On 22nd June 1951 a fire broke out in the aft saloon of Red Funnel’s Solent Queen whilst on the slipway at Southampton causing considerable damage to the ship and putting an end to any prospect of her sailing that season.
Built as HMS Melton in 1916 as a purpose built minesweeper for the Royal Navy she, along with her sister HMS Atherstone, were bought by the New Medway Steam Packet Company in 1928 and converted for passenger carrying under the names Queen of Thanet and Queen of Kent for day trip coastal excursions from the Medway to Clacton, Margate and Dover as well as for cross Channel work to Calais, Boulogne and Dunkirk.
After the second World War Red Funnel bought several elderly passenger vessels to add to their fleet including these two in 1949 which they renamed Solent Queen and Lorna Doone. As they had previously had Cross-Channel Passenger Certificates before the war, Red Funnel toyed with the idea of reviving sailings from Southampton and Bournemouth to Cherbourg but Government passport restrictions put a stop to that. They also considered running non-landing cruises to see the D Day Beaches but in the end thought that these two ships were not suitable for such long day excursions giving passengers no opportunity to go ashore. In the end Solent Queen instead offered excursions from Southampton to the Isle of Wight Piers, round the Island and sometimes on to Bournemouth and Swanage and Lorna Doone displaced Bournemouth Queen as Red Funnel’s day trip steamer from that resort.
Neither paddle steamer was very successful in their new careers. Both were large vessels with commensurately high operating costs and both were getting on a bit and were in need of major maintenance. Solent Queen experienced boiler trouble in July 1950 and had to be withdrawn for repairs after which she was restricted to local trips largely between Southampton and Ryde.
After the fire on 22nd June 1951 Solent Queen came off the slipway on 15th July and left Southampton under tow in October for scrapping at Dover. She was followed to the same scrapyard by her sister in March 1952.
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.