August 2020:
Paddle Steamer Consul 1962

August 2020:
Paddle Steamer Consul 1962
Consul arriving at Weymouth around 5pm one afternoon towards the end of the 1962 season. Counting the heads I reckon Consul had about 50 passengers aboard on this trip barely sufficient to cover the cost of the fuel and the wages.

1962 was the last season that Cosens based a paddle steamer at Weymouth and, as usual, this was their Consul. I was eleven in 1962 and pretty much obsessed by paddle steamers. Dad had become a member of the PSPS in September 1960 on my prompting aboard Monarch and in 1962 I became a member in my own right. I had built a replica bridge of Consul in our back garden complete with a telegraph I bought cheap from a local ship chandler. Unfailingly I cycled around Weymouth Harbour on my way home from school every day spring, summer, autumn and winter to gawp at the paddle steamers either laid up there or in summer operating. I assiduously collected steamer notices from paddle steamers nationwide. And I travelled on Consul frequently. By 1962 my parents got so fed up with having to accompany me so often they decided to let me go for trips on my own giving me the money to buy my own ticket and travel alone.

in previous years it had been the general pattern for Consul to run morning, afternoon and evening cruises from Weymouth most days with in the peak weeks one or two trips scheduled for Swanage and Bournemouth each week and occasionally to Totland Bay, Isle of Wight. For 1962 this changed with the day trips abandoned leaving Consul to spend the whole summer sailing only in Weymouth Bay.

This had its origins in a issue with her hull which came to light in March. I have a very clear recollection of cycling home from school on the day Consul came off the slipway that year and noticing that her green boot topping aft was underwater. My first thought was that it had been painted in wrongly but no, Consul was making water, was starting to sink and had to be hauled out again.

Fast forward to 1982 when I was running the passenger vessel Solent Queen from Weymouth and the surveyor who came down to issue the Load Line Exemption for the voyage from Southampton to Weymouth turned out to be Len Mutton who had been the Board of Trade surveyor dealing with Consul in 1962/63. He remembered the issues with Consul and her hull and said he had told Cosens that for the next refit in 1963 all the ballast and cement wash in the bilges must come out for survey. In the meantime, and with the leak plugged, for the summer of 1962 the Board of Trade issued only a limited Class III Passenger Certificate to Consul which restricted her to sailing only within an area bounded by Lulworth Cove and Portland Bill. So gone was the opportunity to sail to Swanage and Bournemouth or Totland Bay Isle of Wight.

By that stage in the run up to the 1962 season Cosens already had a charter to the Exide Battery Convention in the diary from Bournemouth on the afternoon of Wednesday 20th June for Consul which was supposed to coincide with her first visit of the season to Bournemouth. So in a spirit of helpfulness Len Mutton issued a one-off exemption for that day only to sail to Swanage and Bournemouth. As it turned out the weather on Wednesday 20th June was terrible with strong winds and heavy rain so the trip was cancelled and Consul never did sail outside Weymouth Bay in the 1962 season.

So what did she do that summer?. Well my eleven year old self was aboard at least once a week and sometimes more often than that so to give you a flavour of her sailings that season these are the trips which I made on Consul in 1962.

Part of the steamer notice number 1 for the 1962 season.

Saturday 9th June: This was the first day of the season and, as it was an evening cruise, Dad came with me. It was the first evening cruise I had ever been on although I was sort of familiar with them as our house overlooked Portland Harbour and Consul sailed in close to Sandsfoot Castle so I watched her pass by from my bedroom window on evenings when she had a jazz band aboard entertaining the passengers. On this day we were away from the Pleasure Pier at 8.15pm for a “Grand Evening Cruise with Fun and Games” organised as a fund raising event by the League of Friends of Weymouth and Portland Hospitals. I had never been aboard a paddle steamer offering “Fun and Games” before and can’t say that it was quite my scene. There was a commentator up on the bridge jollying everyone along and asking for participants for the organised games which Dad and I avoided. I remember the commentator asking if there was anyone aboard who fell into certain categories. For example “Do we have any milkmen aboard”. That sort of thing with the most bizarre request to my young ears being to put our hands up if we had ever been to a borstal. “Come on” he said “There must be plenty of you here who have”. Even to my eleven year old self this did not come across to me as a formula to win over an audience. One point of detail I remember from that evening was that having left the pier Captain Iliffe rang “Slow Ahead” on the telegraph and there the pointer remained on the dial for the whole cruise. We weren’t going anywhere. We had plenty of time to kill so why waste fuel? Consul returned to the Pleasure Pier at 10.30pm and Dad and I made off home.

