The paddle steamer Bristol Queen was launched at 2.30pm on Thursday 4th April 1946 at the Bristol yard of Charles Hill & Sons by the Lady Mayoress of Bristol, Mrs James Owen, for P & A Campbell’s excursion services. Just a little short of 1,000GRT and 258ft in length overall, Bristol Queen was a big excursion paddle steamer specifically designed for the potential hurly burley of the Bristol Channel services with a specially built model of her hull having been tested for a spectrum of simulated sea conditions from calm through to very rough at the National Physical Laboratory at Teddington.
With work completed on fitting her out by early September, Bristol Queen set off down the Avon from Bristol for the first time on the afternoon of Saturday 7th September 1946 under the command of Capt J A Harris initially for compass adjustment off Avonmouth where she ended the day at half past six. The following morning she set off for trials around 11am but did not get very far calling for tug assistance within half an hour of departure to tow her back to Avonmouth. Whatever had gone wrong on the Sunday had been fixed by the Monday so she set off from Avonmouth under her own power for trials shortly after 10am completing a circuit of the Breaksea Light vessel off Barry before anchoring for a couple of hours in the afternoon off Walton Bay, Clevedon. She weighed anchor at 5.30pm for the run back up the Avon to Bristol where she arrived around 9pm. Her first public sailing was the following weekend with a run away from Bristol just after 9am down Channel to Ilfracombe on Saturday 14th September. and she made her last trip of the season on Sunday 6th October.
Looking back Bristol Queen had a pitifully short career for such a magnificent paddle steamer purpose built for sea-going work in the coastal excursion trade. Paddle wheel failure on 27th August 1967 led to her withdrawal from service and she was sold for scrapping in Belgium the following March. So that is a total career of just 22 years. Given that she sailed for less than a month in 1946 and that she was out of service for the 1959 and 1960 seasons at the height of Campbell’s financial woes when she was replaced by the much older, but smaller and therefore more economical, Glen Usk, she clocked up only 19 operational seasons. That’s like saying a paddle steamer built as recently as 2001 was to be scrapped today. Shocking really.
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.