1951 was a poor year for the Sussex Coast with P & A Campbell positioning none of their steamers in the area for that summer. They returned in 1952 with their Cardiff Queen which came round from the Bristol Channel once again in 1953 in time to start her season on Saturday 23rd May. So let’s shine the spotlight on one week of her service in July of 1953 and see what she was rostered to do.
She started her days either at Newhaven or, if the weather was suitable, at anchor off the resort in which she had finished the previous evening or would start from the following morning. She was advertised to sail from Newhaven Harbour on only three occasions in July 1953 (15th, 20th and 30th) leaving her free to hedge her bets on all the other July days and either return to harbour if the weather was not so good or go to anchor instead thereby saving on fuel, wages, pilotage and harbour dues and keeping down the daily steaming time.
On Monday 6th July she was rostered to start her day at Hastings (10.30am) for Eastbourne (11.30am) and Brighton (1pm). She was away from the West Pier (2.30pm) and Palace Pier Brighton (2.40pm) for an afternoon cruise “To Newhaven Breakwater” (back 4.30pm) before setting off again for Eastbourne (6pm) and Hastings (7pm) after which she sailed on a single trip (7.10pm) back to Eastbourne (8.10pm) where her day ended with the option for passengers to return to Hastings by rail or bus.
On Tuesday 7th July she was scheduled to be away from Brighton’s Palace Pier (8.20am) and West Pier (8.30am) with calls at Worthing (9.20am) and Bognor Regis (10.30am) for Shanklin (12.30pm) and the newly re-opened pier at Ventnor (1.15pm). She then ran an afternoon cruise from the Isle of Wight piers before setting off again from Ventnor (4.30pm) and Shanklin (5pm) for Bognor Regis (6.40pm), Worthing (7.50pm) and Brighton 8.40pm).
On Wednesday 8th July she was rostered to be away from Brighton’s West Pier (9.45am) and Palace Pier (10am) for Eastbourne (11.30am) and Hastings (12.30pm) for Folkestone (2.30pm).
Then she was away from Folkestone (3pm) for an “an Afternoon Cruise Through the Straits of Dover” which was due back at Folkestone (4.30pm- 4.50pm) for Hastings (6.50pm), Eastbourne (8pm) and Brighton (9.30pm).
On Thursday 9th July she was due away from Hastings (8.30am) for Eastbourne (9.30am) and Brighton (11am & 11.10am) for Worthing (11.50 am) and Shanklin (2.15pm – 4pm). She was not rostered to call at Worthing on the return with those passengers carrying on to Brighton (6.45pm) from where they caught the train or bus back to Worthing. Cardiff Queen then continued on to Eastbourne (8.10pm) where all remaining passengers went ashore with those for Hastings taken on by coach.
Friday 10th July was a day off with Cardiff Queen alongside at Newhaven to take on bunkers, fresh water and other stores.
On Saturday 11th July the day started at Eastbourne (12.20pm) for Brighton (1.50pm & 2pm) and an afternoon cruise to Shanklin (4.45pm – 5.45pm) with return to Brighton (8.35pm) and Eastbourne (10pm).
On Sunday 12th July she was scheduled to be away from Eastbourne (9.40am) for Brighton (11.10am & 11.20am) and Worthing (12.20pm with round trip passengers for Worthing returning to Brighton by rail or bus) and then on to Ventnor (2.30pm – 4.50pm) with return to Brighton ( 7.55pm) and Eastbourne (9.30pm).
So in this week there was one day of local trips between Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings, one day eastwards to Folkestone and beyond and four days westwards to the Isle of Wight. There were sailings from Brighton on six days, from Eastbourne on five and from Hastings on just three. They were long days too. No wonder, if the weather suited, they were happy to drop the anchor off one of the resorts rather than indulge in yet more steaming to and from Newhaven.
Calls at both Worthing and Bognor Regis were tidal so they were infrequent. In July 1953 only five days of sailings were rostered from Worthing (7th, 9th, 12th, 13th and 23rd) and just two from Bognor Regis (7th and 23rd July).
Fares were comparatively cheap and set at levels to target volume from the mass market resorts of Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings with day trips coming in at 15/6 and 18/6 for adults which scales up to under £30 in today’s money. So in today’s money on this sort of schedule a full Cardiff Queen could have turned over in excess of £30K per day, and more if the onboard catering had done well. Half full that would have been £15K and a quarter full £7.5K. So in a season of 100 operating days that would have been potential seasonal turnovers of £3 million, £1.5 million or £750K but less with poor loadings and many cancellations due to the weather, mechanical issues and so on. And the Sussex coast piers are very exposed to the elements with no shelter on them except when the wind is in the north. So when the wind blew the steamers could not sail. And if the average daily loading had come in at less than 300 passengers then to maintain this sort of schedule the fares would have needed to have been set at closer to £100 per adult passenger per day to generate sufficient revenue to keep her solvent and make for a successful and sustainable business model. The under £30 day fare only worked when it was predicated on high volume.
Cardiff Queen finished her Sussex Coast summer season of 1953 in September leaving Newhaven at 6.15am on Saturday 23rd and picking up a handful of passengers at Brighton at 8am for the single voyage round to Bristol. She called at Plymouth on the way to take on bunkers but by then the weather was deteriorating. In the end she got no further than Falmouth where she took shelter and discharged her passengers who carried on their journey to Bristol by train. It was not until the following Wednesday that she was able to get away again at 4.30pm arriving in Bristol around 10.30am the following morning.
Cardiff Queen did not return to the Sussex Coast in 1954 her place being taken by Glen Gower.
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 6th July 2021.