After competitive tenders, the contract to build Shieldhall was awarded by the Glasgow Corporation to the Lobnitz & Company shipyard at Renfrew on the river Clyde. The keel was laid down in October 1954 with launching on 7th July 1955 and she entered service in October of that year.
Shieldhall was operated by Glasgow Corporation to transport treated sewage sludge down the river Clyde to be dumped at sea. She also continued a long tradition, dating back to the First World War, that Glasgow’s sludge vessels offered disadvantaged families and wounded or disabled ex-servicemen and women free day trips down the river in the summer months. This meant that Shieldhall was built with a large saloon and facilities to accommodate up to 80 day-passengers on trips down the Clyde.
In 1976, after 21 years of service on the Clyde, Shieldhall was laid up and was subsequently purchased by the Southern Water Authority in 1977. After minor modifications, she carried sludge from Marchwood, Millbrook and Woolston in Southampton to an area south of the Isle of Wight for five years from 1980. Rising fuel prices and operating costs led to her being withdrawn from service and laid up in July 1985.
Interest in the ship due to her steam propulsion system and many features from an earlier era led to the possibility of active preservation being considered. As a result of an initiative by the Southampton City Museum Services, a preservation society was formed with the aim of acquiring and preserving the ship in operation. Shieldhall was purchased from Southern Water in 1988, for £20,000 – this represented her ‘scrap value.’
Solent Steam Packet Limited was formed and registered as an Industrial and Provident Society to own, preserve and operate the ship. Solent Steam Packet Limited later became a Community Benefit Society and in 2020 a new registered charity ‘Steamship Shieldhall Charity’ was established to take over responsibility for all aspects of preserving and operating the ship including fundraising while ownership remained with Solent Steam Packet Limited.
All work associated with the management of the organisation and the maintenance and operation of Shieldhall is carried out by unpaid volunteers. Much work has been done on the ship over the years by the volunteers in maintaining her in a sea-going condition. The volunteers also crew the ship for excursions. The Heritage Lottery Fund have also provided support for several projects including restoration of the saloon.
Shieldhall is a frequent sight around the Solent providing excursions for passengers to enjoy trips on an historic steamship. Passengers are also given the opportunity to visit working spaces such as the navigation bridge and the machinery spaces. On occasions she has also ventured further afield having been back to her home port of Glasgow and to Holland for the Dordrecht Steam Festival. She has also been an attendee at each of the International Festivals of the Sea at Bristol and Portsmouth.