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British shipping companies (C)

Last modified: 2019-05-15 by rob raeside
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Cable and Wireless

[Eastern Telegraph Company houseflag] image by Michael Wilson

Cable & Wireless changed their flag to blue with a white "digital" world globe.
Neale Rosanoski, 23 February 2004

In 1969 the General Post Office, a government department, became a government-owned public corporation and was separated into two divisions, Posts and Telecoms. The cable ships went to Telecoms. In 1981 Telecoms was privatised as British Telecoms. In 1994 the cable ships were sold to Cable & Wireless. In 1999 the marine division of Cable & Wireless was sold to Global Crossing Inc. and became part of Global Marine Systems Ltd. Only those ships that were originally owned by British Telecoms, CS's Sovereign, Iris and Monarch, are permitted to wear the defaced Blue Ensign. All other British registered GMS ships wear the Red Ensign.

[Cable & Wireless badge] image located by David Prothero

The badge shows an hour glass in the hand of Old Father Time, being shattered by an electrical discharge. The ensign was originally granted for the cable ships of the General Post Office on 22 January 1877.

[Ben Line 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 Cable and Wireless (Marine) Ltd, London. A blue flag with a yellow motif of an arrow circling a globe. The flag is made of a synthetic fibre bunting with the device appliquéd in nylon fabric. It has a cotton hoist and a rope and wooden toggle is attached.

The Imperial wireless and cable conference of 1928 recommended the foundation of a holding company and an operating company combining wireless and cable interests, in order to keep the strategically important but unprofitable undersea cables in British hands. This was achieved through a merger of the communications interests of the cable companies and Marconi. The resulting company began as Imperial and International Communications Ltd but changed its name to Cable and Wireless Ltd in 1934. The Cable and Wireless Marine Service originated in the cable laying and repairing activities of the original telegraph companies.
Jarig Bakker, 8 August 2004

Flags of subsumed companies

[Eastern Telegraph Company houseflag] image by Michael Wilson

[Eastern Telegraph Company houseflag] image by Michael Wilson

Of the mass of companies which combined along the way in making Cable & Wireless Ltd. are at least two others who had their own flags. These are West Coast of America Telegraph Co. Ltd. with a blue flag showing a white grapnel and cable, sometimes the grapnel being yellow and Western Telegraph Co. Ltd. with a blue swallowtail and an ornate yellow and black border except at hoist, the emblem being a yellow and black zigzag angled flash with in the lower fly the white letters "WTC" with the "T" being taller. According to Talbot-Booth these flags, together with that of Eastern Telegraph Co. Ltd., were replaced in 1939 by the Cable & Wireless flag although in his WW2 Merchant Ships editions he still shows the companies operating under their own names. Despite this Brown, which had shown the same version for Western Telegraph Co., in 1943 shows a different flag doing away with the border and changing the lettering to "WTCo." as shown below:

[Eastern Telegraph Company houseflag] image by Michael Wilson

Former Flag

[Eastern Telegraph Company houseflag] image by Miles Li, 13 August 2008

IN 1934, IMPERIAL and International Communications, formerly the Eastern Telegraph Company, became Cable & Wireless. The new name was designed to more clearly reflect the combined radio and cable services which it offered, without reference to the Empire. ( . The flag shown is a yellow fimbriated red cross on a dark blue field, with a Tudor crown in the canton, and C & W in yellow in the lower fly.
Colin Duke
, 17 January 2005

Cairn Line of Steamships Ltd

[Cairn Line of Steamships Ltd houseflag] image by Al Fisher, 27 Jan 1999

This company was known as Cairns, Noble & Co. in the 1950's.
James Dignan, 8 October 2003

Cairn Line of Steamships Ltd. This flag is actually that of William Thomson & Sons who were, according to Talbot-Booth, absorbed around 1891 and then purchased in 1907 which sounds rather back to front. They themselves originated in 1833 as Cairns & Young which had a red flag with a white delta triangle bearing the intertwined black letters "CY" [see image below], the triangle being a symbolic "cairn". They then became Cairns, Young & Noble in 1892 and it is from around this time that they became known as the Cairn Line of Steamships using the previous flag minus the lettering. Both the Cairns and the Thomson flag were used from 1907 and then in 1928 the company was taken over by Furness Withy and it appears that this saw the official formation of the Cairn Line of Steamship Ltd. to operate the shipping under the quartered Thomson flag although sources note that the old Cairn flag was still to be sighted on occasions.
Neale Rosanoski, 19 February 2004

[Cairn Line of Steamships Ltd houseflag] image by Rob Raeside

Caledonian MacBrayne, Hebridean and Clyde Ferries

Version 1

[Caledonian MacBrayne houseflag] image by Rob Raeside, 27 April 2019

Caledonian MacBrayne, Hebridean & Clyde Ferries. A triangular flag, red, with a black triangular stripe along the top and a yellow disc charged with a red lion rampant, but with the tail altered from a "waving" position to one "close to the back" in order to fit into the disc. The black edging at the top is unusual but possibly it is meant to be in line with the funnel which is red bearing the emblem and has a black top.
Neale Rosanoski, 19 February 2004

