October 2012:
Paddle Steamers at Weymouth in 1949

October 2012:
Paddle Steamers at Weymouth in 1949

1949 was the apotheosis of post-war paddle steamer excursions from Weymouth with no less than four steamers based at the port in the peak weeks (from left to right in the picture above: Consul, Embassy, Victoria and Empress) with a fifth, the palatial Emperor of India, visiting from time to time and offering a one hour cruise “Round HM Ships and Merchant Shipping in Portland Harbour”, and a sixth, the twin funnelled Monarch, returning in the autumn to lay up for the winter. Never again would there be such a concentration of paddle steamers at or such a diversity of regular trips from Weymouth.

Chief excitement of the season was the return to service of the Consul, pictured here sometime between 1954 and 1956, going astern out of Bournemouth Pier with the bow of the Emperor of India in the background. She had been returned to Cosens after war service in very poor condition and it had been touch and go as to whether she would be rebuilt or scrapped. Indeed Cosens even looked at the possibility of taking her engine out and putting it into a newly built hull. However, that was not to be and, the last in line for refurbishment, Consul eventually came out again in 1949.

Note in this picture that the house flag and name pennant are being hauled down. Cosens were ever parsimonious. Flags cost money. Flags wear out so everything apart from the red ensign and pilot flag came down as the paddlers left the piers only to go up again just as they were arriving. The red ensigns and pilots flags were looked after as well. They were worn only when the steamers were in service and came down straight away just as soon as the days’ sailings were done.

Consul’s first day trip was scheduled for Whit-Monday June 6th leaving Weymouth at 10.15am for Bournemouth, due back 7.45pm. It was unusual for the Weymouth listings to say which ship was running which trip, although those in the know would have had a good idea, but on this day “PS Consul” got star billing on the steamer notices. The return to service of a newly refurbished paddle steamer was worth highlighting.

Towards the end of June the Emperor of India, which because of her vast size and commensurate running costs always had the shortest season of any of the paddlers, started her season at Bournemouth releasing the Embassy (pictured here arriving at Weymouth) to return to Weymouth to become the long distance and “special” steamer for the peak weeks.

Here she is on Tuesday June 28th being advertised for a “Special Tea Cruise by PS Embassy To the Bill of Portland”. The rostering is not given elsewhere but, for example, on Wednesday June 29th, it is likely that the 9.30am to Swanage would have been taken by the Consul with the Embassy setting off at 10am for Yarmouth (Isle of Wight) with the local trips to Lulworth Cove, Portland Harbour and the Bill of Portland in the hands of the Empress and Victoria.

In this season of exceptional paddle steamer activity at Weymouth, the Embassy revived occasional, very long day trips to destinations which had previously been dropped including to Torquay on Tuesday June 7th, Thursday July 7th, Tuesday July 12th and Wednesday August 10th (one of these may have been made by the Consul, does anybody know?); to Shanklin (Isle of Wight) on Sunday July 17th; and on alternate Sundays from July 31st through August, to Cowes.

It was a summer of unusually fine weather with loads of sunshine and balmy days and, having opened on Monday May 9th with an afternoon cruise to the Bill of Portland, the season went right on into October, the last trip being scheduled for Sunday 9th October, an afternoon cruise giving one hour ashore at Lulworth Cove.

After that it was down hill all the way not helped by indifferent and mixed weather for most of the 1950s. The next really baking summer did not come until 1959 by which time paddle steamer services had reduced dramatically.

The Monarch was scrapped due to her age and condition after the 1949 season so, for 1950, the Embassy returned to Bournemouth to take her place for the whole summer and Weymouth lost its largest, fastest and best appointed paddler. And, following a fire on the Solent Queen at Southampton, the Consul was also based at Bournemouth for much of 1951 and 1952 leaving Weymouth a two paddle steamer port with the long distance trips to Swanage, Bournemouth and the Isle of Wight, which had been undertaken so elegantly by the much more commodious Embassy in 1949, in the hands of the diminutive and rather spartan Victoria, (pictured above) a paddle steamer with limited under cover accommodation, seen here arriving at Bournemouth in 1952. Day trips from Weymouth to Torquay, Shanklin and Cowes had now been consigned to history.

The Victoria was scrapped after the 1952 season leaving just the Empress (pictured above) and Consul now returned to Weymouth. The Empress went in 1955 so after that just the one paddler, the Consul, had to try to cover the services which, just seven years earlier, had boasted a fleet of four home based, plus one visiting, paddle steamers. A speedy and sad decline which came to a grand finale for Cosens at Weymouth in 1962 and for regular paddle steamers at the port in 1965.

But for all who were around at the time (and sadly that does not include me as I had yet to my make my appearance in the world), and for all who lie awake at night dreaming of paddle steamers (which does include me), 1949 was a year to conjure with, a sugar plum pudding of wondrous paddle steamer delights the like of which was never again to be seen at Weymouth.