25th-27th July 1924:
The King’s Spithead Inspection

25th-27th July 1924:
The King’s Spithead Inspection

Looking back through the history of excursion paddle steamers we find that some summers were really good with endless sunshine and light airs. Others were terrible with loads of wind and rain. Many combined the two in varying degrees. 1924 was one of the terrible ones with the weather causing havoc to paddle steamers excursions nationwide on and off throughout the summer.

However there was a good spell when the sun shone in late July and this coincided with the Royal Naval Inspection at Spithead by H M King George V over the weekend from Friday 25th to Sunday 27th July. This was a real boost to revenue for the local paddle steamers of the Southampton, Isle of Wight and South of England Royal Mail Steam Packet Company (later known as Red Funnel), as well as for Cosens, the railway steamers and those of P & A Campbell based on the Sussex Coast. To look at all these paddle steamers and see what they all did during this weekend is a bit of a massive undertaking so we will confine ourselves today to just looking at what the Southampton Company’s steamers were up to during this lovely weekend.

Steamer notice for Royal Navy Inspection 1924.

Friday 25th July 1924

From Southampton the giant cross Channel flyer Balmoral together with the medium sized Duchess of York were put to work with three hour round trips down Southampton Water and on to Spithead to view the assembled fleet leaving Southampton at 10.30am, 11.30am, 1.30pm, 2.15pm, 4.30pm and 5.30pm after which there were evening cruises away from the Southampton at 8pm and 8.15pm to view “the Illumination of the Fleet”.

Lorna Doone.

From Southsea and Ryde their second largest long distance excursion paddle steamer Lorna Doone, along with the medium sized Queen, were rostered for two hour trips round the fleet from South Parade Pier Southsea at 11.15am, 1.15pm, 3.15pm and 5pm and Clarence Pier at 11.30am, 1.45pm, 3.30pm and 5.15pm with Lorna Doone also picking up at Ryde at 12 noon, 2.15pm, 4pm and 5.45pm.

In the evening there were cruises to view the illuminations leaving Southsea at 8.15pm and 8.40pm with a pick up at Ryde at 9.15pm.

Prince of Wales.

From Cowes after finishing her day on the packet service between Southampton and Cowes Prince of Wales was rostered to leave Cowes at 8.30pm for a cruise to view the illuminations.

Saturday 26th July 1924

This was the big day with King George V on hand to inspect the “Grand assemblage of over 200 British warships, airships and seaplanes representing a most formidable fighting force and surpassing in magnificence previous naval displays witnessed in British waters”

Balmoral does not appear in any of the rosters for this day so I think that we can assume that she had a private charter to the event.

From Southampton Solent Queen and Lorna Doone were due away at 11am and 11.30am respectively to witness the inspection due back at 4pm and 4.30pm after which they were off again at 7.30pm and 7.45pm to view the illuminations.

From Southsea Duchess of York and Queen were rostered for a short morning cruise to view the fleet leaving South Parade Pier at 11am and Clarence Pier at 11.15am before setting off once again at 12.30pm and 12.45pm respectively for the main event due back 3.30pm. By that stage there was still a lot of day left to be milked so they both ran another trip round the fleet at 4pm and evening cruises to view the illuminations at 8.15pm and 8.40pm.


From Ryde Queen ran a similar roster with a morning and late afternoon cruises round the fleet away at 11.45am and 4.30pm before picking up passengers for the main inspection at 1.15pm due back 4.20pm. And in the evening there was a departure at 9.15pm to view the illuminations.

From Cowes the packet steamer Her Majesty was rostered to leave at 12 noon for the main event due back 4.15pm after which there was yet another illumination cruise at 8.30pm

Sunday 27th July 1924

The sailings on this day after the event were broadly similar to what had been offered on the Friday. Balmoral and Duchess of York ran three round trips to view the the fleet from Southampton. Lorna Doone and Queen ran six round trips each from Southsea, Prince of Wales six round trips from Ryde with Princess Beatrice, making her first appearance in connection with the event, offering trips from Cowes at 11am, 2.30pm and 5.30pm.

That’s a very busy weekend. That’s a tremendous quantity of passengers fitted into just three days. And if all the steamers were full on all their sailings, and I expect that they were or at the very least were close to that, then that is more than 40,000 passengers carried during these three days.

The most expensive fare that weekend was 12/6 for the big day trip from Southampton on the Saturday which scales up to nearly £40 in today’s money. The cheapest was 3/- which scales up to about £10 today. Add all that up and this Royal Naval Inspection at Spithead by H M King George V must have turned in a combined revenue for the company in today’s money of between half and three quarters of a million pounds. And that, in an otherwise poor season for weather, was a great boon for the paddle steamers in the summer of 1924 as the national and world economies struggled in the aftermath of the First World War and the great ‘flu pandemic which had followed it.

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.

John Megoran

John Megoran

This article was first published on 25th July 2021.