In a harbour where the water comes up towards and occasionally over the top of a quay at high tide there is a risk that any ship with anything sticking out from its side will get hooked up at high water and then find itself stuck as the tide drops away. Of all ships, paddle steamers have a particular problem with their large sponsons protruding on each side so, to solve this, tall riding posts which extended above the level of the quay were often fitted in harbours much used by paddle steamers. As Weymouth was the base for Cosens & Co and was the port where they and sometimes others laid up their paddlers in the winter, it is not surprising that the harbour there had such posts fitted along its length with even larger posts (pictured above) in positions where each paddle steamer sponson might be berthed. What is surprising is that these riding posts remain in place to this day despite no paddle steamer having wintered in Weymouth for thirty seven years.
The same view in March 2005 and…
…in January 1961 with Cosens’ Monarch alongside shortly before her departure to the ship-breakers in Cork. A small flood barrier has now been installed along the edge of the quay but the same riding posts and the same bollards for mooring the paddle steamers are still there. As you can see the Monarch’s sponson is getting quite close to the top of the quay in this picture even though it was not taken at the top of the highest of tides. There were occasions when the sponson could be a foot or more above quay level.
The same view in March 2005 and…
…in the winter of 1966/67. The paddle box of the Princess Elizabeth (in the same berth as the Monarch in the picture above this) is on the right and the Cosens paddle steamer Embassy is laid up astern of her.
Despite the provision of these riding posts paddlers occasionally did get caught up. Just prior to leaving Weymouth for the last time in 1968, a crew unfamiliar with paddle steamer ways singled up the Princess Elizabeth and removed the head rope which was keeping the bow in and therefore holding the aft end of the starboard sponson off the small post which does not extend above the quay visible in the picture on the right above just this side of the mooring bollard. Life being what it is, there was a very high tide that day. Sure enough, as the tide fell away the sponson got hooked up and by lunchtime the Lizzy was hanging off the quay at a crazy angle. Fortunately the situation was solved by former Cosens Chief Engineer Bob Wills who improvised a huge pole with a rope attached which he inserted between the sponson and the quay to lever the paddler off. The wave which this produced across the harbour as the Princess Elizabeth slid back into the water was somewhat large.
The same view taken from the Weymouth Town Bridge in March 2005 and…
…in the spring of 1949 with the Consul just completing her post war refit. Times have changed. The large warehouse has been demolished and replaced by a modern building. Double yellow lines have appeared on the quay. Fishing boats are sleekly modern. The edge of the quay has been raised. Consul has gone and become just a distant memory. But the riding posts and the bollards which served her and other paddlers live on providing a glorious reminder of their important past role.
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.