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British shipping companies (U, V)

Last modified: 2021-03-20 by rob raeside
Keywords: ussco | ut | ubc | uma | u | salvage | towing | gargoyle | akker | vm |
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Ulster Steamship Co Ltd.

[Ulster Steamship Co., Ltd. houseflag] image by Jarig Bakker, based on the website of the National Maritime Museum

From the website of the National Maritime Museum, the house flag of Ulster Steamship Co Ltd., Belfast. A blue rectangular flag bearing a white shield with the red hand of Ulster dripping blood. The white initials 'USS Co' placed near the hoist. The flag is made of a wool and synthetic fibre bunting. It has a cotton hoist and is machine sewn."
Jarig Bakker, 2 September 2004

[Ulster Steamship Co., Ltd. houseflag] image by Jarig Bakker, based on the website of the National Maritime Museum

Loughran (1979) has four red drops and dots after all letters. Loughran (1979) writes: "The Ulster S.S. Co. Ltd., of Belfast, managed by G. Heyn & Sons Ltd., and known as the Head Line from the names of its ships, chose the Bloody Hand of Ulster as its symbol. The Red Hand is associated with a story from ancient Irish history, In ancient times the King of Ulster was elected from amongst the various chieftains, at special gatherings in the Isle of Arran which was then part of the Kingdom of Ireland. Once, when the chiefs failed to agree on the merits of rival candidates, one a McDonnell, the other an O'Neill, it was decided that whichever should first put his hand on the soil of Ireland, should gain the crown. Both immediately set sail, but when they reached the rocky coast, neither could land because of the heavy seas. Determined not to be baulked at that stage, O'Neill made his crew row as far inland as possible, drew his sword, and severing his hand at the wrist, threw it ashore. Thus, at a terrible price, he won the crown."
Jarig Bakker, 2 September 2004

Union-Castle Line (Union Castle Mail S.S. Co. Ltd., London)

[Union-Castle Line houseflag] image by Jorge Candeias, 01 April 1999

I saw this flag in London at a ceremony for the dead civil sailors of the World Wars, last August (see photo). It is really a nice flag. This one had a ratio of 1:2. The proportions are a little bit different. The owner was a veteran of the line, which seems not to be in existence any more.
J. Patrick Fischer, 8 October 2002

The Union Castle Mail Steamship Co. Ltd. was formed March 1900 and the flag combines those of the founding members being the Union Steamship Co. with a white flag and a blue border bearing a red saltire on the white, and the Castle Line of Donald Currie & Co. which had a blue flag with a white saltire surmounted by an white diamond bearing a red "C". There are discrepancies between sources as to whether the saltire of the former was throughout the white or was coupled, and with the latter as to whether the diamond was defined or merged into the white with the last option appearing the likely. Thus the red saltire of the Union Steamship flag replaced the "C" on the Castle flag. In 1953 the company became part of the British & Commonwealth Shipping Co. with the constituent companies retaining their identities. A group flag did result incorporating the Union Castle design and from the video "The Great Liners Part 2" it appears that whilst the group flag was normally flown both can be distinguished on their own, or on one occasion possibly the group flag is in conjunction with the normal company flag, or then again, the 2nd may have been the commodore's flag as it was the flagship "Transvaal Castle". The company used a swallow-tailed version for its fleet commodore although the actual design is uncertain with two reports from the same source differing as to whether the tail took all of the fly or was inset as a piece out of the blue fly section only leaving the saltire ends undisturbed. The company ceased operations in 1977 although the name was revived briefly in 1999 as an advertising gimmick by P&O.

Neale Rosanoski, 8 January 2003

Various websites recount the history of this line and that of the two companies merged to form Union-Castle, namely Union Steamship Co. and Castle Mail Packet Co. Here is a list of sites dedicated to Union-Castle taking duly note of its ancestors:

Jan Mertens, 15 December 2005

Union Steamship Co.

[Union Steamship Co. houseflag] by Ivan Sache, 28 December 2005

One of two ancestors of the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Co., Union Steamship – the elder one – had an interesting history:

Its beginnings were modest: founded in 1853, the Southampton Steam Shipping Co. transported coal from South Wales to Southampton which would then serve to fire up the engines of the larger shipping companies. Renamed Union Steam Collier Co. the same year, its ships were requisitioned for the Crimean War 1854-1856. As Southampton had a huge stock of coal after the war, Union – now called Union Steamship Co. – tried its luck elsewhere by establishing routes to South America and Hamburg. This move was not successful but 1857 brought the lucrative contract for mail to and from South Africa. However from 1876 on, the Castle Line shared in the contract but on condition that both firms do not merge. Of course they were competitors – Castle having been brought in to be just that – but the joint service was run smoothly; tickets, for instance, were interchangeable. The ships were rather small; Union provided ten ships to the service and Castle, eleven. When the mail contract ended in 1899 Union and Castle – in the absence of any competition – managed to land the new one (no longer forbidding amalgamation and at first intended for one firm only). Very soon a single company, Union-Castle Mail Steamship Co., was formed (1900). Interestingly, in the meantime both firms had had ships requisitioned for the Boer War (1899) and these were not relinquished until 1902, when the original firms no longer existed.

