On Friday 22nd June 1951 the work to repair the damage to the stern of Empress Queen caused at Avonmouth on 14th June was nearing completion.
She left the Cumberland Basin at Bristol at 22.15 the following day light ship and without passengers, was off Hartland Point at 03.50 and arrived at Torquay, where she was to be based for the season, around 3pm on Sunday 24th June in readiness to make her first sailing to Guernsey the following day.
Having been designed specifically for P & A Campbell’s cross Channel trade from Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings to Boulogne she was not completed until after the start of the Second World War so never managed to sail on the route for which she was intended as after the war Government regulations prevented no passport trips. Instead with the coming of the peace she was put to work running longer day excursions from the Sussex Coast resorts from 1947 to 1950. In these she was not a financial success so for 1951 P & A Campbell decided to try her running from Torquay with day trips to Guernsey scheduled on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays:
And on three more days, Saturday excepted, she was billed to offer a variety of longer coastal excursions including to Plymouth and Falmouth in the west, Weymouth and Bournemouth in the east and on three occasions to Alderney.
During this summer she made 32 trips from Torquay to Guernsey on which she averaged just 505 passengers at a fare of 32/6 (£52.40 today). That loading made her less than half full with only two days out of the total when she did really well taking 1,000 passengers and others with correspondingly fewer aboard. The Alderney trips did not appeal to many and averaged just 137 passengers per trip.
The coastal trips passing beautiful scenery along the Devon, Cornish and Dorset coasts were a complete flop drawing only tiny loadings. On Thursday 28th June she took just 51 passengers from Torquay to Plymouth and there loaded only 29 more for the run on to Falmouth. On Sunday 1st July she took 50 from Torquay to Weymouth where she picked up a better load of another 420 for Bournemouth. On average these coastal trips drew a loading of just 108 passengers which for a 20 knot steamer, 270ft long and 1,781 GRT was wholly uneconomic. As a result all coastal trips were pulled from the schedule from the middle of July.
All in all during her season from Monday 25th June up until Sunday 16th September, when she left Torquay to return to Bristol, Empress Queen was tied up alongside doing nothing for forty two of those days due to a combination of bad weather, insufficient passenger numbers, cancelled coastal trips and mechanical issues.
With this poor financial result adding to the difficulties of the previous five summers, Empress Queen did not return to Torquay the following year and instead was laid up at Bristol not running at all in 1952, 1953 and 1954. In 1955 she was sold on to operate in Greek waters under the name Phillipos.
There she remained until she was broken up in 1974.
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 22nd June 2021.