Today the ferry from Southampton to the Isle of Wight takes us only to Cowes. In the 1930s, when these pictures were taken, and indeed right up to 1968, there were other exciting options during the summer season. The steamer notice listing “Southampton to Ryde, Southsea, Sandown, Shanklin, Ventnor and Round the Island” rings down the decades with its promise of a day out on the water along some of the UK’s finest coastal scenery to some of the UK’s best known resorts.
In the picture above the Princess Elizabeth (left) and the Lorna Doone are setting off 1930’s style from the Royal Pier Southampton for the Island whilst the paddle steamer Lord Elgin, which provided a daily cargo connection to Cowes, slumbers in the background.
The Princess Elizabeth made straight for Ryde and would spend the rest of this day shuttling passengers back and forth to Southampton.
On her way to Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor, the Lorna Doone has made a call at South Parade Pier Southsea to drop off some and pick up more passengers.
Meanwhile the larger excursion paddle steamer Balmoral, which had left Southampton earlier, is alongside at Sandown going “slow astern” to spring off and make her way on her day trip to somewhere else. If ever there was a long day trip to be had in the peak summer season to Cherbourg, or Weymouth or Round the Island, or wherever, then that was usually the Balmoral, the greyhound of the fleet.
Not far behind, the Lorna Doone has now reached Shanklin just down the bay from Sandown. Sadly this pier no longer exists. It was seriously damaged in the great storm of October 1987 and finally demolished in 1993.
After that the Lorna Doone called at Ventnor, the southern most pier on the Island and the most exposed with little shelter from any wind direction except the north. This pier has gone too. By 1981 it was in need of major repair. Fire further damaged it in 1985 and the whole thing was finally demolished in 1993.
Alternatively, if we had not had time to call at all those lovely piers along the Island coast then we could have come from Southampton straight to Cowes, just like today, although, on this day, we might have been a little bit disappointed to find that the ship on the service was not a paddle steamer but the 1931 built, Diesel powered, Medina seen in the middle of this picture alongside Fountain Pier pontoon at West Cowes.
But if that had not suited and had put us in a grump, then, as an alternative, we could have tried to scrounge a lift from Capt Joe Sewley on the cargo paddle steamer Lord Elgin to the East Cowes cargo terminal where she can be seen unloading in this picture, bottom right
Or we might have arrived at Victoria Pier (sticking out top) on one of the excursion paddle steamers making a fleeting call there en route from or to somewhere else.
But whatever paddle steamer (and let’s think of the Medina as an honorary paddle steamer here) we had boarded at Southampton or whatever pier we had arrived at on the Isle of Wight, it would not have mattered much. Because just being afloat and enjoying the day would have been the thing. “Southampton to Ryde, Southsea, Sandown, Shanklin, Ventnor and Round the Island” ringing down the decades may just be a list of names. But what a list! What names! And what promise they still conjure up of the excitement of a day out on the water along some of the UK’s finest coastal scenery to some of the UK’s best known resorts.
Tom White emailed to say:
It was interesting to read about the Red Funnel steamers in this April’s picture feature.
Having worked in the City for many years, I was interested to read the history of the PS Princess Elizabeth that was moored beside London Bridge for many years serving as a pub. I see that she is still extant and now moored at Dunkirk and can be seen on google maps:
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.