge, where he progressed from Fellow to becoming Master in 1952, being knighted in 1957.  He died in 1962.

The family history, progressing from a traditional if slightly illegal trade to business and academic success and respectability within four generations, is typical of the incredible social mobility that was possible in the industrial and commercial melting pot that was the West of Scotland in the Nineteenth Century. Colonel William bequeathed to the World three beautiful yachts, while Sir James left a unique legacy of polar information, publications and inspiration.


  1. This makes very interesting reading. I have a 56 ft Mylne Designed and built ketch called "Fedoa". She was launched in 1927, and is entered into Lloyd's Yacht Register as being built for Col William Wordie.

    More details of our restoration can be seen at

    Patrick Moreton

  2. Good Morning Patrick

    How interesting! My statement above that Fidra was Col Wordie's first commission proved wrong, but that's what this blog is about, trying to gather and prove data before it's all lost.

    I've had a quick look at your own blog and will read it again in detail. The first impression was bringing back the horror of replacing Stroma's stem near the start of her restoration. Not quite a beached whale, maybe a stranded dolphin and a bit much for one man to handle after a day at the office.

    Best of luck with the restoration.


  3. Interesting to find this posting.
    I joined the crew of Fiumara for the summer of 1945 Fiumara was laid up at Port Bannatyne during WW2 I was a sixteen year old 'deckie' The crew consisted of Capt Dan Macfarlane from Port Bannatyne John and Ian Martin from Harris , Dan Urquhart (steward) from Ullapool and yours truly then from Letters, Lochbroom. The highlight of the season was Fiumara beating Thendara on the first post war Hunters Quay to Tarbert loch Fyne race In later years I owned Slvander a Silver designed by John Bain
    Angus Mackenzie Fyffe House, Ullapool IV26 2UP


The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water