Metcalf Motor Coasters Limited of London was one of the major players in the UK coastal trade during the 1940s to the early 1970s, until, when in 1972 the company merged with S. William Coe & Company of Liverpool. During my leave time spent at Hove in the UK, at the weekends I would occasionally take a drive to visit the various south coast ports, such as Dover, Newhaven, Portslade, Shoreham, Littlehampton, and Portsmouth (sometimes venturing further westward as far as Berry Head), where I regularly came across these jaunty little coasters, all proudly sporting a white ‘M’ on a dark green funnel

What struck me was that, aside from their funnels, which were always immaculately painted, the ships always looked spotless, well maintained, spic and span, despite the fact ,that they were hard working vessels mostly engaged in the bulk fertilizer, grain, coal and roadstone trades, and therefore spent little time in port. This spoke volumes for the owners and their crews.

Metcalf Motor Coasters Ltd. began as a subsidiary of C. Crawley Ltd. of Gravesend, which was founded in 1893 by Charles Crawley as a Thames barge and small coaster owner. In 1905, the company was managed by Thomas J. Metcalf, who after World War I purchased five ex-military lighters which he named as Daniel M, David M, Francis M and James M after family members, with the remaining lighter becoming the water carrier Aqua 130/1915, for C. Crawley Ltd.


Thomas J. Metcalf in association with his wife, Mrs. Ellen Metcalf, owned three vessels registered under C. Crawley Ltd. The Aqua, which was broken up in 1984 after a career of almost seventy years, Fountain built in 1915 and sent for breaking in 1950, and Aquarium built in 1895 and broken up in 1966. The connection between C. Crawley Ltd. and Metcalf Motor Coasters Ltd. continued well into the post-World War II years, and a total of over twenty barges and coasters were registered under C. Crawley Ltd., as owners.

The Metcalf Motor Coasters Ltd. fleet grew from five coasters in 1924, to twelve coasters on the outbreak of WW2 in September 1939, to eighteen coasters by 1950, 22 coasters by 1958, and on takeover by Booker Line in 1972 and merger with S. William Coe & Co. coaster fleet of Liverpool, to a fleet of 26 coasters and deep-sea ships, and finally in combination with James Fisher & Sons Ltd. in 1984, to a larger fleet of 35 coasters and deep-sea ships including six managed ships used for the transport of irradiated nuclear fuel.

The 380grt Polly M at Hayle in July 1967. She was broken up at Bo’ness in 1970. Behind her is the 288grt Insistence of London & Rochester Shipping. (Nigel Lawrence)


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