On Friday 15th May 1964 both Consul and Princess Elizabeth were undergoing the final preparations for starting their seasons running in competition with each from the Weymouth Pleasure Pier the following day. Consul had been Weymouth’s main excursion paddle steamer through the 1950s and until she was withdrawn after the 1962 season. Princess Elizabeth had been asked to take over Consul’s old services from 1963 which she had successfully done. Now Consul was back in 1964 to compete with her splitting a trade that was by then insufficient to support just one paddle steamer let alone two.
My thirteen year old self was aboard Consul on her first day in service that season on Whit Saturday 16th May.
My notes from the time record that I joined Consul at 3.15pm for the “Bay Cruise and Portland Harbour Rock and Dance at Sea Cruise” back at 4.45pm. Two days later on the Whit Monday I was aboard the Princess Elizabeth for her 3pm departure to Lulworth Cove and along the coast beyond that as far as Kimmeridge. And so it went on through what was glorious summer season for me with two paddle steamers running from Weymouth. All in all I see from my notes that I was aboard on 19 days during the season which comes in at an average of one and a half trips a week. By then my parents had given up accompanying me. I just went down on my own, bought my ticket with my pocket money and off I went.
I had got to know Consul so well in past years of my childhood so it was a real pleasure to be back aboard her once again on her sailings from Weymouth and to see so many familiar faces as well. Captain Cyril Holleyoak, who had been her master in 1961, captain of Embassy in 1962 and Princess Elizabeth in 1963 was her master for 1964. Arthur Drage, late of Monarch, Consul and Princess Elizabeth was mate. And Cyril Julien, who had been her chief engineer with Cosens for many years was again back on her manoeuvring platform. Where there had been issues with wrong way and slow engine movements and the engine getting stuck in 1963 in less experienced hands, for 1964 all these problems disappeared into history with Cyril’s magic touch. It was a lovely sunny day and all seemed well in the world to my 13 year old eyes.
Captain Defrates was the Lizzie’s master that year. I had known him since 1959 and he had ever been kind to me inviting me up onto the bridge and encouraging my nautical ambitions. On my first trip of the season I made my way up to the bridge using the starboard ladder on the up wind side of the ship thinking nothing of it. Mate Stanley Woods opened the wheelhouse door for me and said straight away “Captain Defrates told me that you are an aspiring seaman. Well, seamen don’t come up to the bridge on the windward side. They come up on the lee side.” It was a lesson well learnt. I never did that again. And it was the start of an educational programme in matters nautical which Captain Woods continued with me the following season when he became master. I shall forever be grateful to him for the very sound grounding he gave me in so much about ships and the sea.
After this weekend both Consul and Princess Elizabeth then laid up until the end of the month when their seasons started properly in June.
It is fair to say that relations between Tony McGinnity, owner of Consul, and Edmund Rhodes, owner of Princess Elizabeth were strained that summer and quite understandably so. When you know that you don’t have enough money in the bank to pay the wages at the end of the week and you see someone else taking revenue which you think should rightly be yours then tempers are apt to rise. And they did.
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 15th May 2021.