31st July 1939:

31st July 1939:
Princess Elizabeth pictured 1938 or 1939.

For any who loved paddle steamers, or getting afloat, Bournemouth offered a feast of paddle steamer activity in 1939.

On this day Monday 31st July the original schedule was for eight departures advertised from Bournemouth to Swanage and a further eight from Swanage back to Bournemouth run jointly by Cosens and Red Funnel.

Departures from Bournemouth were scheduled for 10.15am, 10.45am, 12.10pm, 2.15pm, 2.45pm, 3.15pm, 4pm, 5.15pm and 6.30pm and from Swanage at 9.15am, 11.10am, 11.50am, 1.30pm, 3pm, 4.15pm, 5.15pm and 6pm.

Vecta as built.

In March 1939 Red Funnel took delivery of the brand new Vecta for their Southampton to Cowes ferry service. She had space for cars on the main deck forward and was powered by the then very new fangled and state of the art Voith Schneider propulsion system.

Vecta’s arrival displaced the then only 12 year old Princess Elizabeth so she was moved to Bournemouth for the summer of 1939 to operate the Swanage service for Red Funnel herself displacing the paddle steamer Corfe Castle ex Mauretania, ex Queen which was scrapped. The picture at the top shows the Lizzie with the wheelhouse she acquired in 1938 and the extension to her funnel to improve the draft through her boiler which was added in 1936.

Monarch backing out of Bournemouth pier late 1930s.

For much of the 1939 season Monarch provided the Swanage service on behalf of Cosens.

Monarch pictured disembarking at Bournemouth 17th August 1938.

The Swanage service was generally a good money spinner for both Red Funnel and Cosens. It could really pack in the numbers, as can be seen in this picture, and the associated revenue on what was just a one and a half hour round trip repeated eight times a day.

Bournemouth Queen late 1930s.

Each company also provided a second vessel for the day trip market from Bournemouth to the Isle of Wight piers, round the Isle of Wight, to Southampton and Weymouth and so on. In 1939, and as usual, for Red Funnel this was Bournemouth Queen up to mid July when she developed boiler trouble and had to be withdrawn. So by Monday 30th July Princess Elizabeth had generally taken over the longer day trips for Red Funnel with the second boat on the Swanage service being cobbled together making use of any Cosens or Red Funnel vessel as and when they were available, were in the vicinity and could be slotted in.

Emperor of India with full promenade deck to the bow backing out of Bournemouth Pier.

Cosens’ day trip steamer was generally the Emperor of India.

Embassy acquired by Cosesn 1937.

Other vessels from the Cosens fleet also visited Bournemouth from time to time during the summer including their Embassy…

Consul leaving Weymouth 1938 or 1939.


Victoria alongside Bournemouth Pier.

…and Victoria which all brought passengers up from Weymouth and whilst there offered additional capacity on the Swanage service or short coastal trips or, from time to time, ran to Lulworth Cove.

Bournemouth Pier in the late 1930s.

Several times a week, often on Saturdays, Mondays and Wednesdays, Red Funnel’s Lorna Doone called on her trips from Southampton to Ryde, Southsea, Sandown, Shanklin, Ventnor and on to Bournemouth for time ashore in the afternoon.

Balmoral 1935-38.

A couple of times a week, often on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Red Funnel’s large and fast Balmoral also called early in the morning on her way from Southampton to Cherbourg dropping her passengers back again about 8pm in the evenings. There were other days as well when she called on her way from Southampton to Weymouth.

Whippingham in the 1930s.

Also in the peak weeks, and usually it was on Wednesdays and Thursdays, one of the two large Southern Railway paddle steamers Southsea or Whippingham ran afternoon excursions from Portsmouth and Ryde through the Solent to give their passengers an hour and a half or so ashore at Bournemouth around tea time.

Built in 1930 they were in a completely different league of modernity from any of these other paddle steamers running from and calling at Bournemouth and showed a marked contrast in appearance from the diminutive Victoria or the twin and spindly funnelled Monarch which had been running from this resort year in, year out, since 1884 and 1888 respectively.

Brighton Queen alongside Bournemouth Pier in 1934.

And from time to time one or other of P & A Campbell’s Brighton based paddle steamers, like Brighton Queen, also turned up at Bournemouth on super long day trips from Brighton. These excursions involved a round trip of about 150 nautical miles so did not happen that often and were only rostered on days when the tide was with the steamers both ways for most, or a good part, of the trip to boost their speed over the ground.

So if you had been staying in Bournemouth during this summer of 1939, and if you had hit it lucky, then you might have counted twelve or more different paddle steamers sailing in and out of the pier during the course of any one week.

But for all these paddle steamer comings and goings the most constant feature during the season was the regular arrivals and departures on the Swanage service on which, after the withdrawal of Bournemouth Queen, Monarch was joined at various times during the summer by Emperor of India, Embassy, Consul, Lorna Doone, Gracie Fields and Balmoral filling in to provide extra capacity to make up the two ship service.

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 31st July 2021.