On Wednesday 14th July 1954 Glen Gower cancelled her day trip from Newhaven to Boulogne due to the weather.
Before the Second World War day trips from the Sussex Coast Piers of Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings across to Boulogne had been popular and a good money spinner for P & A Campbell.
Passports were not required for these day trips with the steamer notices declaring “Passengers to Boulogne must be able to satisfy the purser that they are British or French subjects or they will not be permitted to land in France”. So Germans not allowed then; nor Italians nor any other nationality either. Quite how intending passengers demonstrated to the purser that they were British or French subjects I don’t know but doubtless there was a lot of common sense involved and it seems to have worked well enough although doubtless there may have been abuses of the system from time to time.
After the War all that changed. The possession of passports became mandatory for leaving the country and that killed these cross Channel day trips to France stone dead. P & A Campbell and the General Steam Navigation Company on the Thames lobbied the Government for a change in the regulations to permit “no passport” trips but their requests fell on deaf ears.
After further discussions Campbells decided that they would give cross Channel trips a go again in 1954 but the Government insisted that passengers would need passports and that the trips must start and finish in Newhaven where there were already H M Customs facilities for the railway ferry to Dieppe. This was not ideal as the mass market of intending passengers for Boulogne were found in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings. And most of them either didn’t have a passport or didn’t bring it with them on their seaside holidays. But it was a start.
Glen Gower arrived on the Sussex Coast on Wednesday 2nd June and was scheduled for her first cross Channel sailing for Wednesday 14th July with timings to leave Newhaven at 9.30am for arrival in Boulogne at 2pm, departure at 6pm and return to Newhaven at 10.45pm. The fare was 38s 6d (about £53 in today’s money) and 40s (£55) or 42s (£58) to include the rail connections from the resorts. So this wasn’t a cheap day out
Unfortunately 14th July was a windy day so the trip was cancelled due to the weather and Glen Gower spent the day earning nothing tied up alongside at Newhaven.
The following Wednesday 21st July the weather was better so Glen Gower set off at 9.30am from Newhaven with 103 passenger aboard. If they were all paying full fare including for the rail connections that would have given the ship a ticket revenue of just £216 (slightly under £6K in today’s money). If she had had 600 passengers aboard she could have taken £1,260 (nearly £35K). Commercially this was not a good day.
When she arrived off Boulogne Glen Gower found that the harbour was closed. A dredger had picked up a magnetic mine so no ships were allowed in or out until that was cleared and dealt with.
Eventually it was sorted out by the late afternoon and Glen Gower entered Boulogne around 5pm. In order to get everyone home and stand any chance of making their rail connections back from Newhaven, she left again at 6.15pm having given passengers only one hour ashore instead of the anticipated four hours.
The weather continued to be patchy as the weeks rolled on with a lot of wind. All in all Glen Gower had 25 blank days in 1954 when she did not sail and lay alongside at Newhaven doing nothing. Out of the ten scheduled day trips to Boulogne she managed just four of them. They averaged a loading of 135 so Campbells pulled the last two crossings that season and put on other trips instead.
With still no prospect of “no passport” trips in the offing Campbells considered withdrawing completely from the South Coast from 1955 but discussions with Government continued throughout the winter and then in May a breakthrough came.
An agreement was reached for which “no passport ” trips could be run between 17th June and 30th September 1955 but only from Southend Gravesend, Folkestone, Eastbourne and Newhaven. Intending British passengers, and you had to be British or Irish to travel, must bring with them three passport sized photographs and complete a form issued by the operator on the day.
The summer of 1955 turned out to be very different from that in 1954. Where there had been lots of wind in 1954, there was endless sunshine and pretty near flat calms in 1955. The sun shone and continued to shine day after day producing one of the best summers of the 1950s. Glen Gower’s first “no passport” trip of the season on 23rd June 1955 was packed and so it went on.
Unfortunately this success was not to be repeated in 1956. Glen Gower lost half of her cross Channel trips from Newhaven and Eastbourne to the weather this summer. It was just like 1954 all over again but a bit worse.
As a result, 1956 turned out to be Glen Gower’s last season on the South Coast and therefore was the last year in which you could have crossed the Channel by paddle steamer.
Kingswear Castle returned to service in 2023 after the first part of a major rebuild which is designed to set her up for the next 25 years running on the River Dart. The Paddle Steamer Kingswear Castle Trust is now fund raising for the second phase of the rebuild. You can read more about the rebuilds and how you can help if you can here.
This article was first published on 14th July 2021.