Plus ça Change?

Plus ça Change?
Balmoral dredging her anchor as she proceeds astern into Weymouth Backwater, Tuesday 4th February 1964.

Browsing through old Paddle Wheels, as I often do, I came across a fascinating spat between the P & A Campbell management and the PSPS in the late 1960s and 1970s which continued after Campbells acquired Balmoral in 1969 and the PSPS, and subsequently the CCA, chartered her from time to time to do unusual things, like sailing around the Isle of Wight at the start of the season before her Bristol Channel sailings began.

This involved P & A Campbell putting themselves out to make the ship available just after her refit was completed and therefore with some things perhaps not quite in apple pie order. This led to some criticisms being made of the company and catering aboard Balmoral which reflected the difficulty of providing good meals on a ship away from her base, with limited food preparation facilities and with a seasonal crew. Of course all managements want to employ good staff but sometimes quality employees are hard to source to live aboard a ship with poor crew accommodation and sometimes you just have to make do with what you can get, with the right certificates, if the ship is to sail at all. This criticism rather nettled P & A Campbell’s Managing Director Clifton Smith-Cox who wrote to Paddle Wheels in the summer of 1976 defending his company and his ship.

Back in 1968 there were criticisms made of the Campbell management in Paddle Wheels including their views on steam versus diesel which led their Traffic Manager, Mr J H Guy to write the following letter which was published in issue 34 of Paddle Wheels in August 1968. I have replaced the PSPS member referred to with an “X”:


I read with interest one letter and one article in your May journal.

The letter was from Mr X regarding the relative costs of diesel and steam driven vessels. I was quite entertained by Mr X’s observation that our managing director (Clifton Smith-Cox) was talking pure nonsense. If such is the case I feel it a great tragedy that this particular industry of running passenger ships has not had the benefit of Mr X’s experience in an executive capacity in recent years. No doubt if he has the knowledge which he appears to claim this would have been invaluable and one or more Companies who do not now run passenger ships might well have been still doing so.

I of course inevitably read your Journal with great interest but am sometimes tempted to wonder whether some of your correspondents who appear to know all the answers think that everybody in the industry is crackers.

J H Guy
Traffic Manager P & A Campbell August 1968

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 12th February 2019.