Sixty summers ago, in 1947, paddle steamer services were beginning to re-establish themselves after the war. The following account, by the journalist Harry Hamilton, gives a fascinating insight into the first trip of that season from Bournemouth to Swanage aboard the Monarch on Monday 5th May.
“As the rain beat against the window on Monday I said to the chief reporter: “Wonder how the steamer sailings to Swanage are doing today?” He said: “Go and find out.” I should have kept my big mouth closed. So that’s how I became one of the hardy passengers on the twin funnelled Monarch’s first run of the season from Bournemouth to Swanage.
They lowered the single gangway onto Bournemouth pier and the Monarch butted her 315 tons stern first out into Bournemouth Bay. Great big waves did their best to stop her but they only managed to rock her. The ship’s radio blared out dance music but the only thing dancing aboard was my stomach.
I escaped to the engine room where, for the second season running, Chief Engineer A D Williams is looking after the Monarch’s engines which can develop 1,000hp. All the summer small boys (and bigger ones too) pester him with countless questions. “Why does she have two funnels?” “Simple”, says the Chief, “Because there are two boilers. Unusual thing about these boilers is their low pressure which is only 30lbs, or less than the pressure in the average car tyre. They burn eight or nine tons of coal between them every day in the season. The engine is still doing well although it is 70 years old – the same age as the ship. We did the measured mile in 4 minutes 18 seconds, which is more than 12 knots.”
It takes the Monarch about 40 minutes to do the Swanage run. She can carry 672 passengers and 15 crew. Making his first trip on Monday was her new skipper Captain E F J Cook. During the war he was on contraband work, as was the Monarch herself. She was then the Exway and was commanded by Captain St Barb Rawle, now master of the Embassy which is also operated by Cosens and Company from Bournemouth Pier.
One of the most interesting of the 50 or so passengers aboard was grey haired Mr Frederick Pluck of Wendover, St Valerie Road. “I’m a share holder in the company.” he told me. “I like the sea and come as often as I can.”
In spite of the gloomy clouds overhead, Mr K Barber was busily taking pictures of his girlfriend, Miss Beryl Townsend. They are staying at Savoy Lodge, Norwich Avenue on holiday from Long Eaton. Two more holidaymakers, Mr & Mrs H G Croker, of London, staying at Bridge End, St Peters Road, I found standing over one of the paddles. “We’re thoroughly enjoying the blow.” said Mr Croker. Chasing his two children all over the ship was Major K P Kilby, of Grove Road. He is taking his son, John, aged 11, and daughter, Julia, aged 10 to Norway for a holiday soon. “They’re just getting their sea legs”, he said.
It was not until we were well on our way back from Swanage that I made the discovery. When the Monarch is at sea there are no licensing laws and there is a bar. In it I found Mr Cliff Hirst, of Parkstone. He assured me ” I’ve been taking trips on the Monarch for about 40 years. In fact I’ve probably known the Monarch longer than anyone else on board.” “Oh, so this first trip of the season is for sentimental reasons?” I asked. “That’s right.” He replied.
Helping Mr Hirst to be sentimental were Mr Mervyn Thomas of Alverton Avenue, Poole and Captain J A Jones (with moustache) of Churchfield Road, Poole. After being with Mr Hirst for a quarter of an hour I can see that I too shall become sentimental over the Monarch if I’m not careful.”
Monarch alongside Bournemouth Pier on busier days. If only there were queues that long today!
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.