United Towing Ltd. came into being on 29th December 1920 and disappeared in the 1990’s, but in its 70 odd years of existence it became the leading towing and salvage company in the UK.
The creation of United Towing was preceded by the Hull Associated Tug Owners group, formed in 1913 when five companies joined together. After WW1 trade was slow and competition was fierce for the little work available. It made sense for seven companies on the Humber to join forces. United Towing was the merger of City Steam Towing Co, Humber Steam Towing Co., Premier Tug Co. Ltd., S. Harrison, T. C. Spink, T. Gray & Co. and Troy Steam Towing Co. In 1923 a controlling interest in the Peter Foster fleet was aquired, Thompson Towage was bought in 1926 and J. H. Pigott (Grimsby) in 1964.
The first tug to be assigned to the new company was the Muscovite, on 21st January 1921 from City Steam Towing.
The first offices of United Towing were at 11 Nelson Street, Hull, opposite the Corporation Pier. These offices had previously been occupied by the Hull Associated Tug Owners. They were to remain the UTC headquarters until 1976.
The management of UTC was entrusted to Thomas Clarkson Spink, who had previously been the manager of the Hull Associated Tug Owners. T. C. Spink remained as Managing Director until age 84 when he died at his desk in 1960.
At first the company concentrated on supplying services to the Humber ports, barge towing on the river systems including the Humber, Trent and Ouse as well as short coastal tows. The first new tug built for UTC was the Superman in 1923. She was built by Cochrane & Sons at Selby, was 70′ in length and measured 51 GRT. She was fitted with a triple expansion steam engine giving 750ihp / 84nhp. She was the first of the new ships to take on the ‘man’ suffix, following the theme of the vessels of T. Gray & Co.
UTC were finally able to undertake their first ocean tow with the delivery of larger tugs. The Seaman, also built by Cochrane & Sons at Selby in 1924, was 125′ in length, of 226 GRT and was fitted with a triple expansion steam engine giving 1050ihp / 150nhp.
The company’s first long tow was of two ex RN minesweepers, Stepdance and Quadrille, from Boston, Lincolnshire to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Severe weather was encountered in the Bay of Biscay and the tow rope from Seaman parted. Stepdance started to sink and was in danger of taking down Quadrille. In terrible weather the crew of Seaman launched a boat and were able to cut the tow rope between the two vessels allowing Stepdance to sink on her own. There followed a week of following the drifting Quadrille until the weather improved enough to reconnect. The tug and tow then made for Gijon for repairs, before resuming the voyage to Argentina once more, where they arrived after 85 days.
On Seaman’s return to Hull, after a total of 124 days at sea, and despite all this adventure, there was a profit made of £140, about £6000 today.
Thus began a long period of ocean and coastal towing, as well as salvage and rescue work in times of both peace and conflict. United Towing tugs were involved in WW2, noteably towing the PLUTO pipeline and Mulberry harbour sections. In the 1970’s they were requisitioned to protect our trawlers during the Cod Wars with Iceland and in 1982 saw service during the Falklands conflict.