After the Second World War only two paddle steamers were ever based at Torquay: the Pride of Devon, seen here alongside Haldon Pier, in 1946,1947 and 1948 and the Princess Elizabeth in 1960 and 1961.
At 230ft in length, the Pride of Devon was much larger than the paddle steamers Duke and Duchess of Devonshire (pictured above) which had dominated the local scene from the 1890s through to the mid 1930s. This made her a bit of a handful both at Torquay and at Dartmouth and precluded her from the beach landings which had been at the heart of her predecessors’ schedules. Instead, Pride of Devon offered a combination of short and longer coastal cruises from Torquay towards Exmouth and Sidmouth, to Dartmouth and beyond to off Start Point.
By this stage in her career the Pride of Devon was quite a veteran having been built as the Walton Belle in 1897 by Denny of Dumbarton for Belle Steamers’ service from Great Yarmouth to Clacton connecting with the boat from London.
Called up by the military in the First World War she was first used as a minesweeper and later as a Hospital Ship before being decommissioned and sold to a Mr Kingsman who put her back into service on the Thames after the war. In 1926 she passed to the New Medway Steam Packet Company who renamed her Essex Queen and ran her mostly from Ramsgate and Margate to Southend, Clacton and Felixstowe although she was based, once again, at Great Yarmouth in 1937 and 1938.
After service in the Second World War as a PLA hospital ship she was bought by the South Western Steam Navigation Company who had high hopes of giving her a new future at Torquay as the Pride of Devon. But her impressive size meant that she was expensive to operate, particularly in comparison with the competition from the extensive fleet of small motor vessels with their tiny crews and minimal running costs which dominated the local Bay scene. And she was old and in much need of a re-build. Making her pay at Torquay was always going to be a struggle and so it turned out.
Pride of Devon’s master Captain George Fowle. In 1967 he re-surfaced as master of the Queen of the South on the Thames.
After just three seasons her owners could not afford to carry out the work required by the Board of Trade for the renewal of her Passenger Certificates in 1949, so that was that and Torquay lost their only recently acquired paddle steamer. Pride of Devon was towed to Grays in Essex and scrapped in 1951.
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.