For more than 20 years, the little steam ship SS Davenham worked tirelessly puffing up and down a busy industrial route, loaded with noxious paint chemicals and dusty piles of potash.

Eventually, the hard task of hauling her cargo between chemical works in the north of England took its toll. Battered by the elements and in need of repair, the 100-feet long boat’s future looked grim.

But while her two sister ships were scrapped, against the odds SS Davenham survived.

Now, the little steam ship has been handed a fresh lease of life by a rather well-connected multi-millionaire – to become probably the most unusual cinema in the country and certainly in one of the most beautiful of locations.

SS Davenham, with freshly painted black and red hull and gleaming like new, has swapped the grim industrial canal route of her past for comfortable retirement amid glorious island scenery of Tanera Mòr, the largest of the Summer Isles, off Wester Ross.

Owned by high-flying hedge-fund manager Ian Wace, whose personal fortune is estimated at more than £600 million, Tanera Mòr is in the process of being turned into an exclusive Inner Hebridean playground, with holiday homes, private chapel and a series of rather unusual additions to its stunning landscape.

As well as the Liverpool-registered puffer, the island is also home to a Second World War corrugated iron aircraft hangar from Woodford Aerodrome in Cheshire, once the main site for the manufacture of Lancaster bombers.

The £120k shed

HAVING paid around £120,000 at auction for the distinctive 2,900 square feet shed, which bears the logo of Avro, the firm run by aviation pioneer Sir Alliott Verdon Roe, Mr Wace – a friend of Prince Charles and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – had it dismantled into sections and transported 600 miles to be reassembled on his private island.

The entire cost of moving the shed and rebuilding it is estimated to be £200,000. Now located on top of a small hill overlooking the island’s old herring station, the sprawling hangar is said to be used as storage space for quad bikes, diggers, machinery and other tools.

It is a stone’s throw from SS Davenham, which was last on the open market in 2017 for £150,000. With her steam engine already removed and having undergone a series of previous renovations, she was being used as a houseboat, with her insides gutted to create large open plan space.

At the time, the boat, built by Yarwood and Sons in Northwich in1944, was said need significant external work, including renovations to her wheelhouse, and her replacement Gardner diesel engine cleaned. Having been snapped up by Mr Wace, she was converted and refurbished before being towed non-stop from Southampton to the Summer Isles. 

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The 700-mile journey had to be carefully planned to minimise any damage to the gleaming paintwork, rigging for the mast and to take into account the cargo of a vintage Land Rover strapped to the steamer’s deck.

The arrival of SS Davenham as a floating 52-seat cinema has barely surprised locals, however, who have watched the gradual gentrification of what was once a thriving fishing community of herring boats and fish factories.

£1.7m playground

Mr Wace, 58, who is married to model Saffron Aldridge, bought Tanera Mòr for just under £1.7 million in 2017, significantly less than the original £2.5m asking price.
A Conservative Party supporter who bankrolled the 2019 General Election to the tune of £300,000, he is said to be planning to create an idyllic retreat for up to 60 paying guests across three communities, at Ardnagoine, Tigh-an-Quay and Garadheancal.

A note on the Summer Isles Enterprises website says the island is in the midst of “a substantial construction project to restore the cottages and upgrade the infrastructure”. It  requests visitors avoid the inhabited east bay and warns of heavy machinery and that “parts of the island are still a construction site”.

Tanera Mòr is the largest of the Summer Isles, a group of islands in the mouth of Loch Broom. Its herring curing station was established in 1785 and was one of the first herring curing stations in Wester Ross.

The island was priced at £2.6m but after talks concerning a community buyout fell through, it was eventually sold to Mr Wace for what was seen by some as a bargain price.

Along with a series of holiday cottages, the island’s remaining buildings include its former herring station, school and post office.

Construction work on the island has led to Tanera Mòr becoming one of the area’s largest employers, with up to 150 workers ferried from Ullapool and others based on the island.

Work has included the construction of a chapel which sits on Cnoc Ghlas, while ruined buildings have also been rebuilt using original stonework, with timber sash and case windows, slate roofs and, in some cases, turf roofs.

The island’s dilapidated herring station is also earmarked for residential and leisure use.

A spokesman for The Tanera Mòr Restoration Project said: “The plan for Tanera Mòr is over a period of six years to restore and regenerate the physical ruins and structure that was inherited when the project started in April 2017.
“Key to this endeavour is the creation of a vibrant community which is renovating Tanera Mòr and with this creating substantial opportunities for local community regeneration in an area where these types of opportunities were hard to find and rarely of scale.
“There is currently a team of over 100 people employed on the project full time. This project respects the natural beauty and tranquillity and history of the island.”