On Thursday 22nd November 1962 Mrs Cecile Becket, one of the most regular passengers on the Bournemouth paddle steamers after the Second World War, was ensconced as a lodger with Captain Harry Defrates and his wife in their flat above the Royal Airforce Association in St Albans Street in the centre of Weymouth.
Mrs Beckett’s husband had himself been a captain latterly serving as master of the Bassett-Lowke yacht. When he retired they moved from Margate to Bournemouth where they bought a small private hotel in 1932. In 1940, when she was 62, her husband died. The hotel was requisitioned for war service. And with their only son interned in Switzerland the war years were doubtless a lonely and difficult time for her.
After the war in 1946, when she was 68, she got her hotel back but decided to convert it into flats. This gave her income and endless leisure time to be filled up somehow so she became one of the most regular passengers on the Bournemouth paddle steamers of Red Funnel and Cosens buying tickets often and sometimes sailing almost every day.
She therefore got to know the crews well and was frequently a guest on the bridges of Captains Rawle, Field, Cook, Haines and Defrates who she had first encountered when he was mate of the first twin funnelled Monarch just after the war. So well was she known that she was permitted to keep her own personal rug stowed away aboard each of the steamers. And when she went ashore at Swanage she was allowed to avoid the queues and come aboard directly.
Although she sailed further afield from time to time she particularly favoured Bournemouth Queen, Victoria and both Monarchs on the Swanage service often taking the three round trips between Bournemouth and Swanage in the afternoons and then staying on for the run up Poole Harbour in the cool of the evening from which she would return by bus.
Mrs Beckett struck up a close friendship with Captain Field’s tea total wife, who sometimes sailed with him on the Bournemouth Queen, and was often asked to take tea with Captain Defrates on the 5pm return leg from Swanage to Bournemouth on Monarch.
In 1961 Captain Defrates left Cosens to become master of Princess Elizabeth running from Torquay and then in 1962 was still her master in her short season running once again on the Swanage service from Bournemouth. There he renewed his acquaintance with Mrs Beckett who by then was 84 years old. She had sold her business and was then living in a flat in a converted Victorian house. Her health was starting to fail. She was not happy on her own and needed help.
The Lizzie’s season at Bournemouth in 1962 did not go well and in September she was laid up on a buoy off Hamworthy in Poole Harbour. Captain Defrates found himself without work so it was a neat fit to take in a lodger and who better than Mrs Beckett. And so she came to live with the Defrates in Weymouth.
In the spring of 1963 Captain Defrates was recruited by Tony McGinnity as master of Consul for his proposed new venture sailing her on the Sussex Coast from Brighton Eastbourne and Hastings so he was working again.
Mrs Beckett was not so lucky. She developed dementia and had to be moved to a secure unit at Herrison Hospital near Dorchester where, in September 1963, she died aged 85 taking with her so many happy memories of sailing so often on all the paddle steamers from Bournemouth Pier, the friendships she had struck up aboard them and the management, captains, crew and passengers she had got to know so well.
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 November 2020.