The Paddle Tug United Service was built in 1872 by Wodehouse of North Shields with the hull constructed from a combination of elm and oak strakes ranging in thickness from one and a half to six inches. The engine came from Scott of North Shields and, although originally non-condensing, was converted in 1889 when a new boiler, with a working pressure of 40psi, was fitted. United Service spent all her career based at Great Yarmouth originally working for the Star Company and, after its amalgamation with two other local owners in 1881, for their successor, the Great Yarmouth Steam Tug Co Ltd.
As well as harbour and ship towing duties, the United Service also undertook rescue and salvage work along the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts and regularly towed the Great Yarmouth rowing lifeboat out to casualties in the days before lifeboats were fitted with their own engines.
Perhaps most famously she rescued the Wilson liner Kolpina in 1903, the Submarine E11 in 1915, both of which had grounded on Scroby Sands, and the passenger cargo ship SS Adriatico which went on the Hasbro’ Sands in 1912. The latter incident is recorded in an excellent and atmospheric painting by Kenneth Luck (1874 – 1936) which shows the United Service as being one of six tugs involved in the rescue.
Like many tugs of her time, the United Service also took on a secondary role as an excursion steamer each summer. In an article in the November 1936 edition of “Ships & Ship Models” E G Lancaster recorded that she was the last vessel to run a passenger service between Cromer and Great Yarmouth in 1894 and that in 1936 she was still offering summer trips from Great Yarmouth to the St Nicholas Lightship. He went on to say “In spite of her age, the United Service is today as sound as the day she was built and stands as a lasting credit not only to her builders but to the many old Tyneside tug builders who, in their day, produced some of the finest paddle tugs.”
She was withdrawn and scrapped the following year.
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.