It is more than forty years now since paddle steamers regularly wintered at Newhaven on the Sussex Coast. Here we have the Portsmouth paddlers Ryde and Sandown alongside, resplendent in the bright new Sealink colours which were introduced in 1965. In the background is the Dover based car ferry Maid of Kent.
Newhaven harbour was owned by the railway in those days so it was a cost effective place to lay up their own ships and maintain them using their extensive workshop facilities. They also had a grid on which their paddlers, like the Lymington based Freshwater (pictured above), could sit for underwater maintenance and painting. This needed sweeping clear of mud and weed from time to time and this was done by a man walking out along the wooden structure with a brush as the tide went down.
Note that in keeping with the more robust Zeitgeist of that time, he is not wearing a life-jacket, nor a body harness, nor even that ubiquitous bit of kit deemed so essential today in all circumstances: a hard hat.
However, his employer’s have not left him completely bereft of safety equipment. He has been issued with a pair of thigh-length waders and, most importantly of all, perched jauntily upon his head, is that earlier version of the hard hat: a peaked cap.
Ryde sitting on the grid, now completely exposed at a lower state of the tide.
As the grid flooded twice a day when the tide came in and went out, it was not suitable for major hull work so for that the paddlers went off to a Southampton dry-dock. Note the Sandown’s bow rudder which was a feature of all the Portsmouth paddle steamers. This enabled them to steam all the way out of Portsmouth Harbour astern, if necessary, before turning in the more open waters off Southsea thereby avoiding the expense and inconvenience of having to use a tug to turn in the harbour.
Of course it was not only the railway paddlers which used Newhaven. After P & A Cambell took over the Sussex sailings from Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings in the 1890s they used it as their overnight base. Their last paddler on the station was the Glen Gower (pictured above) which also has the distinction of being the very last paddle steamer in the UK to have had a proper international passenger certificate. She continued to sail across the Channel to Boulogne right up to 1956.
Freshwater returned to Newhaven in 1960 disguised as the Sussex Queen under the ownership of Herbert Jennings (pictured above on her deck at Newhaven) and tried very unsuccessfully to revive Sussex Coast paddle steamer sailings. She did not return in 1961.
In 1963 the Consul (pictured above at Newhaven) had a go on the Sussex Coast but she was late in arriving, was much troubled by crew problems and, with poor weather in August adding to her woes, she lost a lot of money and did not return.
Although the Waverley has made occasional calls at Newhaven over the years, it fell to the Ryde to be the last paddle steamer to use the port regularly. She was withdrawn in 1969.
And isn’t this a lovely picture of her very traditional wheelhouse? Note in the background, on the right behind but within easy reach of the mate, the chart table has found a new use as the home for a pile of assorted newspapers, a transistor radio, camera and half a pint of beer!
It was a different age. A different Zeitgeist.
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.