2nd February 1964:
Medway Queen

2nd February 1964:
Medway Queen
Medway Queen leaving Herne Bay. // Jessie Clements

On Sunday 2nd February 1964 Medway Queen was alongside in the Nelson Dock at Rotherhithe having been towed there on Wednesday 29th January from the Medway under the command of Captain Leonard Horsham who had been her master for her whole operational career after the Second World War.

Capt Horsham on Medway Queen’s bridge with Mrs Hundy and Ro in the foreground. // Jessie Clements

Medway Queen had been withdrawn at the end of the 1963 season after which PSPS Chairman Nick Knight was in campaigning mode trying to find a new future for her. The National Trust had expressed some interest and hence the ship was at Rotherhithe for survey.

Guy Hundy in the paddle box of Medway Queen at the Acorn Shipyard 1961. // Jessie Clements

Sadly nothing came of that. Other options were investigated including the possibility of her being taken on by catering giant Forte. In the end and as a result of Nick Knight’s lobbying she came into the ownership of the Ridett brothers to become a bar, restaurant and nightclub at Binfield on the Isle of Wight.

I liked Nick a lot. He was very forthright. Some might have said abrasive. But there was always a chuckle lurking somewhere in the offing and ready to burst out. Indeed as an example of his persuasive powers it was Nick who tirelessly and insistently lobbied me in 1984 to throw my lot in with KC to lead the project to return her to passenger carrying service. If he hadn’t done that so successfully both my life and that of KC might have panned out in very different directions. So thank you Nick.

Aboard Crested Eagle. Left to right; Second Engineer Aubrey Holt, Chief Engineer Bill Peake, Capt Cole, Chief Officer and later Capt John Charman, and Second Officer unknown.

It was perhaps Medway Queen’s misfortune that Managing Director of the New Medway Steam Packet Company Bill Peake died unexpectedly at the young age of 63 on 2nd November 1962. Bill was a marine professional having started out as an apprentice, gained his certificates of competency and been promoted to be Chief Engineer of the Golden Eagle at a very young age in the 1920s. Subsequently he became Chief Engineer of both Crested Eagle and Royal Eagle.

In the 1950s he became Managing Director of the New Medway Steam Packet Company and its Acorn Shipyard on the retirement of Mr O’Keefe who himself had stepped into the shoes of Captain Shippick who had founded the company and subsequently developed it so successfully. So there had been a direct line of highly experienced and well qualified marine professionals at the helm of the company from the outset.

Given his career trajectory it was said that Bill Peake had a bit of a soft spot for paddle steamers. There were those who also said that if he had lived he would have done his utmost to try to keep Medway Queen going for as long as he possibly could.

However his successor Mr Barnes had less of an interest in paddle steamers and a lower tolerance threshold for a marginal part of their business which took up a lot of time and energy to run but failed to produce a surplus of income over expenditure to justify all the effort. So at the end of the 1963 season he blew the whistle on Medway Queen and that was that.

That is why Medway Queen was in the Nelson Dock at Rotherhithe on 2nd February 1964.

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.

John Megoran

John Megoran

This article was first published on 2nd February 2021.