Consul leaving Castletown.

Sunday 10th June: Dad and I were aboard again the following day for the 1pm departure from the Pleasure Pier for the half hour run to the stone jetty at Castletown for Portland Navy Days on a very crowded Consul. Having brought passenger across on the hour every hour, the queues to go back again were vast and it was not until the 6.30pm departure from Castletown that Dad and I managed to get aboard for arrival in Weymouth at 7pm.

Consul’s aft capstan with the Lulworth mooring ropes either side. This capstan always seemed to me to be a bit too big for Consul.

Wednesday 13th June: Three days later I was back aboard again, this time without Dad, for the morning cruise to Lulworth Cove away from Weymouth at 10.30am and into the Cove about 11.20am where Consul put her bow up onto the beach and took mooring lines attached to already laid anchors to hold her stern in place. We backed out at 11.30am and were in Weymouth at 12.30pm.

Aboard Consul 1962.

Sunday 17th June: I was aboard again for the 3pm departure for the “Tea Cruise to the Bill of Portland” passing Pennsylvania Cove and Castle, Lighthouse, Pulpit Rock, etc”. This cruise came close to the Portland Race which at its most vicious is one of the nastiest bits of water on the South Coast. I remember it being in fairly docile form as we approached it this afternoon but as we came up to the Bill one of the difficulties for Captain iliffe was avoiding all the little marker buoys for the lobster and crab pots which just seemed to be everywhere. We were back at the Pleasure pier at 4.45pm.

Postcards of the Shambles Lightship were available for sale on Consul.

Sunday 24th June: I went with Dad for this trip leaving Weymouth at 3pm for the “Tea Cruise to the Shambles Lightship in the English Channel with Newspapers, Magazines etc welcome aboard the lightship”. On the way out one of the small number of catering staff walked round the deck with a tray hanging around his neck from a strap rather like the sort used by usherettes in cinemas. This contained newspapers, chocolates and sweets which passengers could buy and then donate to the lightship crew. Consul didn’t tie up to the lightship but put her bow up towards the lightship’s stern and transferred the gifts in a net attached to a long pole rather like a giant shrimping net. The lightship crew reciprocated with handling back a few freshly caught fish. Then Captain Iliffe rang “Full Astern”. We backed off and returned to Weymouth at 5pm.

Consul’s bridge spring 1963. The brown tank on the right contains reagents for making foam in case of a fire in the boiler room. Note the brass bridge handrail which has been greased and encased in sacking for the winter.

Sunday 1st July: I was aboard on my own for the 3pm departure for the “Cruise across Weymouth Bay to Osmington, Ringstead and towards Lulworth Cove and thence to Portland Harbour to view HM Ships and Merchant Shipping”. I liked this cruise as you saw some of the Dorset Coast and then ended up looking at whatever ships were in Portland Harbour. On this day I see from my notes that I splashed out and bought a fresh crab sandwich made by the nice lady who assisted Mr Lloyd Worth with the catering. He ran a pub on Portland but also had the contract to provide catering on Consul at this time offering hot and cold drinks and other light refreshments.

Consul’s engine.

Sunday 8th July: On this day I opted for the shorter one hour “Cruise Round HM Ships and Merchant Shipping in Portland Harbour” which got back about 2.50pm. I liked watching what was going on in the engine room which, along with Consul’s engine, was not that big even though it looked big to me at the time. And as an indication of it size, the telegraph was on the forrard bulkhead with the engineer on the platform at the other end of the engine room and he had no difficulty reading it. Chadburn telegraphs like this were designed to have one ding per engine movement but if the wires connecting up to the bridge became a bit slack, as they do, then the pointer can lag a little behind the captain’s instruction on the bridge. That is why traditionally captains were discouraged from moving the telegraph through only one order at a time. So if they wanted to move from, say, slow to half then they were encouraged to pull the handle to full and then back to half again so the handle on the bridge dragged its accompanying pointer in the engine room with it through a greater arc and so made sure that the bell rang. Like all Cosens captains Captain iliffe usually did that but I recall one occasion when I was watching when we were almost tied up. The telegraph had been put on stop after full astern but the pointer was towards the finished with engines side of of the stop section. Captain Iliffe moved the telegraph to slow astern with the pointer only going as far as the finished with engines side of the slow astern slot and the bell didn’t ring. I noticed that the pointer had moved but Cyril Julian, the engineer, hadn’t heard anything and seemed oblivious. If I had been older and more assertive I might have shouted over to him that the telegraph had moved onto slow astern but being eleven and somewhat shy did nothing. It didn’t matter as not getting the engine movement he had asked for Captain Iliffe gave a bigger jangle for slow astern, Cyril Julian noticed and gave the movement. Like KC Consul had a wheel for the steam with four other levers, one for ahead or astern so changing the valves settings, one for the impulse valve to put steam into the low pressure cylinder if the engine got stuck and two more for the cylinder/valve drains. Consul’s telegraph on the forrard bulkhead of the engine room had another telegraph attached to it on the other side of the bulkhead in the boiler room so that the man firing the boiler would know what was going on and could damp or stoke the boiler according to need for steam.