Union’s house flag is shown on the Red Duster pages at a red free-standing saltire was placed on a white, blue-bordered field.
Jan Mertens, 15 December 2005

Union Transport Group plc.

[Union Trading Group plc houseflag] image by Jarig Bakker, 3 November 2005

Union Transport Group PLC., London - white flag, partially outlined red "UT".
Source: Loughran (1995)
Jarig Bakker, 3 November 2005

Union Transport Group, incorporated 14.8.1946 ( is a Public Limited Company and not a subsidiary of any other group. Formed 1946 as Union Transport (London) Ltd. changing name in 1987 to Union Transport Group plc (Lloyds 3/1998). Went into administration 2.5.2013 ( 4.5.2013). The "left over management" formed Absolute Shipping Ltd. ( 8.2.2014).
Neale Rosanoski, 12 April 2017

United Baltic Corporation Ltd.

[United Baltic Corp., Ltd. houseflag] image by Jarig Bakker, based on the website of the National Maritime Museum

From the website of the National Maritime Museum, the house flag of the United Baltic Corporation Ltd., London. A white rectangular flag with a red foul anchor placed aslant. The red letters 'UBC' placed in the lower left hand corner. The flag is made of a wool and synthetic fibre bunting. It has a cotton hoist and is machine sewn. A rope and two Inglefield clips is attached. The house flag was based on that of the (Danish) East Asiatic Company of which the company was originally a subsidiary."
Jarig Bakker, 2 September 2004

United European Car Carriers

[United European Car Carriers houseflag] image by Jarig Bakker, 15 January 2006

United European Car Carriers, London - horizontal blue-yellow-blue flag; on yellow 4 blue diamonds, charged with yellow "UECC".
Source: Loughran (1995)
Jarig Bakker, 15 January 2006

United Marine Aggregates, Ltd.

[United Marine Aggregates, Ltd. houseflag] image by Jarig Bakker, 28 November 2005

United Marine Aggregates, Ltd., Chichester - white flag, blue outlined "UMA".
Source: Loughran (1995)
Jarig Bakker, 28 November 2005

United Steam Tug Co.

[United Marine Aggregates, Ltd. houseflag] image by Eugene Ipavec, 17 February 2009

A company presented on the ‘Thames Tugs’ site is United Steam Tug Co. a name later preceded by the place name Gravesend aka Ring Tugs:
Quote: “The United Steam Tug Company Limited was another consortium of River Pilots and Gravesend businessmen, all owning shares in the vessels. Founded in the 1890's by Albert Pattison it sold its remaining vessels in 1937 to William Watkins Ltd.”
This last remark is also relevant to William Watkins, of course. Also a company bearing the same name was active at Liverpool in the 1850’s.

The house flag as shown by Thames Tugs (I was unable to find additional pictures) was white with a red lozenge (not touching the flag’s edges) bearing a large white initial ‘U’ and accompanied by four five-pointed blue stars, one in each corner of the imaginary rectangle enclosing the lozenge (in other words, apparently not relegated to the flag’s corners).
Jan Mertens, 16 February 2009

United Towing Ltd.

[United Towing Ltd. houseflag] image by Jarig Bakker, based on the website of the National Maritime Museum

From the website of the National Maritime Museum, the house flag of United Towing Ltd., Hull. A blue pennant with a five-pointed white star bearing a blue letter 'U'. The flag is made of a wool and synthetic fibre bunting. It has a cotton hoist and is machine sewn. A rope and Inglefield clips is attached.

