August 2008:
Paddle Steamer Sailings from Bournemouth, Swanage and Weymouth August 1960

August 2008:
Paddle Steamer Sailings from Bournemouth, Swanage and Weymouth August 1960

August 1960 would have provided quite a feast for anyone wishing to take a paddle steamer trip from Bournemouth, Swanage or Weymouth. Cosens and Company was still very much in business as an excursions steamer operator with their Embassy (top picture leaving Bournemouth Pier) and Monarch (middle picture approaching the pier) both running daily from Bournemouth and Swanage and the Consul (bottom picture and on the far side of the pier in the top) based at Weymouth but visiting her consorts at Bournemouth once or twice a week.

The Consul had the most varied schedule of the three. In this August week on Tuesday 2nd and Thursday 4th she sailed along the lovely Dorset Coast (in the days before it was rebranded with the hideous moniker “Jurassic Coast”) to Swanage and Bournemouth. On Wednesday 3rd and Friday 5th there were two round trips to Lulworth Cove offering either all day ashore, a morning cruise round trip or one hour on the beach in the afternoon. On other days there were tea cruises towards the Bill of Portland or the Shambles Lightship plus the ubiquitous one hour cruise “Round HM Ships and Merchant Shipping in Portland Harbour” at 2pm or 2.15pm wherever it could be fitted in. The evenings were not missed out either with the Consul offering a “Jazz Jamboree” on Sunday, Grand Illumination Cruises on Monday and Tuesday and Special Evening Cruises on Wednesday and Thursday.

Monday August 1st was a Bank Holiday so a very unusual schedule was offered as Weymouth was expected to be heaving with people gagging for a paddle steamer trip. There was a morning cruise, four trips around the warships in Portland Harbour in the afternoon, a “Special Evening Cruise to the Shambles Lightship” at 6pm before the “Grand Illumination Cruise” at 8pm. It was a busy week although it was without the very long sailing to Swanage and Totland Bay on the Isle of Wight which was fitted in on alternate Fridays in the peak weeks when the tide suited.

The Consul was not missed out of the Bournemouth roster either. On arriving on Tuesday 2nd and Thursday 4th she was programmed for a 2.30pm “Cruise Towards the Needles Lighthouse (Isle of Wight)” before setting off back for Weymouth at 4pm.

The least interesting schedule was operated by the Monarch which basically ran backwards and forwards between Bournemouth and Swanage. Her day started at Poole Quay at about 8am or 9am depending on whether she was going directly to Bournemouth or via Swanage and ended between 8pm and 11.30pm according to what was scheduled for the evening. There was an “Evening Cruise towards the Needles Lighthouse” on Wednesday which meant a return to Poole at 10.30m and a “Late Night New Orleans Jazz Cruise” on Friday with a return time to Poole of 11.30pm.

At this time of the season the Embassy took all of the Isle of Wight sailings which generally took the format of a morning and afternoon return trip from Bournemouth to either Totland Bay or Yarmouth which also offered the possibility of having whole day on the island which could be combined with a coach tour. This was Cowes week so on Tuesday 2nd and Wednesday 3rd Embassy continued on up the Solent to have a look at the Royal Yacht Britannia at Cowes and the sailing festivities possibly featuring the Duke of Edinburgh.

Like the Monarch, the Embassy was away from Poole Quay in the morning between 8am and 9am and not back before 8pm to 11.30pm. Her latest night was on Thursday 4th when she was scheduled for a “Showboat Cruise” which advertised “All the thrills and fun of a night club at sea. Dancing on the deck and continuous fun below”! None of Cosens’ steamers were gifted with much undercover accommodation, so dancing on deck must have been interesting both for the band and dancers if it rained.

The Consul had the longest season in 1960 of one hundred and two operating days starting on Saturday 4th June and finishing on Thursday 15th September. She was scheduled to run every single day in that period with no days off at all although wind and rain could and did lead to cancellations giving unplanned time off.

The Monarch ran on around ninety five operating days starting at Bournemouth on Tuesday 31st May and finishing on Thursday 8th September.

Shortest of all was for the Embassy which ran on around seventy six days starting on Sunday 3rd July and finishing on Friday 23rd September.

Unlike the Consul, the Embassy and Monarch did have occasional planned days off. On Saturdays in July and August there was a one ship service running between Bournemouth and Swanage and the two steamers shared this thereby gaining alternate Saturdays off, a total of four days off in the summer season.

Cosens had no relief captains. For 1960 Capt Defrates (pictured above on the bridge of the Monarch) was on the Monarch from start to finish for the whole season as was Capt Haines on the Embassy and the newly promoted Capt Iliffe on the Consul.

These were long days and weeks for the crews and doubtless would have contravened present day Hours of Work Regulations but captains thought nothing of it then and managed very well. The ships were run to a very high standard and Cosens’ safety record was exemplary. That was the business. That is how it was. And if the steamers did not pack in enough money in those few and precious peak weeks of the school holidays from mid July to the end of August by intensive working then they could not be financed and therefore they could not be run.

And there was always a long winter ahead from September through to May with the steamers laid up in the Backwater at Weymouth quietly snoozing and the captains taking life at a bit easier too.

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