On Friday 7th December 1956 P & A Campbell’s Britannia was towed by two Cardiff tugs from Penarth Docks to the breaker’s yard in Newport.
Built in 1896 she was the third of three large, fast and flush decked sisters, including Westward Ho (1894) and Cambria (1895), which set the bar high for the standard and modernity which could be achieved for paddle steamer design in the day excursion trade.
Over the years her profile changed and after reboilering in 1935 she emerged with a new, fatter and elliptical funnel.
After another reboilering in 1948 she was given two funnels.
Britannia spent most of her career based on the Bristol Channel being particularly associated with the long-distance day trips down Channel to Ilfracombe and beyond but she was sent south to partner Empress Queen running on the Sussex Coast in 1948 and 1949.
As the market for excursions declined during the 1950s P & A Campbell struggled to stay afloat financially as dwindling receipts from tickets coupled with escalating maintenance and operating costs led to accumulated losses.
In 1956 these trading losses were £56K (£1.4 million in today’s money). Cuts had to be made. Britannia was sold for scrap for £13K (£327k today). Captains Murphy, Harris and Watson and others left the company. Property was sold in Bristol including the company’s share in the Underfalls Shipyard. Never again would P & A Campbell send a paddle steamer south to run on the Sussex Coast.
For 1957 P & A Campbell emerged in a leaner form but the difficulties of operating excursion paddle steamers and trying to keep them solvent did not go away.
It was perhaps fitting that the morning of Friday 7th December 1956 dawned cold, grey and foggy as one time flagship of the fleet Britannia was towed away from Penarth to meet her end in Newport.
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 7th December 2020.