March 2007:
Portsmouth Paddle Steamer Ryde

March 2007:
Portsmouth Paddle Steamer Ryde

Where there is much optimism on Loch Lomond about a future return to service of the Maid of the Loch there is little but gloom about the paddle steamer Ryde lying derelict, as she is, at Binfield on the River Medina on the Isle of Wight. Built in 1937 for the Southern Railway’s excursion services and ferry between Portsmouth, Southsea and Ryde, the eponymous Ryde remained in service until 1969. She then moved to her current berth to replace the former Thames and Medway paddle steamer Medway Queen which had been fulfilling a similar role as a static restaurant, bar and nightclub since 1966. The Ryde’s time at Binfield did not serve her well. The business failed. She caught fire. And then started the period of the long years when she was just left to decay. Rust built on rust. The mast fell down. Last year the funnel decided that it had had enough, gave up the ghost and toppled over into its present precarious position.

On the landward side the shore has come out to meet the ship. Towards the river, the lagoon (on the right) has gradually silted up and become rather more of a field than a waterway making any hope of floating the ship out a massive civil engineering project. But all thoughts of floating her are rather optimistic with the hull corroded away to nothing in so many places and generally riddled with holes.

The wind and weather strake on the starboard side forward with excellent access to insert a camera on an extended hand through one of the long gone portholes to get an internal shot.

And what a sad shot it is.

It almost looks as though the ship has been crying tears of rust as the hull and superstructure have gradually fallen apart. The funnel has ended up propped at an uncomfortable angle like the head of an elderly relative on the awkwardly placed pillow of their sick bed.

Amazingly the paddle wheels have lasted rather well compared with the rest of the ship. Everything else may be decaying around them but there they sit in state amongst the rubble proudly displaying their driving rods for the feathering mechanism as if it was only yesterday that they were whirling round powering the ship across the Solent.

There may not be much future for the Ryde but she still has her engine inside her and that is definitely worth saving. What is more, it is a paddle steamer engine which has not had a huge amount of wear for its age. Ryde was much used in her early years and during the Second World War did quite a bit of steaming around the UK coast in various capacities. But after that and the arrival of the big Diesel ferries Brading, Southsea and Shanklin, in 1948 and 1951 she, her sister the Sandown and the Whippingham took very much back seats at Portsmouth and paddled forth mostly only for relief ferry work and providing additional capacity during the peak weeks, particularly the main holiday weekends. Very occasionally for the odd afternoon the Ryde returned to her former glory as an excursion steamer and took parties of sightseers from Southsea and Ryde to view Southampton Docks or for a trip through the Solent to Yarmouth. But these were rare outings for a ship which spent much of her later years lying idle alongside the pontoon at Portsmouth or laid up for the winter in the railway owned port of Newhaven.

One crew member in her later years was the paddle steamer historian and chronicler of Cosens and Co, Richard Clammer, who, as an undergraduate at the University of Sussex, spent some of his summer holidays working on deck aboard the Ryde and other Portsmouth vessels.

Happier days. Ryde’s pretty much identical sister, the Sandown, passing through the Town Bridge at Weymouth in the autumn of 1962 for a refit by Cosens and Co. She had three more seasons ahead of her before being withdrawn in September 1965 and scrapped in Antwerp the following spring. The pilot for this trip through the bridge was Capt Cyril Holleyoak, master of Cosens’ Embassy in 1962 and destined to be master of the paddle steamers Princess Elizabeth in 1963 and Consul in 1964.

Capt Mike Ledger has sent in this lovely shot of the Ryde steaming into Portsmouth Harbour at a good speed in 1953. It was taken from the decks of the paddle steamer Princess Elizabeth.