During the First World War the coal mines were taken over and run by the Government as part of the war effort. After the war they were returned to their owners but economic depression grew in the aftermath of the war and with that the need for coal declined. Owners struggled to make ends meet in a diminishing market and so sought to cut wages. Inevitably that produced unrest and Saturday 2nd April 1921 turned out to be the second day of a national strike of coal miners which brought the country to its knees. The Government declared a State of Emergency.
This came just as paddle steamer operators nationwide were starting to get ready for their 1921 seasons. At this stage all the UK excursion paddle steamer fleet burnt coal. Without coal they could not sail. So plans for the coming summer had to be put on hold as fuel became harder and harder to source.
Essential ferry services continued on a limited basis. For example only two of the LMS Clyde steamers remained in service with one running to Rothesay and Millport from Wemyss Bay with no calls at Largs and the other operating to Dunoon and the Holy Loch. There were no regular ferry services to Arran. On the Bristol Channel Lady Evelyn and Glen Avon ran a limited service connecting Cardiff and Weston as did red Funnel between Southampton and Cowes. And so on around the country.
The strike ended on Tuesday 28th June but coal shortages continued and in some areas it was some while before excursion steamer services resumed and returned to normal.
It was not until Monday 18th July that all of P & A Campbell’s paddle steamers were back in service. It was not until 17th July that Cosens started their operations from Bournemouth and not until Monday 25th July from Weymouth. And so on.
There was an irony here too. This period of enforced inactivity coincided with a spell of near perfect paddle steamer weather with light airs and no rainfall whatsoever for a period of 100 days up to Saturday 25th June when showers brought this protracted drought to an end three days ahead of the strike being called off.
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 2nd April 2021.