On Monday 26th June 1961 Medway Queen was scheduled to leave Strood Pier (9.15am) for Southend (10.55am) and Herne Bay (12.30pm). She then ran a round trip from Herne Bay (12.30pm) to Southend (2.15pm) giving one hour ashore before setting off again from Southend (3.15pm) for Herne Bay (5pm).
There she collected her morning passengers for the return run across the Cant and through the Four Fathoms Channel back to Southend (6.40pm) and then on up the Medway to Strood for 8.40pm.
It was a clever schedule made up of no less than five main trip options which included: a day trip from Strood to Southend with over 7 and a half hours ashore; a day trip from Strood to Herne Bay with four and a half hours ashore; a day trip from Southend to Herne Bay with four and a half hours ashore; a short day trip from Herne Bay to Southend with one hour ashore; and a non landing afternoon cruise from Southend along the Kent coast to Herne Bay. It was therefore a schedule which maximised the potential revenue.
It was also a schedule targeted at market segments which included the less well off. The day return fare from Strood to Southend in 1961 on Medway Queen was just 9/- (£10 in today’s money) and from Strood to Herne Bay 11/- (£12.33 today) which is not a lot of money for a long day trip.
Contrast that with Embassy’s fare of 16/- (£18 today) in the same year for a day trip from the more moneyed resort of Bournemouth to Totland Bay, Isle of Wight. With the combined steamer and motor coach tour of the isle of Wight that shot up to 24/- (£27 today).
The General Steam Navigations Company’s motor ships from London and Gravesend to Southend, the Kent Coast resorts and/or across the Channel were generally much dearer than trips on Medway Queen. By 1966 to have a day trip from Gravesend to Calais on Royal Daffodil would have set you back 50/- (£47 today) more than four times as much as Medway Queen’s 1961 day trip from Strood to Herne Bay.
These were different trips on different boats targeting different market segments with differing sized wallets.
Medway Queen’s schedule this day did not lend itself to much of a need for supplying lots of sit down hot meals with none of the legs being that long in length and most involving getting off at a resort where some sort of food, fish and chips, jars of winkles, candy floss or whatever was also readily available ashore.
However a limited supply of hot meals were available to be taken in the dining salon on the main deck aft which could accommodate about 75 passengers seated at tables and served from the ship’s own galley which was situated on the main deck just forward of the boiler room.
Below the main dining saloon was the saloon bar. At the forward end of the main deck was another bar and below that another but much smaller saloon space. So, for her size, Medway Queen had a fair amount of undercover accommodation particularly for those requiring a drink of some sort. The sit down for a meal facilities though were wholly inadequate for serving the inner needs of passengers if more than about 10% of the ship’s full capacity had wanted a sit down meal at any one time.
Medway Queen veteran and stalwart Brian Goodhew served as a galley boy in his youth aboard her and recalls that at least one leg of lamb and/or a large piece of beef sirloin and/or a piece of shoulder of pork was delivered each morning by bicycle from the local butcher in Rochester. This was popped into the galley range and slow roasted to be served with vegetables for any requiring lunch.
Then for high tea the frying pan came out for fish and chips. Brian also recalls the first time that he had to fry all the fish himself when the cook had to be away for some reason and he came to realise the crucial importance of making sure that the oil was hot enough before putting the fish in if you don’t want the result to be soggy.
On the way back up the Medway as the evening closed in Captain Horsham was apt to blow down the voice pipe to the Chief Engineer asking him if he could push her on a bit. I know from my own personal experience of all my years on KC that it can be a long and hard old slog back up the river particularly when punching a strong ebb tide and with a fresh breeze against you.
Medway Queen usually berthed starboard side to alongside Strood Pier. Stern fetching there starboard side to is easy with the flood tide under you so long as you can get your stern across the tide first as you back in. But in an ebb it is a different story. At the start of the ebb, the tide runs outbound along Strood Pier but shortly after that it starts to form a back eddy travelling inbound along the pier in the opposite direction to the main current in the middle of the river which remains strongly outbound. I found on KC that this back eddy is exacerbated when there has been heavy rain as there is a drain from the road just upstream from the pier and when the rain water is emptying through that it pushes more water into the back eddy and makes it worse. So berthing starboard side to at Strood Pier in an ebb tide could be tricky.
Back at Strood and made fast Captain Horsham usually made his way up the gangway to call in at the local Conservative Club for a couple of beers on his way home to his semi detached house in Rochester for the night.
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 26th June 2021.