On Tuesday 24th October 1967 Princess Elizabeth arrived at the scrapyard in Southampton.
She was towed from her layup berth in the Backwater, through the Town Bridge and on down Weymouth Harbour to berth overnight at the Pleasure Pier the previous day to await the sea-going tug. As usual I was down to watch this paddle steamer movement. It was a sad day for me as I had got to know the Lizzie very well since her first arrival to lay up for the winter in Weymouth in 1961 after her falling out with the Harbourmaster of Torquay. Her going seemed to me to be the final nail in the coffin of excursion paddle steamers on the South Coast and all my dreams of spending my life with paddle steamers had begun to seem a tad unrealistic.
As usual I got talking to the handful aboard. The plan of campaign was for the Lizzie to be towed dead ship without anyone aboard but the tug skipper said that if I wanted I was welcome to make the trip on her. This was a great excitement for me but when I got home to ask my Dad he was not keen on the idea saying that in his view it was best not to sail on a dead ship with nobody else aboard. No lights. No help if anything went wrong. And so on. It was of course the sensible voice of reason. So I never did get that last trip on the Lizzie.
After arriving at the berth in the Weymouth Backwater in the picture above around 5pm on Thursday 23rd September 1965 following her third season running from Weymouth, the Lizzie was laid up and remained there for two years.
Of all the paddle steamers returned to service in the 1960s by private individuals the Lizzie had lasted the longest, notching up six seasons of operation compared with Consul, Freshwater and Jeanie Deans/Queen of the South none of which managed more than two.
In my view this was largely due to the fact that when she was bought by Cdr Rhodes in 1959 she was in better condition than the others having spent much of the 1950s doing not a lot being mostly rostered as spare boat on the Southampton to Cowes ferry service. Initially therefore she didn’t need that much capital investment in maintenance and renewals. However by 1965 this was catching up on her and, with major expenditure in the offing, Cdr Rhodes decided to call it a day and sell up.
She was bought in 1966 by Mr A W Render who planned to run her on the Sussex Coast from Brighton in 1967. He engaged former paddle steamer Captain Harry Defrates as master and he hired one of her former seamen Ken Moore and an engineer to help him start the process of getting her ready.
I was sixteen at the time and often popped aboard on my way home from school for a chat and to see how things were going. The three achieved one really useful thing in painting the black part of her hull with silver anti-corrosive paint. But much of their other tasks could be better described as titivating rather than structural.
For example the ladies’ lavatory at the aft end of the main deck saloon and the gents’ in the sponson on the starboard side aft of the paddle box were both painted. Wearing my commercial hat today I wonder if that was really a good use of limited financial resources at the time but of course everyone does like a nice, clean and fresh lavatory. On Friday afternoons to fill up the time before clocking off they started scrubbing a bit of deck in the engine room alleyways every week which in fairness started to look quite good as the weeks wore on but did nothing to improve the fabric of the ship.
When the weather was fine they were out on deck applying red lead to the bulwarks where necessary and then top coats. On several occasions during school holidays I gave them a hand. I remember Capt Defrates delegating me to chip and paint one of the ventilators at the aft end of the promenade deck. This I duly started upon but found that when I whacked the top of it with my chipping hammer it went straight through. Oh dear. With a wry smile Capt Defrates said that we were supposed to be refitting the ship not breaking her up and to go easy with the hammer. But that is how she was by then. Built in 1927 she was already 40 years old in 1967 and she was showing her age.
Then it was time for the Board of Trade to come down. The surveyor also had a large chipping hammer which he used with some force on the ship’s steel work here and there whacking away and occasionally making a hole in this or that.
He asked for some of the deck planks to be lifted on the port side in the area over the boiler on the promenade deck to see what the steelwork was like under that. That couldn’t be done in a day so he came back the following week, again with his hammer, to have another look. One big bang in this area of steelwork and again his hammer went through. His list of defects was lengthening. My sixteen year old self didn’t at first see the implications of all this. I imagined that the work would all be done as required, that there would be the money there to do it and that the Lizzie would sail again.
Two days later I came down and noticed Mr Render disembarking. He knew who I was so he smiled at me but didn’t say anything. When I went aboard the three crew members seemed in gloomy mood. “It’s all over” said Captain Defrates. “The Guvnor is selling the ship and we’ve all been sacked.”
Captain Defrates used to wear a rather old and battered captain’s hat with a blue winter top and much faded gold lace around the peak when leading a team on the paddle steamers in the winter so that workers and contractors could easily pick him out as the captain. I remember him taking it off that morning and chucking it into the rubbish bin by the side of the saloon bar entrance. “I won’t be needing that any more” he said.
In 1967 Captain Defrates was 72 years old. His prospects of future employment were not by then that rosy. And he needed to work as he had no pension from Cosens who he had served for many years as one of their masters.
On the day that it was first planned to tow her from her layup berth in the Backwater down the harbour at the end of the previous week to await the sea-going tug as usual I cycled past her first thing in the morning on my way to school. I noticed that it was a very high tide and that the paddle box rubbing band was above the level of the quay but held off the quay by the riding posts specially fitted in Weymouth Harbour for just this very purpose. However the Lizzie’s breast rope forrard had been cast off leaving just the spring in preparation for her move and as the tide gently started to ebb the bow had lifted off a bit and the paddle box had slewed round sufficiently for the aft part of the starboard sponson to be over the quay.
Although I was only sixteen at the time I knew at once that this would be an issue as the tide ran away with the danger of the rubbing band hooking up on the quay wall. But there were people aboard. The harbour tugs were in the offing so I assumed that they would notice, as had I, and that the Lizzie would in any case probably be gone before this became an issue. So I cycled on to school.
In that I was wrong. It was not noticed. As the tide went down and before she was moved the Lizzie got hooked up and took on an ever crazier list as the water level in the harbour fell away.
Former Cosnes’s chief engineer Bob Wills told me afterwards that he had been summoned. His first thought was that as the tide fell giving the Lizzie a massive list, when it came back in again it might come over the level of the sponson doors on the port side and start flooding the ship before she could start to re-float and that she might therefore sink.
Ever resourceful Bob organised a long telegraph pole as a lever which was fitted between the ship and the quay with a rope attached to the top of it. Anyone in the vicinity was delegated to haul on the rope and so exert force on this makeshift lever with Bob saying “If it works drop the rope and run”. It worked. They ran. And the Lizzie slid off causing something of a wash, which surged across the harbour, as she returned to an even keel.
In this picture of the Lizzie awaiting her departure to the scrapyard alongside the Weymouth Pleasure Pier note that one of the buoyant apparatus on the foredeck is missing. This had been taken by Bob Wills as payment for his work in dislodging the Lizzie. He had a further use for it on his 150 passenger vessel Weymouth Belle which had taken over the Lizzie’s trips round Portland Harbour and to Lulworth Cove.
In the scrapyard the Lizzie’s engine, boiler and other machinery as well as much else were removed but then work stopped and in 1968 she was sold on to become a yacht club at Hayling Island.
That didn’t work out so she then was bought for use as a bar and restaurant on the Thames where she arrived in 1970 after a refit at Husband’s Southampton shipyard where she had been a regular visitor over the years.
That lasted until 1987 when she was sold for a similar use in Paris. On one of KC’s positioning runs from London back to the Medway that season I spotted her lying on a buoy near Margaret Ness and rather cheekily went alongside to have a final look round. It was a nostalgic moment for me more than twenty years after I had got to know her so well in the 1960s at Weymouth.
The Lizzie remained in Paris until 1999 after which she was towed to Dunkirk for use as a conference centre. There she remains today.
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 24th October 2020.