April 2011:
Paddle Steamer Cotton Blossom

April 2011:
Paddle Steamer Cotton Blossom

Browsing through a copy of the magazine “Ships and Ship Models” for April 1936 I came across an article on a paddle steamer I had never heard of before, the delightful, baby sized Cotton Blossom. An odd and idiosyncratic name to choose for a boat I thought until someone pointed out to me that Cotton Blossom is the riverboat star of Jerome Kern’s 1927 hit musical “Showboat”. Not quite so odd at all then but actually quite apt!

Built in Eastbourne in 1935 to accommodate twenty five passengers this Cotton Blossom was thirty feet long and powered by a high pressure water tube boiler providing steam to a “White” motor-car engine. Her service was the fifteen minute trip on the tiny river connecting Exceat and Cuckmere Haven in Sussex, a beauty spot half way between Newhaven and Beachy Head. The fare was 6d each way and, according to the article, the combined captain and chief engineer was always “only too pleased to show passengers how the wheels go round”.

Does anyone out there remember this little steamer? Does anyone recall having a trip on her? And what happened to her in the end?

The 1960s saw another attempt to revive the small inland waterway paddler when Lt Cdr Wray-Bliss put together the Diesel-hydraulic Charlotte Dundas for service on the Kennet and Avon canal between Bath Top Lock and Bathampton.

This was such a success that, in 1968, he replaced her with an improved version which he called the Jane Austen.

I am afraid that I do not know the ultimate fate of these two novelties either. Can anyone help me out?

Chris Jones wrote:

I’ve had a look around for Jane Austen but not come across her yet. Talking to a few people they remember her, as I do, as a houseboat in Bristol City Docks in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The Marine Manager at City Docks remembers her paddling around the docks every so often! Think I’m going to have to walk the canal from Bristol to Bath next to see if she’s hiding somewhere.

Andrew Jones wrote on 17th March 2018:

I stumbled across your website during a search for images for the Charlotte Dundas. I appreciate that you were asking sometime ago (2011) & you may have had an update re her location. The boat spent her days moored at the Barge Inn at Honeystreet, on the Kennet & Avon. That was in the mid 70’s.

As kids we used to play on it & I don’t recall really ever seeing it move. At the time there was a lot of promise about the Kennet & Avon being renovated and opened up (as it is today). But back then there was very little use of the waterway.

I think the last time I saw her was probably in the early 80’s but she was falling into ruin. After that I’m not sure what happened to her. The area is now v popular with plenty of narrow boats moored at the Barge.

Lovely area to grow up in & well worth a visit – stunning views to be had of the Pewsey Vale from the nearby Marlborough Downs.

Hope this is of interest?

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