On Wednesday 28th November 1951 Lorna Doone was slipped at Southampton for survey.
She had been built as HMS Atherstone in 1916 as one of thirty-two paddle steamers specially commissioned during the First World War for use as minesweepers to a design loosely based on shallow draft excursion paddle steamers which the Admiralty had found so suitable for this task when called up for war.
Along with one of her sisters, HMS Melton, she was bought in 1928 and converted into a cross Channel excursion paddle steamer by Captain Shippick’s New Medway Steam Packet Company for service from the Medway and Thames to the French ports of Calais, Boulogne, Dunkirk and Ostend.
Renamed Queen of Kent and Queen of Thanet they were a great success producing sufficient profits for Captain Shippick to embark on a programme for building large diesel vessels including Queen of the Channel and Royal Sovereign both of which had greatly enhanced under over accommodation, bar and restaurant facilities than their paddle steamer predecessors.
After the Second World War they were returned to service but didn’t make a good fit with Captain Shippick’s mission to improve customer service so they were sold on to Red Funnel in 1948 with the possible view to revive cross Channel trips from Southampton and Bournemouth whenever the Government might get around to allowing no passport trips once again.
Solent Queen was based at Southampton and Lorna Doone at Bournemouth for the summers of 1949 and 1950 running the longer day excursions round the Isle of Wight and so on with the plan to do the same in 1951. Unfortunately, Solent Queen caught fire on the slipway in Southampton prior to the season so Lorna Doone was recalled to Southampton to take her place.
By this stage in their careers both ships were elderly and in need of major structural attention. Lorna Doone was slipped on 28th November 1951. A number of hull plates were removed but as work progressed the specification kept expanding. By January 1952 the scale of the work was deemed impossible to justify financially so all work stopped. Lorna Doone was patched up so that she could be floated off again and was put up for sale along with her sister.
Captain Clark, who had pushed to buy them along with other elderly tonnage including Upton and Robina which had equally unsuccessful careers with the company, resigned as General Manager of Red Funnel in November 1951.
Lorna Doone left Southampton for the scrapyard in Dover on 15th March 1952.
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 28th November 2020.