The current red CalMac flag with the black top and yellow badge is taken from the funnel design adopted after MacBraynes and Caledonian Steam packet were amalgamated. The design is also incorporated into a coat of arms granted by the Lyon Court. In the arms it appears in a more regular form on a shield with the black having the same depth across the width of the shield.
CFS Williamson, 20 April 2019

Version 2

[Caledonian Steam Packet houseflag] image by Rob Raeside
The company was formed in 1973 by the merger of the Caledonian Steam Packet Co. Ltd. and David MacBrayne Ltd. The Caledonian SP Co. was formed in 1889 and had a "navy" yellow pennant bearing the red lion rampant.
Neale Rosanoski, 19 February 2004

Version 3

[David MacBrayne houseflag] image by Rob Raeside, 27 April 2019

David MacBrayne Ltd., with origins dating from 1851, used a blue pennant with overlapping saltires of red over white with sources of the latter varying as to the amount of field which the saltires occupied with some squashing them up into the first 1/3 or so of the flag.
Neale Rosanoski, 19 February 2004

Version 4

[David MacBrayne old houseflag] image by Rob Raeside, 27 April 2019

The original flag of the new company combined the two by moving the saltires towards the fly and placing the yellow disc with the lion in the hoist. I get the impression that the change to the current flag occurred in the early 1990s. Duncan Haws includes it in his 1994 Merchant Fleets No. 26 but does not show the upper black edging and he also shows the lion as guardant. As he also shows this for the funnel and photos prove that is not the case, I have my reservations although his version may have resulted from a proposal. One point of uncertainty that I have with all these flags is their proportions with sources tending to show them as in a more triangular format whereas the early flags, especially, may have been long and narrow pennants.
Neale Rosanoski, 19 February 2004

David MacBrayne was one of three partners in David Hutcheson's company and eventually took exclusive control in 1879 after the retirement of David Hutcheson in 1876 and Alexander Hutcheson in 1878. MacBrayne died in 1907, aged 92, having worked up until the previous year, by which time the operation had become David MacBrayne Ltd. It was reconstructed in 1928 as David MacBrayne (1928) Ltd, owned jointly by Coast Lines Ltd and the LMS railway. As David MacBrayne Ltd from 1934, 50 percent remained with the private Coast Lines Ltd until it was purchased by the Scottish Transport Group in 1969 and on January 1, 1973 was merged with STG's other subsidiary, the Caledonian Steam Packet Company to form Caledonian - MacBrayne. MacBrayne's territory was the Western Isles with Oban as base, but a regular service was run from Glasgow (later Gourock) to Tarbet and Ardrishaig on Loch Fyne for delivering mail and passengers for onward connections to the Western Isles. Marketed since the 19th century as the "Royal Route" with reference to an earlier visit to the area by Queen Victoria, MacBraynes ran some well-known, well-loved and long-lived steamers on the Clyde until the end of the 1969 season when the diesel-electric vessel Lochfyne was withdrawn.
Phil Nelson, 18 October 2003

James Campbell

[C.R. Davidson & Co. houseflag] image by Ivan Sache, 14 March 2008

Lloyds Book of House Flags and Funnels (1912) shows the house flag of "James Campbell" (#17, p. 37), a company based in Middlesborough
(England), as white with a red border and a blue letter "C" in the middle.
Ivan Sache, 14 March 2008 

P & A Campbell

[P & A Campbell houseflag] image by James Dignan

Based on Sampson (1957)
James Dignan
, 14 October 2003

Operated ships along the British coast.
Phil Nelson, 14 October 2003

"Flags and Funnels of the British and Commonwealth Merchant Fleets" shows slight differences: a couped chevron, i.e., with blue (background) gaps between it and the edge.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 8 June 2006

Capper, Alexander Ltd.

[Capper, Alexander Ltd. houseflag] image by Jarig Bakker, after Loughran (1979)

Capper, Alexander Ltd. lost all 13 of their ships during WW2, and were taken over by Houlder Line Ltd. after the war. Their house flag was the "busy bee" - blue background with a golden bee in the centre.
Bernard de Neumann, 11 August 2004

Capper, Alexander Ltd. The flag was originally that of E.H. Capper & Co. of Cardiff who dated from 1875 and later became Capper, Alexander & Co. In 1914 they formed the Alexander Shipping Co. Ltd. and operated under that name with the flag. Capper, Alexander became a public company around 1937 when Houlder Bros & Co. Ltd. took a large interest and full control post WW2 continuing to operate the Alexander Shipping Co. Ltd. and fly the flag inferior to that of the Houlder Line. This lasted until around the early 1980s when they seem to have ceased as shipowners although the company itself was not wound up until 1990.
Neale Rosanoski, 14 April 2005

Carmet Tug Co.

