The last four paddle steamers regularly to serve the Mersey, La Marguerite, Mona’s Queen, St Elvies and Snowdon were all withdrawn in the six year period between 1925 and 1931. First to go was the giant La Marguerite, seen here alongside the Prince’s Landing Stage at Liverpool. An excursion steamer of formidable dimensions, measuring 330ft length overall and with a gross registered tonnage of 1,554, she had a passenger capacity of around 2,000.
Built in 1894 by Fairfield on the Clyde for the Palace Steamers’s services on the River Thames, particularly from Tilbury to Boulogne and later to Calais or Ostend, she was one of the very largest purely excursion paddle steamers ever built for service in the UK and was fitted out to the very highest standards of comfort and luxury for her passengers to enjoy.
Large is, of course, good when you are packing the passengers in and ferrying their fares to the bank almost faster than you can collect them but rather less so when the numbers aren’t there but the breathtaking operating costs still are. Within ten years of her build La Marguerite was deemed too large for the Thames and was sold to the Liverpool and North Wales Steamship Company as a people carrier for the peak sailings on their busy Liverpool, Llandudno and Menai Bridge route.
Here is her timetable for August 1924 with La Marguerite scheduled to leave Liverpool at 10.45am every day except Fridays for Menai Bridge, with one hour ashore, calling en route at Llandudno, Beaumaris and Bangor with a return time to Liverpool of 7.30pm.
Her long term master on the North Wales Coast, Capt John Young, is seen here in this picture with his name printed the right way round but with the picture itself laterally inverted with the instructions on the engine room telegraph the mirror image of what they should be. Perhaps the photographer of the time was in a hurry and didn’t quite notice what he had done? Capt Young joined the Liverpool and North Wales Steamship Company in 1898, was promoted master of the paddle steamer St Elvies in 1900 and moved to La Marguerite in 1904 where he remained until he retired in 1921.
La Marguerite was finally withdrawn after her last passenger sailing on 28th September 1925 and was scrapped at Briton Ferry.
Second of these four to be withdrawn was the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company’s Mona’s Queen, another hefty paddler of broadly similar dimensions to La Marguerite. She was built in 1885 and powered by one of the largest marine oscillating steam engines ever constructed. At one time or another she ran on all her owner’s Irish Sea services until withdrawn after the 1929 season leaving Douglas for the very last time on 7th October for Glasgow and the scrapyard.
Third to go was the St Elvies, seen here leaving Bangor for Menai Bridge. She was a paddle steamer of more modest dimensions and commensurate operating costs with a length overall of 240ft and a gross registered tonnage of 566, not a million miles away from our own Waverley today. Built in 1896 by Fairfield for the Liverpool and North Wales Steamship Company’s services along the Welsh Coast and to the Isle of Man she understudied La Marguerite on the principal routes according to demand.
Her first master was Capt William Willams (centre) who had previously commanded the company’s Bonny Princess. He subsequently moved to the paddle steamer St Tudno (built 1891) and later the first turbine St Seiriol before retiring in 1919.
St Elvies made her last trip on 14th September 1930 after which she was broken up at Birkenhead.
The very last regular Mersey paddle steamer to be withdrawn was the Snowdon seen here at Caernarvon before the First World War. She was much smaller than the other three with a length overall of just 175ft and a gross registered tonnage of 335, about the same size as my own tip top favourite paddle steamer of all time, the Consul.
Built in 1892 by Lairds of Birkenhead for the Snowdon Passenger Steamship Company which was amalgamated into the Liverpool and North Wales Steamship Company in 1899, at one time or another, the Snowdon called at all the resorts in the area from Caernarvon to Blackpool. In this steamer notice for her sailings in mid August 1930 she is scheduled to leave Llandudno at 10.30am for Caernarvon (no call on Wednesdays) taking two and a half hours for the single trip through the Menai Straits.
Capt Highton (centre) commanded her from at least 1910 up to 1914 when he took over the St Elvies on war service during which he was awarded the DSC. After the war he took over La Marguerite when Capt Young retired and moved to the spanking new turbine St Tudno in 1926.
An economically sized steamer the Snowdon outlived all the other Mersey paddlers making her last trip at the end of the 1931 season and being subsequently scrapped at Port Glasgow.
After that it was still possible to sail along the Welsh Coast from Liverpool right up to the 1960s aboard the turbine steamers St Seiriol (pictured above) and St Tudno as well as from Llandudno aboard the Diesel driven St Trillo. But you couldn’t do it by paddle steamer anymore. Paddle steamers had gone. Except…
…there was one more attempt to bring the beat of the paddle wheel permanently back to the Mersey in 1936 when the former railway paddle steamer, Duchess of Kent, built to run from Portsmouth to Ryde, was acquired third hand from the New Medway Steam packet Company and re-invented as the Jubilee Queen for a proposed new service from Liverpool to New Brighton, Blackpool and Fleetwood. Unfortunately the whole thing was an unmitigated disaster, not unlike the Jeanie Deans/Queen of the South fiasco on the Thames thirty years later, with only a handful of sailings being completed. But that is all another story for another day.
In the meantime, if this has whetted your appetite for a paddle steamer trip along the North Wales Coast, don’t forget that the Waverley is scheduled to go there in June and September this year to recreate some of these long forgotten paddle steamer excursions. Tickets are selling fast so get out your diaries. Book the hotels. These will be voyages back into paddle steamer history not to be missed!
John Jones, who was a regular passenger on the steamers along the North Wales Coast in his youth, has emailed from Australia to remind us that another paddle steamer had a go at running from Llandudno. In 1935, MacBrayne’s Fusilier was bought by the newly constituted Cambrian Shipping Company Ltd, renamed Lady Orme (pictured above) and placed on excursions between Llandudno and the Menai Straits.
The following year she moved south to run local excursions from Ramsgate but was back in North Wales for 1937 as Lady Orme and for 1938 under the new name of Crestawave. She was scrapped in 1939 by which stage she was quite a veteran belonging to that select and limited group of paddle steamers to be propelled by a single cylinder reciprocating steam engine.
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.