January 2022:
Cosens Sailings 1962

January 2022:
Cosens Sailings 1962
Embassy approaching Bournemouth Pier.

1962 was the last season in which Cosens operated two paddle steamers. Embassy was based at Poole and ran between Swanage, Bournemouth and the Isle of Wight. Consul was based at Weymouth and ran within an area bounded by Lulworth Cove in the east and Portland Bill in the west.

First to start was Embassy on Sunday 3rd June with departures from Bournemouth at 10.45am, 2.30pm and 5.45pm for Swanage with return at 11.30am and 4.45pm and with a short afternoon cruise towards St Albans Head offered from Swanage at 3.15pm. The 5.45pm departure from Bournemouth to Swanage continued on to Poole Quay where Embassy spent each night during the season.

Consul alongside the Weymouth Pleasure Pier 1962. Captain Iliffe on the bridge.

Consul started on Saturday 9th June running a ferry service between the Weymouth Pleasure Pier and the stone jetty at Casteltown, Portland in connection with Navy Days at the Portland Naval Dockyard with departures on the hour every hour from 12 noon until 6pm with return on the half hour. These trips did nothing for Consul’s decks. The stone jetty was, as its name suggests, used by ships transporting Portland stone and so was covered with a thin layer of Portland stone dust. As the day wore on ever more of this powder was carried aboard Consul on the feet of passengers gradually turning her decks white.

Embassy’s engine controls and telegraph.

Embassy continued to operate on the Bournemouth/Swanage service on Sundays and Tuesdays up to Saturday 14th July with an extra round trip between Bournemouth and Swanage being substituted for the afternoon cruise towards St Albans Head on the Tuesdays. There were two round trips a day to the Isle of Wight scheduled calling at Totland Bay on Mondays and Thursdays and Yarmouth on Wednesdays leaving Bournemouth at 10am and 2.30pm for the hour and a half run each way.

A Special Cheap day Excursion to Yarmouth was offered on Fridays from 22nd June leaving Bournemouth at 10.30am. This was an idea stolen from Swanage Queen which had run in competition with Embassy in 1961 at Bournemouth. Cosens noticed that the cheaper fares, the slightly later start time coupled with the earlier return time of 5pm instead of 6.30pm drew out the crowds. Also as an experiment, and to fill up the idle time Embassy would otherwise have spent laying alongside the pier at Yarmouth, an extension was offered to give one and a half hours ashore at Cowes. After the war such longer cruises had been the norm but their popularity declined as the 1950s wore on with the vast majority of passengers opting for the one and a half hour run between Bournemouth and Totland Bay or Yarmouth. This experiment running to Cowes was not a success. Most passengers disembarked at Yarmouth leaving loadings slender and the Cowes service was therefore discontinued from 10th August.

As Bournemouth filled up with visitors, from Sunday 15th July Embassy left the Swanage service in the hands of Croson’s Fairmile motor launches, with whom Cosens had got into bed, and ran to the Isle of Wight every day except Saturdays to the same pattern except for Thursdays when the afternoon return time from Bournemouth to the Isle of Wight was put back to 3 30pm to give more time ashore in Bournemouth for any who had travelled on a special coach tour from the east coast Isle of Wight resorts in the morning to Totland Bay to join Embassy for her 12 noon departure for Bournemouth.

Embassy’s paddle box. // Tony Horn

There were evening cruises too. At the ends of each day there were single trips to Poole sometimes via Swanage. From Whit Sunday (and Whit Monday) there were “Evening Coastal Cruises towards the Needles Lighthouse” with music provided by Chris and his Accordions away from Bournemouth at 7.45pm back 9.30pm. These ran every Sunday through to 7th September, except in the peak weeks when a jazz cruise was substituted, as well as on Mondays from 16th July and Tuesdays at 8pm from 7th August.

Then there were the “Showboat Midnight Cruises” away from Bournemouth at 8.30pm arriving at Poole Quay at midnight. These were rostered for Thursdays 28th June, 12th July and then every Thursday until 13th September. To these were added “Late Night New Orleans Jazz Cruises” away from Bournemouth at 8pm and arriving at Poole Quay at midnight on Sundays from 5th August.