[Carmet Tug Co. houseflag] image by Jarig Bakker, 30 November 2005

Carmet Tug Co., Ltd., Liverpool - horizontal blue-white-blue; in center bright blue shield charged with a white dolphin, black "CM".
Source: Loughran (1995)
Jarig Bakker, 30 November 2005

Carisbrooke Shipping plc.

[Carisbrooke Shipping plc. houseflag] image by Jarig Bakker, 10 January 2006

Carisbrooke shipping plc., Cowes - blue flag, yellow "CS". (See also Carisbrooke Shipping, Netherlands).
Source: Loughran (1995)
Jarig Bakker, 10 January 2006

This picture:, source:, dated August 6, 2014, shows the flag variant of Carisbrooke Shipping. The picture was taken during the 2014 Seafarers UK 24 Peaks Challenge (official website:

For additional information go to: Carisbrooke Shipping (official website)
Esteban Rivera, 21 July 2015

The Carron Company

[The Carron Company houseflag] image by Eugene Ipavec, 16 August 2008

The Carron Company, Carron - red flag with the company seal in the center. The Carron Company was on the Carron River, near Falkirk, Scotland, producing guns, ammunition, etc.
Jarig Bakker, 24 January 2005

The Carron Co. flag based on Lloyds (1912) showing a picture of the seal, which differs slightly from a couple of other sources, such as Loughran (1979) which is a bit more ornate, and Talbot-Booth (1936) and Campbell & Evans with their Book of Flags (1957) with both the latter sources showing an oval with flat sides, but this version shows the lettering more plainly and the design of a phoenix rising from crossed carronades over a pile of a cannon balls. It is also supported by the version shown by Fenton and Clarkson in their "British Shipping Fleets". Ships also had a cannon ball attached to the mainmast head from the time of the Crimean War originally to signify they were carrying munitions. The company itself dated from 1759 gaining a Royal Charter in 1773 and apart from munitions apparently achieved fame with their cast-iron baths developed in 1866. The company was dissolved in 1983.

[The Carron Company houseflag]   [The Carron Company houseflag] images by Eugene Ipavec, 16 August 2008

As is usual with flags showing more complicated emblems and Arms, the early sources vary with their portrayals. The earliest I have is from the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce sheet of 1885 which shows the arms only, no writing, appearing on a white oval [see right above]. Griffin 1895 is more complex with a rounded background containing "ESTO PERPETUA" in chief and "CARRON CO." in base and showing some colour for the phoenix [see left above]. Reed 1901 and Lloyds 1904 differ slightly again by making the base inscription "CARRON COY". Then from 1909 onwards the sources shown are like the scan from Lloyds although the original flag as mentioned by Talbot-Booth in 1944 and shown by Fenton & Clarkson does note that the flag was at one time merely white with a red border and such a flag is shown by Reed 1891 for Carron Steamship Co., which had been taken over by them around 1782, [see image below] although  the timing of Reed seems rather out as I get the impression that the red flag with seal had been adopted about the mid 1850s.
Neale Rosanoski, 14 April 2005

[The Carron Company houseflag] image by Neale Rosanoski

Castle Mail Packet Co.

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

Castle Mail was – with Union Steamship Co. – the other ancestor of the famous Union-Castle Mail Steamship Co. To some extent, the histories of Union and Castle run parallel so I won’t elaborate on things already mentioned in the Union Steamship Co. page. Links to relevant pages concerning Union-Castle are on that page, but some more specific ones are:

In 1862 Donald Currie, a Scottish engineer who had worked for Cunard and already possessed a controlling interest in a few other shipping companies, set up a firm of his own: Donald Currie and Co. Sailing from Liverpool to India and introducing a novelty, fixed schedules, the firm quickly made its mark. As the ships were named after famous castles, it was only natural that the company would become known as the Castle Line and the ships as Currie’s Calcutta Castles. The opening of the Suez Canal (1869) had a negative impact on the India routes via the Cape but the failure of a competitor, the Cape & Natal Steam Navigation Co., enabled Currie to have new ships sail to South Africa rather than to India.

Important years were 1872, which saw the launching of the first steamship, and 1876 when the mail contract to South Africa (together, as we have seen, with Union Steamship) was awarded. In the same year the company had been reorganized as Castle Mail Packet Co.; it was to go public in 1881. As a member of Parliament, Castle’s owner – Sir Donald by now – proposed the introduction of armed merchant cruisers which was a new and radical idea at the time. How the South African mail contract was renewed and Union-Castle founded (1900).

The house flag was blue with a white saltire and a white diamond in the centre, bearing a red initial ‘C’; found on the Red Duster site:
Jan Mertens, 20 December 2005

British Shipping lines: continued

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