30th August 1950:
Bristol Queen

30th August 1950:
Bristol Queen
Bristol Queen.

P & A Campbell got into bed with other organisations to sell tickets for them to help fill up spare capacity on their steamers. As in other years, in 1950 they had an agreement with British Railways to sell joint tickets saloon class from Cardiff and Penarth to Ilfracombe with onward connections on the train either first or second class to many stations in Devon and Cornwall.

At 9.45am at Cardiff on Wednesday 30th August 1950 you could have boarded Bristol Queen for the trip via Weston to Ilfracombe and then onwards by rail to any one of 34 possible destinations in Devon and Cornwall including Barnstable, Bideford, Bude, Devonport, Exeter, Exmouth, Launceston, Okehampton, Padstow, Plymouth, Seaton, Sidmouth, Torquay and Yeoford.

The cheapest fare offered was for a single trip from Cardiff via Ilfracombe to Wrafton second class which came in at 11/1 (£19 today)

The most expensive fare offered was for a monthly period return from Cardiff via Ilfracombe to Wadebridge, with first class on the train, which came in at 54/5 (£94 today).

P & A Campbell through Steamer and Rail Bookings 1950.

The steamer notice also points out that the fare did not include the pier toll at Ilfracombe and that “on arrival at Ilfracombe passengers proceed from the pier to the station, and vice versa, at their own expense. Passengers can proceed from Ilfracombe by any train after the arrival of the steamer”.

The pier at Weston-Super-Mare Pier with Bristol Queen alongside.

On this day Wednesday 30th August 1950 any who had bought such tickets and were therefore looking forward to the combined steamer and train journey to their distant destinations via Ilfracombe were in for a bit of a disappointment.

1950 proved to be a very windy summer. There were numerous cancellations during the season and many other days were just not paddle steamer weather.

On this day Bristol Queen, under the command of Campbell’s most experienced master Captain Jack George, left Cardiff on schedule at 9.45am but on arriving at Weston in squally conditions shortly after 10.15am landed heavily cracking her spring beam, bending four paddle blades and forcing the feathering gear out of alignment. So that is as far as Bristol Queen got with her passengers on this day.

She came away from the pier and went to anchor until the evening tide when she limped back to Bristol for repairs. She was back in service on Friday 1st September.

For those with onward connections by rail from Ilfracombe, Weston was not a bad place for the steamer to break down as at least there was a railway station there. But this had given such passengers a sea trip of little more than half an hour between Cardiff and Weston compared with the three or so hour trip they had been expecting down the Bristol Channel and along the scenic North Devon coast.

Of course having one’s travel plans thrown into disarray like this is upsetting and annoying for passengers and inevitably can throw a tiny minority of people into a tantrum of tendentious tempers with associated finger-wagging.

But in my view one just has to take a deep breath and try be stoic about it all in such circumstances. Nobody wanted this to happen. Everybody would have preferred that it hadn’t happened. But it did happen and there we are.

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 30th August 2020.