Wednesday 26th September 1956 was the last day in service of P & A Campbell’s one time flagship paddle steamer Britannia.
This was later than had been planned. Indeed Britannia had run a farewell Cruise the previous week on Wednesday 19th September leaving Bristol at 8.45am for Clevedon and Ilfracombe. Numbers were restricted to just 250. A quality lunch and light tea were served during cruise with the ship visited by local dignitaries along the way, including the Lord Mayor of Bristol, all of whom made speeches. At Ilfracombe her master Capt Murphy was presented with a tankard. After unloading at Bristol at 8.20pm on her return Britannia set off straight away for Cardiff with a view to entering Penarth Dock to lay up the following day.
However on the morning of Thursday 20th September the Glen Usk was found to have an issue with her boiler so she instead retreated to Penarth Dock leaving Britannia to take over the Cardiff, Penarth, Barry and Weston Super Mare ferry for the following week until she herself could be relieved by the Glen Gower on her return from her Sussex Coast season on the evening of Wednesday 26th September. The following day Britannia moved to Penarth Dock, was put up for sale in November and towed away to Newport for breaking up in December.
1956 had been a truly dreadful season for P & A Campbell. They had too many ships chasing too little business and the weather had not been on their side. For example twelve of Glen Gower’s cross Channel excursions from the Sussex Piers to Boulogne had had to be cancelled due to the wind and this pattern was repeated across the fleet as well as elsewhere across the country.
For example the Directors Report for their year ending 31st December 1956 for South Coast paddle steamer operator Cosens & Co said: “With the high cost of preparing ships for a limited period of service, constantly increasing operating costs and having to depend on weather conditions it is becoming increasingly uncertain whether pleasure steamer services can any longer be operated remuneratively and the advisability of discontinuing them completely has been carefully considered.”
And so it was too with P & A Campbell. With a trading loss of over £56K (£1.4 million today) for the season P & A Campbell’s bankers were only prepared to continue to support them if radical cuts were made to the business.
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 September 2020.