The Jet-Propelled Paddle Steamer Lucy Ashton.

Updated: 30 June 2003
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Above: The Lucy Ashton in 1951 with four jet-engines installed; the bow is at the right. The "BSRA" stands for "British Shipbuilding Research Association".

The Lucy Ashton is a unique example of a jet-engine-powered paddleboat; to be more strictly accurate, ex-paddleboat, because the paddles were removed before the jet engines were installed.

The Lucy Ashton was originally a Clyde paddle steamer. She was built in 1888, and at the time of her retirement in 1949 was the oldest railway steamer on the Clyde. The original power was naturally steam.

This vessel was converted in 1950/51 to research the causes of drag and friction on a full-scale ship hull in real-life conditions. It appears full-scale resistance trials had only once been done before, the towing tests on HMS Greyhound in 1874, though there had been much work done with models by luminaries such as Froude.
This is why the jet engines were used- there was no propellor and shaft to influence the results, and it was relatively easy to measure the thrust applied to the hull by measuring the forces on the jet engine mountings. In contrast, the thrust from a conventional propellor is passed to the hull via thrust bearings which are relatively inaccessible and usually welded to the hull structure.

Lucy was powered by four Rolls-Royce Derwent V engines, giving a thrust of 3600 lb each at 14,500 rpm. Top speed is not known to me but was in excess of 15 knots. The noise levels were so high the control cabin had to be soundproofed by 60 dB. This was before the days of jet thrust-reversers, and there was no way to go backwards. To stop quickly in an emergency, large metal flaps were lowered from the outriggers to act as water brakes.

The work done using the Lucy Ashton was of considerable importance. See this PhD thesis done at MIT, on the correlations between full-size and small-model tests on Lucy.

This is the Lucy Ashton in her original form. Photograph 1939.

The eventual fate of the vessel is unknown.


So who was Lucy Ashton? Not (as I suspected) the mistress of a Clyde shipowner. You will meet her in the opera:

LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR
by Salvatore Cammarano
based on the novel The Bride of Lammermoor by Sir Walter Scott
music by Gaetano Donizetti

DRAMATIS PERSONĘ
Lord Henry Ashton [Sir Enrico]
Lucy Ashton, his sister [Lucia]
Sir Edgar, Master of Ravenswood [Sir Edgardo]

Sir Edgardo? You must be joking.

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