On Monday March 26th 1951 Pride of Devon was in the scrapyard at Grays in Essex having been towed round from Southampton where she had been laid up since the autumn of 1948.
She was built by Denny on the Clyde in 1897 with a triple expansion engine as one of the growing fleet of Belle steamers designed to connect London with the emerging and fast developing east coast resorts from Clacton on up through Felixstowe and beyond to Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth.
After use as a minesweeper in the First World War and a brief interlude as a hospital carrier at Archangel on the north coast of Russia she returned to her Thames duties in 1920 before being acquired by the New Medway Steam Packet Company in 1926 for their Thames and Medway services and renamed Essex Queen.
After service in the Second World War once again as a hospital ship she was bought later in 1946 by the South Western Steam Navigation Company for a new service running from Torquay. They renamed her Pride of Devon.
In the 1930s paddle steamer trips from Torquay had been very much in decline. P & A Campbell had tried their hand there in 1932 and 1933 but had failed to make an impact. The local Duchess of Devonshire was wrecked on the beach at Sidmouth in 1934 and her sister Duke of Devonshire had left the area after the 1937 season. So in 1938 and 1939 there had been no paddle steamer sailings from Torquay at all.
Her new owners doubtless thought that there would be a market for a large and “luxurious” paddle steamer running local trips to Dartmouth and to off Exmouth but in that their expectations remained unfulfilled. Pride of Devon was a big boat with associated big operating costs. She was 65ft longer than both the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and at 240ft LOA even bigger than Campbell’s enormous Westward Ho which had failed to make a living there fifteen years earlier.
She was old too. By 1947 she was fifty years old which is a great age for a ship. And whilst you may be able to keep a vessel going for ever if you keep chucking enough money at her to fund rebuild after rebuild without that the deterioration of her fabric and structure will eventually catch up with her.
And so it was for the Pride of Devon. After only two seasons of this new career during the summers of 1947 and 1948 in the spring of 1949 the Board of Trade asked for work to be done to her which could not be afforded by her new owners. She therefore remained laid up in Southampton awaiting offers of a new future elsewhere. These never came which is why on Monday March 26th 1951 we find her in the scrapyard at Grays in Essex.
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 March 2021.