In 1920, seven Humber tug companies joined forces to form United Towing, with a fleet of 36 vessels. The managing director, Thomas Clarkson Spink, was appointed to a post he was to keep for the next 40 years. Initially the company concentrated on port, river, and coastal towage, towing coal barges, meeting the sail grain ships from Australia, and taking barges across the North Sea. Tasks also included fire fighting, restoring anchors and cable to the local trawlers and hauling off stranded vessels. From 1925 company operations spread worldwide towing ships, barges, dredgers and dry-docks. Modernisation of the company began in 1959, but was speeded up by the purchase of United Towing by the Boston Deep Sea Fishing Group in 1962. The size of the tugs increased due to the demands of modern shipping, specifically the super tanker and the off shore rigs. New vessels such as the replacement 'Seaman', a multipurpose tug and 'Salvageman', the most powerful tug in the fleet were put into service. However by the early 1980s the increased competition from offshore support vessels and the decline in the general towage and salvage business led to the downsizing of the fleet to just three vessels.

In 1987 a majority interest in United Towing's parent company, North British Maritime Group Ltd, were bought by Howard Smith Ltd of Australia. In 1989 the remaining shares were bought making United Towing a wholly owned subsidiary of the Australian company. The company then changed policy and withdrew from ownership of the large ocean going tugs, concentrated on the management of such vessels and maintained its salvage operations. Apart from commercial towing, the ships played a service role throughout the Second World War and the Icelandic cod wars when they provided protection for the trawler fleets; they later served in the Falkland conflict. The headquarters of Howard Smith (UK) Ltd, incorporating United Towing, is still in Hull."
Jarig Bakker, 3 September 2004

United Towing Salvage

[United Towing Salvage houseflag] image by Jarig Bakker, based on the website of the National Maritime Museum

From the website of the National Maritime Museum, the house flag of United Towing Salvage. A white rectangular flag with a black stylised depiction of a ship's stern flying the house flag of United Towing Ltd. A salvage vessel is shown in blue on a white background on the side of the hull. Around the logo in black letters is inscribed 'united towing salvage'. The flag is made of a wool and synthetic fibre bunting. It has a cotton hoist and is machine sewn. The design is printed."
Jarig Bakker, 3 September 2004

United Whalers Ltd.

[United Whalers houseflag] image by Ivan Sache, 8 March 2004

United Whalers Ltd. Although a simple design it has several versions ascribed. The company itself was a subsidiary of Hector Whaling Co. Ltd. who absorbed their fleet in the later 1950s. Hector Whaling was formed in the early 1930s as a British holding company and was associated with the Norwegian company of N. R. Bugge and a version of that company's livery was adopted. The Bugge flag was shown pre WW2 as a diagonal biband of blue over white with the line being from lower hoist to upper fly but at some point after WW2 it appears that the line was changed to upper hoist to lower fly although their subsidiary, A/S Hektor, is still shown with the original version by Brown 1951. After WW2 Bugge, now operating as Bugge & Krogh-Hansen, became managers of Hector Whaling and United Whaling and acted as such until their whaling interests were sold to Japan c.1960 (with Hector Whaling thereafter coming under Cayzer, Irvine & Co. Ltd., together with the likes of Clan Line and Union Castle, until the beginning of the 1970s when it disappeared). It is probably this connection that lead the US Navy 1961 publication to show the post WW2 blue over white biband version against Hector Whaling although the use of the red over white livery is supposed to have been in operation from their inception. The version shown by FOTW is supported by the Stewart 1st edition of 1953-1957 but Loughran 1979 shows a completely different version by reversing the colours to white over red with the line from upper hoist to lower fly. The last version is also ascribed to Hector Trawlers Ltd. which was an associate company. Another possible version is suggested for United Towing by Talbot-Booth in his 1942 Ships & The Sea edition which reverses the colours of this last version but this is based on the supposition of the funnel panel being the flag as here he is only showing funnel designs.

The above changes to both the Bugge and Hector flags may have actually occurred in full or part or they may have resulted from incorrect reporting and conclusions. Funnel panels and bands often supply excellent detail of the houseflag but there is a hidden fish hook. The convention for observing funnels is the same as for flags i.e. the observor views the port (left) side of the funnel with the bow (hoist) to their left (I am aware of one company at least which ignored or did not know this resulting in an entirely different meaning to its logo). Flags are normally one sided so the reverse shows everything back to front as a "mirror" image. However a funnel is normally double sided with the other (starboard) side showing the same appearance which is obviously essential in the case of lettering. But there are exceptions. N.R. Bugge is definitely one (personal observation) and Hector appears to be likewise in that the starboard view is a mirror image and this means that anyone using only this as the basis to draw a flag design which has no obvious "front" will probably draw it around the wrong way. In a perfect world such observations would go with a notation until either checked against the portside view or best of all, the actual flag. As far as I can make out the FOTW version is correct, E&OE.

Neale Rosanoski, 8 January 2003

Uranium Steamship Co.