Sunday 15th July: Consul was rostered today for another 3pm “Tea Cruise to the Bill of Portland”. Portland is such a bleak and odd place like a giant wedge of cheese tall and domineering in the north and tapering down to almost nothing at its southern tip at the Bill. That sense of bleakness is increased by the scarcity of trees on the island except in a few locations like around Pennsylvania Cove and Castle which I feel has a sort of magical ambience to it. There were just as many crab and lobster pot buoys as on the last trip I took to the Bill and some so densely packed together that they were so hard to avoid. I remember Captain Defrates telling me of an occasion in earlier years on Consul when he had rung “Full Astern” when berthing at the Pleasure Pier and had noticed a number of crab pots coming out from the starboard paddle wheel which he had wound up off the bottom at portland Bill. On this day we were back to the Pleasure Pier at 4.45pm and on going full astern no pots emerged.

Saturday 28th July: In the early part of the season Saturdays were off days for Consul but now in the peak weeks she was out seven days a week to try to pack in the revenue. Today we left at 3,15pm for another “Cruise across Weymouth Bay to Osmington, Ringstead and towards Lulworth Cove and thence to Portland Harbour to view “HM Ships and Merchant Shipping” back at 4.45pm. So this was now just an hour and a half rather than a two hour cruise.

My Auntie Mary is the seated lady furthest forrard on the starboard side.

Monday 30th July: On this day I dragged my Auntie Mary along with me on the morning cruise to Lulworth Cove away from Weymouth 10.30am. Although we were now in the peak summer school holidays, and although on this day the weather was idyllic with sunshine and little wind, passenger numbers were poor with us loading only about 75 where Consul then had Passenger Certificates for more than 400.

Wednesday 8th August: Dad accompanied me once again on this “Special Evening Cruise to Portland Harbour Viewing Warships” which left the Pleasure Pier at 7.30pm with Consul on a fund raising charter to Weymouth. Again Consul again steamed along at “Slow Ahead” throughout the cruise round Portland harbour and across Weymouth Bay before returning to the pier at 9.30pm

Saturday 18th August: I was aboard again for the 3.15pm departure for the “Cruise across Weymouth Bay to Osmington, Ringstead and towards Lulworth Cove and thence to Portland Harbour to view “HM Ships and Merchant Shipping”. There was always such a feeling of anticipation standing on the Pleasure Pier waiting for Consul to come back from her one hour trip round Portland Harbour. I would scour the distant scene and then her buff funnel would emerge through the East entrance to Portland Harbour before making up across the 2 nautical mile run back to Weymouth Harbour. Watching her come in gave me my first insights into paddle steamer handling when I started to notice that she came in with the bow making up for the pier then put the helm off to lift the bow which coupled with ringing “full astern” gave her a sideways set onto the pier. Consul used three ropes for berthing: a head rope from the bow leading aft. A spring from the forrard sponson leading forward and a stern rope again leading forward. It was about this time that I started to notice that with the spring and stern rope made fast, paddling “slow astern” also helped to bring Consul nicely alongside.

Consul in Lulworth Cove.

