July 2005:
PSPS Paddle Steamer Charters in 1965

July 2005:
PSPS Paddle Steamer Charters in 1965

Founded in 1959, the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society was very active in promoting paddle steamers and paddle steamer excursions in the 1960s, from the outset organising various charters and tirelessly encouraging operators to keep their steamers in service and put on special excursions. Over the Christmas holiday in 1964, PSPS member Mr D L Dougan compiled the above programme of proposed PSPS charters for 1965 and sent a copy to Wessex Branch Secretary Eileen Pritchard (PSPS member number 1) and to Victor Gray with a letter encouraging them and the PSPS to set about making the necessary bookings. It says much for the spirit and determination of those involved at the time that all of this was progressed.

The three ships to be chartered were the Embassy

…the Princess Elizabeth

…and the Bristol Queen.

Friday 4th June, the day before the first charter, was very foggy and there was some concern that the Princess Elizabeth, which was due to return to Weymouth from slipping at Southampton that night would not have been expecting the Embassy to be sitting in her berth at the Pleasure Pier waiting for her special sailing next day, and so might inadvertently run into her in the fog. Fortunately, however, the Lizzie arrived safely and moored ahead of the Embassy.

Saturday 5th June opened with more fog and fog of such density that the Channel Islands mail-boat Caesarea and the cargo vessel, Lune Fisher, both equipped with modern radar, a luxury the Embassy was without, had decided to anchor off Weymouth and not risk coming in. Embassy waited until about 8.30am and then, with around fifty passengers aboard set off. The fog, however, remained thick and Swanage Pier was reached about one hour behind schedule guidance in being in the traditional way of listening for the ringing of the pier bell and then steering for the sound of it. After leaving Swanage, course was set for Bournemouth but the journey was interrupted by an emergency full astern as the cliffs of Ballard Point suddenly loomed out of the fog dead ahead. At the time and to my young eyes, it all seemed a bit of an adventure, a bit of excitement, something unusual. But, in retrospect, it is very sobering to think just how close the Embassy came to being wrecked that day. Bournemouth was reached at 11.50am and there the ship waited for the fog to clear a little. Setting off at 12.30pm, now one and a half hours behind schedule and with a better loading of passengers aboard, Embassy ran south of the Isle of Wight first, returning to Bournemouth at 8.35pm.

The second PSPS charter of 1965 was not a financial success with only around 160 passengers turning up for this most unusual cruise from Weymouth around Portland Bill and across West Bay to Torquay. Princess Elizabeth left on time at 9.30am, reached Torquay at 1.45pm and returned to Weymouth at 8.15pm. One result of the poor passenger numbers was that the fourth proposed charter, that of the Princess Elizabeth from Bournemouth to Swanage on 5th September did not materialise.

It was, though, a beautiful day with pretty much calm seas and one passenger aboard was PSPS member Mr Don Rose who set about trying to recruit Princess Elizabeth’s Captain, Stanley Woods, to help with his new project, the purchase of the Clyde paddle steamer Jeanie Deans for further service of which more anon.

The third PSPS cruise of 1965 was on the Bristol Queen from Ilfracombe to Padstow and this was financially a much greater success and went a long way to ensuring that the programme of three cruises made an overall surplus. It is also interesting to see on the handbill that tickets for this cruise could be obtained from a young Mr P J Murrell, the same Mr P J Murrell who can sometimes be seen aboard the Waverley and Balmoral today acting as purser and doing much else behind the scenes.

Organising these three trips was a big thing for a small society with little financial clout to do at the time and all involved deserve the very highest praise. Embassy ran only until the end of the 1966 season before being withdrawn and scrapped. Princess Elizabeth came out of service in September 1965 and Bristol Queen staggered on only until 1967. But each had undertaken trips that they would not otherwise have done in their twilight years, entirely due to the resourcefulness, ingenuity and efforts of key members of the PSPS.