[Uranium Steamship Co. houseflag] image by Ivan Sache, 27 March 2008

Lloyds Book of House Flags and Funnels (1912) shows the house flag of "Uranium Steamship Co., Ltd." (#114, p. 42), a company based in London, as blue with a white saltire and the yellow letters "U", "S", "S" and "C" in the upper, left, right and lower quarters, respectively.

"The Ships List" website says:
"The Uranium Steamship Company was a continuation of the Northwest Transport Line from 1910 and was probably owned by Canadian Northern Railway Company. Passenger services operated between Rotterdam until 1914 when Avonmouth - Quebec - Montreal services started. The company sold their ships to Cunard in 1916 and they were all later sunk by submarines."
The four listed ships operated by the company are the "Campania", "Principello", "Uranium" and "Volturno".
Ivan Sache, 27 March 2008 


V.Ships - 8 green and 7 white horizontal stripes

Dov Gutterman, 13 October 2003

Vacuum Oil Co. Ltd.

[Vacuum Oil Co. Ltd. houseflag] image by Jarig Bakker

I have tried to draw the Vacuum Oil Co. Ltd. houseflag, which, thanks to Ned's relentless ferreting we know now has a gargoyle in the center. Gargoyles are decorative waterspouts that preserve stonework by diverting the flow of rainwater away from building. The word gargoyle derives from the French gargouille, or throat, from which the verb, to gargle, also originates. ( )
The Vacuum Oil co. was closely connected to Mobil Oil, a French company, from which the gargoyle was popularized all over the Anglo-Saxon world, see the many greasy cans on offer on Ebay (perhaps you noticed the bottom of the gallon tin?). Mobil is now part of the Exxon conglomerate. Source: All about Ships & Shipping, 1938
Jarig Bakker, 19 October 2003

Vacuum Oil Co. Ltd. The black marks shown by the All About Ships & Shipping source are probably misleading, just like his post WW2 editions still showing the livery when the company had merged prior to the war. Talbot-Booth shows it without these marks in his 1936-1938 books, whilst Brown 1929 and 1934, supported by Loughran 1979, show a version in the name of the American parent company, again without these black marks, but with the emblem ensigned with the black legend "GARGOYLE" in an arc.
Neale Rosanoski, 5 May 2004

See also: Vacuum Oil Co. Inc., (USA)

Valiant Shipping Co.

[Valiant Shipping Co. houseflag] image by Jarig Bakker, 15 January 2006

Valiant Shipping Co. (London), Ltd., London - blue flag, white cross, red saltire; in center on white red "V".
Source: Loughran (1995)
Jarig Bakker, 15 January 2006

Van den Akker Bergings- en Transportbedrijf

[Van den Akker Bergings- en Transportbedrijf houseflag] image by Jarig Bakker, 29 August 2005

Van den Akker Bergings- en Transportbedrijf, Glasgow (Salvage- and Transport company) - horizontal triband of green and white; on white black "AKKER".
(I think this is a misnomer: green-white-green are the Rotterdam colors and the firm's name couldn't be more Dutch...)
Source: Loughran (1995)
Jarig Bakker, 29 August 2005

Might be this one, which is now Vlissingen-based, but started out somewhere else. They appear, however, to use a different logo for the company itself.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 25 September 2005

Adelphi Vergottis

[Adelphi Vergottis houseflag] image by Jarig Bakker

From Scott, R.M., The Caltex book of Flags and Funnels, Cape Town, Caltex Africa Ltd. (1959).

Adelphi Vergottis, London - swallowtail per fly diagonal white over blue; two small crosses countercharged.
Jarig Bakker, 2 January 2005

[Vergottis (London), Ltd. houseflag] image by Jarig Bakker, 10 January 2006

Vergottis (London), Ltd., London - blue flag, white cross, in center yellow 8-pointed star, red "B".
Source: Loughran (1995)
Jarig Bakker, 10 January 2006

Vergottis London Ltd., as it can be guessed from the flag design, is one of the oldest and most prestigious London based Greek shipping companies. The B letter is a Greek Β (bęta), something between the western B and V.
Ivan Sache, 13 January 2006

Vogt & Maguire Ltd.

[Vogt & Maguire Ltd. houseflag] image by Ivan Sache

 Vogt & Maguire Ltd. (London, United Kingdom - - white V & M combined to form a logo.
Dov Gutterman
, 11 November 2003

Vogt & Maguire is an old company (more than 100 years old) specialized in shipworking and liner agency.
Ivan Sache, 13 November 2003

British Shipping lines: continued