In 1960 there were still eleven paddle steamers operating on the South Coast; Compton Castle, Consul, Embassy, Kingswear Castle, Monarch, Princess Elizabeth, Ryde, Sandown, Totnes Castle, Sussex Queen and Whippingham. Let’s take a look at where they all were and what what they were all doing on Thursday 9th June.
Princess Elizabeth was scheduled to run a day trip leaving Torquay at 10am along the Devon Coast to Plymouth where she was due to arrive at 2.30pm and leave again for the return trip at 3.45pm due back in Torquay at 8pm. She had vacated her berth alongside Haldon Pier the previous night after her evening cruise and moved to overnight at Brixham to leave Haldon Pier clear for the Weymouth mailboat which was due in first thing on the Thursday morning to offer a day trip to Guernsey.
The Lizzie left Brixham at 9.10am for Torquay the following morning where she arrived at 10.10am, after the mailboat had set off, to collect her Plymouth passengers. However, of these there were few waiting with the overwhelming majority of intending day trippers that day having opted for the Channel Island trip instead. So the Lizzie spent the day alongside doing nothing and waiting to run her scheduled evening cruise around Torbay on which she set off at 8.26pm and returned at 9.45pm after the mailboat had called once again to unload her day trip passengers from Guernsey.
Portland and Weymouth
Embassy was not due to start her summer season at Bournemouth until the weekend 2nd/3rd July and on this date was about to come off the Admiralty slipway at Portland where she was for her annual refit and survey. In previous years she had gone to Southampton to share one of the larger drydocks there with Monarch but for 1960 both ships went to this local shipyard close to their winter berths at Weymouth instead. It came as a complete surprise to my nine year old looking out from my bedroom window one morning and seeing Monarch crossing to Portland so early in the season in April. “Where is she going? ” I thought. It didn’t take long to find out.
Om 9th June Consul was timetabled to make a double run to Lulworth Cove from Weymouth, once in the morning at 10.30am back at 12.30pm and then again in the afternoon at 3pm giving one hour ashore and returning to Weymouth at 6pm. In-between was a one hour “Cruise Round HM Ships and Merchant Shipping in Portland Harbour” at 2pm.
Poole, Swanage and Bournemouth
Monarch was scheduled to leave Poole Quay around 9.15am for Bournemouth spending the day running backwards and forwards to Swanage with departures from Bournemouth at 10.45am, 2.30pm, 4.15pm and 6pm and from Swanage at 11.30am, 3.15pm and 5pm with the final one at 6.45pm taking her back to Poole direct for arrival around 7.45pm.
Also in Poole on this day was the Sussex Queen ex Freshwater which made a call there on her way from Topsham on the River Exe to Newhaven to take on more coal.
At Portsmouth in 1960 there were still three paddle steamers Ryde, Sandown and Whippingham available to augment the Portsmouth Ryde ferry service which was most usually provided by the twin screw Brading, Southsea, and Shanklin.
One or other of Ryde or Sandown usually provided the summer tripping service between Southsea and Ryde with the other lying over at Portsmouth as spare boat and swapping over week about.
All three paddle steamers, including Whippingham, usually piled in on the ferry service on peak summer Saturdays where the latter’s vast size and passenger capacity was useful for shifting the crowds and keeping the queues down. For the overwhelming majority of the time the Portsmouth/Ryde service required just two ships to run it. On really busy holiday Saturdays the numbers wishing to travel were still so high in 1960 that it needed six. That is a difficult circle to square for any management.
Afternoon excursions from Portsmouth, Southsea and Ryde were offered up Southampton Water to view the docks during the summer and to provide other work for at least one of these spare boats but these were generally taken by one of the three diesel vessels.
In 1960 editor of Paddle Wheels Tony McGinnity interviewed a “senior official of the Shipping Manager’s Department at Portsmouth” who described Whippingham as “an enormous white elephant” with disproportionately high running costs. When asked why Whippingham was not rostered for the dock cruises instead of lying at Portsmouth doing nothing most days he replied that she cost upwards of £120 (£2,826 today) in fuel for the afternoon cruise due to the then high cost of coal and her heavy consumption where one of the twin screw vessels could do the same trip for just £25 (£589 today) as diesel was then so cheap.
Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings
On Thursday 9th June 1960 Sussex Queen was scheduled to be away from Newhaven at 8.30am for Eastbourne 10.15am and Hastings 11.20am and then back to Eastbourne 12.25pm once again for Hastings 1.45pm and Eastbourne 2.50pm for a single trip to Brighton from where she as due to run a Channel Cruise at 4.30pm back 6pm and then return to overnight at Newhaven. So that is two round trips between Eastbourne and Hastings, a single trip from Eastbourne to Brighton and a Channel Cruise in the late afternoon from Brighton.
However none of these trips ever happened. As we have already seen on this day Sussex Queen was in Poole taking on coal on her way from the River Exe to Newhaven. It would not be until the end of June that she started to run any trips carrying passengers on the Sussex Coast.
The three River Dart paddle steamers Compton Castle, Kingswear Castle and Totnes Castle ran their services up and down the Dart according to the tide and demand. On some days only one might be rostered. On others all three might be in service enabling them to carry a combined total capacity of well over a thousand passengers at any one time.
I don’t have here in my collection a River Dart steamer notice for 1960 but I do have the one for 1959. I see from that that on 9th June that year the paddle steamers were scheduled to leave Dartmouth at 8.45am and 9.30am returning from Totnes at 10.30am and 11.30am. There was another round trip in the afternoon leaving Dartmouth at 4.15pm and Totnes at 6.15pm.
So there we have it. That is a snapshot of the eleven South Coast paddle steamers on one particular day in June more than sixty years ago.
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 9th June 2021.