Monday 20th August: I was aboard again, this time with Dad, Mum and my brother Peter for the 3pm departure for Lulworth Cove which gave one hour ashore before returning at 5pm to be back alongside in Weymouth at 6pm. We all went ashore and walked up the little lane past the tiny cottages before having an ice cream. Going back aboard again was always fun and I usually made for for the engine room to see what was going on. Cosens were ever parsimonious and always insisted that the oil wicks for the oil lubrication for the engine should be taken out if Consul were alongside for even quite short periods of time to save lubricating oil and not put back in until just before departure. So in the approach to the berth, even for the one hour stop at Lulworth, greaser Curly Yates went round the whole engine opening up all of the brass oil boxes, lifting out the oil wicks inside them so that they stopped syphoning oil, and then, about ten minutes before departure, went round again putting them all back in. To reach the boxes over the top of the crank shaft I remember that there was a special arrangement of the rail around the engine into which he could put his body, with one foot on one of the nuts holding the engine together, so that he could reach. Another thing about this period in Consul’s history was that when alongside the paddle box doors were opened in the alleyways to try help to increase a flow of cooling air. Consul had no engine room skylight and so it could get very hot on the control platform.. All other paddle steamers I have known have had properly fitting and pretty watertight access doors to the paddle wheels. Consul had just a lift up and down sliding sheet of metal each side instead not unlike a dagger board on a dinghy.

Consul’ engine room and docking telegraphs under cover. These covers were made new in green before the 1962 season and had these nice little pockets to contain the telegraphs’ handles.

Wednesday 29th August: Dad and I were aboard again on for the 7.30pm departure for another “Special Evening Cruise to Portland Harbour Viewing Warships” There was no music or entertainment aboard for this night which suited Dad and me where there had been a Jazz Band aboard for the evening cruise the previous Sunday and the following day there would be an evening cruise to view “Weymouth’s Fairylike Illuminations” to the accompaniment of a Dance Orchestra. The Jazz Band or Dance Orchestra always played on the promenade deck out in the open and usually had amplification through a giant speaker which was specially attached for each event to the handrail at the top of the companionway down to the foredeck so that everyone aboard would hear. None of this open air music making was ideal if the weather was any less than nice. Nor can poor weather have done much for the tuning of Consul’s piano which became a permanent fixture on the promenade deck that season covered by a green tarpaulin when not in use. Consul was less than half full on this evening cruise on Wednesday 29th and I remember Dad and Mr Lloyd Worth discussing business and the latter saying that this summer was “not paddle steamer weather”.

Aboard Consul spring 1963.

Friday 31st August: I was aboard again on my own for another afternoon cruise to the Bill of Portland away at 3pm and back at 5pm.

Tuesday 4th September: One sort of trip I hadn’t done during this season was the 10.45am “Coffee Cruise across Weymouth Bay to Ringstead, Osmington, thence to Portland Harbour viewing HM Ships and Merchant Shipping.” It was of course the same trip as I had been on other occasions but without the coffee angle to it and I wondered what that meant. So like the other handful of passengers aboard I went down to claim my “free coffee” from the dining saloon on the main deck, even though my eleven year old self had never drunk coffee before. Mr lloyd Worth, who I had got to know through my frequent trips, said that I didn’t have to have coffee if I didn’t want to and could instead have a glass of orange juice which I was pleased to take up.

Monday 10th September: This was the day before going back to school so I thought that that must include another trip on Consul so down I went and bought my ticket for the 3pm departure allegedly for the Shambles Lightship. However the wind was gusting up to gale force 8 and as i watched Consul berth after her 2pm trip round Portland Harbour wondered if we would go and if we did how far we would get. Amazingly there were enough passengers to sail, just, so off we went and Captain Iliffe amended the route to take us first across Weymouth Bay and then on another circuit of Portland Harbour. The departure time was scheduled for 3pm but I see from my notes for the day that it was not until 3.30pm that we actually got away.

Steamer Notice number 13 for 1962.

Sunday 16th September: This was my last trip of the season on Consul and Dad came along to keep my company on another cruise to the Bill of Portland We were away at 3.15pm and back at 5.15pm and on our way back made a slight detour to get a view of a foreign oil tanker which was making up for Portland Harbour.

Consul at Weymouth after the 1962 season.

After that Consul ran afternoon cruises and one evening cruise up to Thursday 20th September when she made a double run to Lulworth Cove with a one hour trip round Portland Harbour in between. After that she paddled back up Weymouth Harbour to lay up for the winter outside Hayman’s fishing tackle shop near the Town Bridge where she is pictured above.

1962 was a magical summer for my eleven year old self. I learned so much just by looking and absorbing what was going on around me. And it was good to start to find a sort of independence and to be trusted with that. I imagined that it would go on for ever and that Consul would be out again next year once again doing what she had always done.

Or so I thought. 1962 turned out to be Consul’s last season running for Cosens. The Weymouth paddle steamer world was about to change significantly.

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