The Shambles Lightship.

Back at Weymouth Consul settled into a routine of morning, afternoon and evening trips. Take a typical week starting on Saturday 11th August. There were one hour trips round Portland Harbour every day at either 2pm or 2.15pm. There were morning coffee cruises at 10.45am back 12.15pm on the Tuesday and Friday. There were two round trips to Lulworth Cove on the Monday, Wednesday and Friday with departures from Weymouth at 10.30am and 3pm giving time ashore. On the Saturday there was a 3.15pm departure for a Cruise towards Osmington and then round Portland Harbour. And there were 3pm departures to view the Shambles Lightship on the Sunday and Tuesday and the Bill of Portland on the Friday. There were also evening cruises of between an hour and a half and two hours duration, sometimes with a jazz band, on the Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Thursday and Friday.

Consul’s engine.

These were long days for the crew. And each ship had just one crew with no reliefs. Captain Holleyoak, mate Eric Plater, Chief engineer Alf Pover and all the crew were scheduled to be aboard for every single advertised trip during the whole season aboard Embassy. Captain Iliffe, mate Arthur Drage, Chief Engineer Cyril Julien and all the crew were all scheduled to be aboard for every single advertised trip during the whole season aboard Consul. And with the exception of Saturday 16th June Consul was scheduled to run every single day, Saturdays included, throughout the whole season until she finished in mid September. However that did not mean that the crew never had any time off. It was the policy of Cosens for the crew to gather to get their ships ready whatever the weather. However if it was raining and was set to continue to rain during the day then the trips were cancelled and the crew given the rest of the day off. to be enjoyed in the rain.

Embassy faired slightly better at Bournemouth. Until 17th June she had Fridays and Saturdays off service and then after that Saturdays for the rest of the season. But it was swings and roundabouts. All the senior crew and most others were Cosens regulars who lived in Weymouth. So Consul was favoured. Even though she was running a continual seven day a week schedule crew could still go home every night. At Bournemouth there was the Saturday day off but the Weymouth crew spent the rest of the week living aboard in the cramped, confined and stuffy crew accommodation. Captain Iliffe who became Embassy’s master the following year, was the proud possessor of a Lambretta motor scooter on which he would commute home at the end of the day on Friday and then back to Poole early on the Sunday morning. The captain’s cabin on Embassy was directly under the bridge and the deck head above the bunk leaked so as a one time prisoner of war well used to harsh living conditions Captain Iliffe made up a suitably sized tarpaulin which he pulled over himself in his bunk if the weather was iffy.

Consul at Weymouth 1962.

As September came on the season started to wind down and by her last week in service Consul was just running afternoon cruises with one “Grand Illumination” evening cruise on Tuesday 16th. Her last trips were on Thursday 20th September with a 2pm departure for the one hour trip round Portland Harbour and at 3pm for one hour ashore at Lulworth Cove due back 6pm. After that she laid up in her usual berth alongside Trinity Wharf near the Town Bridge.

Embassy in the Weymouth Backwater.

Embassy finished the same day at Bournemouth and returned to lay up in the Weymouth Backwater.

1962 was not a good summer for paddle steamer operators nationwide. The weather was generally poor with loads of wind and not a little rain. I remember listening to my Dad talking to Mr Lloyd Worth who ran the catering on Consul. He was a bit despondent about the level of business. “it’s just not been paddle steamer weather” I remember him saying. And at Bournemouth Embassy had had competition from Princess Elizabeth which came in to run her own Swanage service from mid July thereby splitting paddle steamer business. Lot’s of money was going out everywhere and not enough was coming in.

Princess Elizabeth passing through the Weymouth Town Bridge.

For 1963 it was all change. Cosens sold Consul which tried her luck on the Sussex Coast under the command of Princess Elizabeth’s 1962 master Harry Defrates. Princess Elizabeth came to Weymouth to take over the services previously run by Consul under the command of Embassy’s 1962 master Cyril Holleyoak. And Consul’s 1962 master John Iliffe took command of Embassy. A bit of a merry go round of captains really all chasing jobs which they thought might have the best chances of ongoing success in what was by then a vastly diminished market for excursion paddle steamer trips.

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