Southampton's historic steamship, Shieldhall has been saved thanks to a £1.4m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Not long ago there was a real risk of the vessel, the largest of her type in Europe, being consigned to the scrapyard.

But tireless work by her volunteer crew and this bumper cash injection has ensured she will now sail far into the future.

The HLF award, announced today, is for a three-year project titled “Saving Shieldhall - Learning through Conservation in Action”.

Essential hull works to meet modern regulations, improved passenger facilities and state-of-the art education facilities will enable the volunteers who maintain and operate this unique ship to preserve and deliver the “living experience of a steamship at work” for the nation.

Throughout the summer and autumn, HLF funded work will be going on behind-the-scenes, preparing for major hull repair and modification work to be carried out in dry dock next spring.

Graham Mackenzie, managing director the Solent Steam Packet Limited (TSSP), the volunteer group which now cares for Shieldhall, said: “Then, fully certified, she will be fit to carry her passengers, and her message, around and way beyond the Solent.

“We have plans for apprenticeships and other learning opportunities for young people, and for 'alongside' events of all kinds for young and old, including performance work with the Nuffield Theatre.

“A new Learning and Participation Officer will be recruited and will help deliver visitor and learning activities alongside the volunteers.”

A heritage cargo-passenger ship, included in the National Historic Fleet, Shieldhall was built and launched on the Clyde in 1955, to a classic pre-Second World War design.

She had a long and successful first career with Glasgow Corporation carrying treated sludge out to sea during winter months and, in the summer, taking passengers 'doon the watter' on pleasure trips.

Bought in 1977 by Southern Water she was finally withdrawn from commercial service in 1985, but saved and purchased for £20,000 in 1988 by the charity that still operates her now.

Today the 2,000 tonne Shieldhall, is a unique seagoing 'time capsule'.

She provides a working example of steamship machinery both above and below deck, typical of the cargo and passenger ships that plied the oceans of the world between the 1870s and 1960s, after which they became all but extinct.

“It was 25 years ago that Shieldhall was purchased by our charity, and the HLF award means that in addition to her silver anniversary, we can look forward to celebrating her golden anniversary too,” said Mr Mackenzie.

“It really is the very best anniversary gift for our band of wonderful volunteers.”

Although Shieldhall is currently restricted to Solent waters, she will open her sailing programme next month for the Southampton Maritime Festival.