On Wednesday 8th April 1936 Gracie Fields was launched from the Southampton yard of John I Thornycroft & Co by the great lady, popular singer and artiste herself.
Afterwards there was a lunch at the South Western Hotel in Southampton with a tempting menu including “Boiled Turbot and Roast Surrey Chicken with Bread Sauce, French Beans and Chateau Potatoes” followed by “Iced Pudding Nesselrode, Petit Fours, Cheese and Biscuits and coffee.” There was also sherry, Chateau Mont Brun white wine and Gazin red. After that there were toasts proposed to the King, Miss Gracie Fields, the Builders and the Company.
The ship Gracie Fields ran trials on 29th May 1936 and made her first trip for invited guests from Southampton towards the Nab Tower and St Catherine’s Point, with lunch included, on 9th June.
In 1938 she acquired a wheelhouse.
Designed for excursions, operating on the Southampton/Cowes ferry and for tender work to liners anchored in the Solent Gracie Fields had a pitifully short career of just four seasons of commercial operation. She was sunk on 29th May 1940 on the return leg of her second visit to the beaches of Dunkirk. More than 700 troops were evacuated onto the sloop Pangbourne after the air attack on her and she was taken in tow. However, she was badly damaged, continued to make water and eventually sank.
Tiny Point of Detail: The great lady herself, Gracie Fields, lived on the island of Capri off Naples. The great British composer Sir William Walton came to live on the nearby island of Ischia. Despite inhabiting very different musical worlds they nonetheless became close friends visiting each other’s homes regularly and enjoying a close rapport as two kindred spirits both born not far from each other in the county of Lancashire only four years apart. Sir William said that people thought that he must be rich to live on Ischia. In fact he lived there because property was cheap and as he said himself he could never have afforded a house on Capri like “Our Gracie”.
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 8th April 2021.