Exhibition on the first Coronia sails into centre

Words and colour photos by Dave Barry 

A fascinating exhibition on Scarborough’s first Coronia pleasure boat has opened at the Maritime Heritage Centre (MHC).

Two pleasure cruisers called MV Coronia, both built in 1935, have operated out of the harbour over the last 80-odd years.

One was called Coronia when it was launched; the other took the name when the first one left Scarborough in 1968.

In the war, the first one took part in the Normandy landings and the second one was involved with the Dunkirk evacuations.

Built at Warren's New Holland shipyard in Lincolnshire in 1935, the original Coronia was launched into the Humber.

Scarborough businessman Jack Ellis commissioned the vessel and operated it from 1935-39 and 1946-51.

In 1937, it had a second, dummy funnel fitted to make it more attractive to tourists.

From 1939-46, it was requisitioned by the Admiralty for war service, firstly as a boom defence vessel on the Humber, then as a detention ship on the Tyne for recalcitrant sailors and enemy seamen from ships sunk offshore.

Armed with a four-inch gun, it saw service in the Mediterranean before being engaged as an attendant vessel on Pluto, the Pipe Line Under the Ocean project, which supplied oil across the Channel to facilitate the Normandy landings.

The Coronia returned to Scarborough in 1946. In 1951, following Jack Ellis’s death, it was bought by Jack Johnson, who operated it until 1968, latterly with his son Martin.

In 1958, it escorted the royal yacht Britannia past Scarborough when the Queen was circumnavigating the British Isles.

Regular visitors during several summer seasons included Sooty puppeteer Harry Corbett.

The vessel was designed to carry 472 passengers (later 509) with a crew of 14. The vessel’s displacement was 227 tons, with a length of 128ft, a beam of 26ft and a maximum draught of 6ft 6in.

It had two, six-cylinder, four-stroke Diesel engines. Each provided 242 brake horsepower, which powered two four-bladed, 51-inch propellers, giving a top speed of 13.5 knots. Both engines are now in the National Science Museum.

The Coronia had six watertight bulkheads, a clipper-style bow and a cruiser stern. The promenade deck gave access around the ship. Its upper deck had seating and was used for games and dancing.

The decking was made of pitched pine and the upper works were made of teak. The saloon had oak panelling and the staircases were made of mahogany.

Martin Johnson, who is president of the MHC, has a vast number of documents, photos, artefacts and memorabilia; many are in the exhibition.

The exhibition includes souvenir silk handkerchiefs, button badges and postcards which were sold on board; the original ship’s bell, brass maker’s plate and a branding iron used to mark life-saving rafts; crew caps and badges including the ship pennant and the Johnson house flag.

By 1968, in the face of dwindling passenger numbers and an unsympathetic council and harbour committee, business was declining and the boat was sold. Since then, it has had various owners and names.

A few years ago, it was bought by Medway Motor Sailing Club as a clubhouse and now languishes in the upper reaches of the river Medway, in Kent.

The second Coronia was built and launched at the Fellows shipyard in Yarmouth, says Tommy Rowley, who operated it out of the harbour for many years.

It was originally called Brit but changed its name to Watchful during war service, when it was repainted battleship grey. It came to Scarborough as the Yorkshire Lady in the early 50s, working alongside the Coronia and Regal Lady.

When the Coronia left in 1968, the Yorkshire Lady changed its name to Coronia. This vessel was owned by Scarborough’s MP Robert Goodwill for a few years and is now being renovated in Hartlepool.

The exhibition runs until the end of July.

The MHC is run by volunteers and public donations. It is open from 11am-4pm Wednesday to Sunday. Entrance is free.