9th September 1950:
Royal Eagle

9th September 1950:
Royal Eagle
Royal Eagle deck view.

Saturday 9th September 1950 was scheduled to be the penultimate day in service of the 1950 season for Royal Eagle with a roster to leave Tower Pier (8.30am) for Greenwich (9am), Southend (11.30am) and Clacton (1.45pm) with return from Clacton (3.45pm) for Southend (5.50pm), Greenwich (8.30pm) and Tower Pier (9pm).

GSN leaflet for trips from London 1950.
Royal Eagle main dining saloon.

Dubbed “London’s Luxury Liner” Royal Eagle had the most comprehensive dining, catering and undercover facilities of pretty much any UK excursion paddle steamer ever built with high end facilities for providing for the inner needs of passengers with food, other drinks and booze. But even she could seat only 310 at any one time for a sit-down lunch or dinner which is only around 16% of her passenger capacity or 32% with two sittings for lunch.

That was ever a fundamental weakness in excursion paddle steamer design. They were just never built to provide anywhere near sufficient dining saloon facilities if everyone wanted to eat.

After the War in 1946 Royal Eagle returned to the route for which she was built in 1932 from London to Margate and Ramsgate.

In 1949 she was joined by the newly built twin screw motor vessel Royal Sovereign. However it turned out that there was not sufficient business to justify a two ship service so for 1950 she was transferred for the first time in her career onto the London to Clacton run leaving Royal Sovereign to continue to operate to the Kent Coast.

Queen of the Channel 1949.

For 1950 the newly built Queen of the Channel was rostered to run trips to view the French Coast from Ramsgate which were a stop gap to replace the pre-war landing cruises to the French ports which were rostered on account of the Government’s refusal to allow no-passport trips at this time.

These excursions did not meet expectations with passengers not that keen on spending the whole day aboard a ship with no real views to speak of and without the opportunity to go ashore in a foreign land so from 10th August Queen of the Channel was transferred to take over the Clacton run from Royal Eagle which was withdrawn never to sail again.

Royal Eagle in Whitewall Creek.

So on Saturday 9th September 1950 rather steaming down the Thames to Clacton as originally planned on the penultimate day of her 1950 season Royal Eagle had already been laid up for a month and was lying idle with her boiler blown down in Whitewall Creek on the River Medway.

She lay there for the next couple of years and was finally scrapped in 1953 having notched up just 13 seasons of passenger carrying operation. That’s like from 2008 – 2020. Shocking really.

Tiny Point of Detail: Whitewall Creek remains today next to the Medway Tunnel although it is now very silted up and could no longer accommodate a paddle steamer of the size of Royal Eagle. There was also a lot of in-filling of the adjacent marshland in the 1980s to provide a more solid base for the commercial development of what became known as the Medway City Estate. This required lots of new roads to be built and one of them is called Royal Eagle Close commemorating the name of the mighty Thames paddle steamer which spent her last couple of years laid up in the adjacent creek.

Nor is this the only road named after a paddle steamer in the vicinity. Adjacent to Strood Pier a new housing development built in the 1990s required a new road which was named Kingswear Gardens after KC which at that stage regularly called at Strood Pier.

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 9th September 2020.