June 2014:
Paddle Steamers at Eastbourne June 1927

June 2014:
Paddle Steamers at Eastbourne June 1927

June 1927 saw three paddle steamers from the P & A Campbell fleet based at Newhaven and offering a wide range of trips along the Sussex Coast.

According to this steamer notice, it was the Devonia (pictured above) which ran the cross channel trips to Boulogne this week. Having left Newhaven first thing she would have picked up at Brighton around 9.30am before coming on to leave Eastbourne at 11am with another pick up at Hastings an hour later on Sunday 12th June, Monday 13th, Wednesday 15th and Friday 17th and at 10.40am on Sunday 19th and 11.15am on Monday 20th. All these trips offered about three hours ashore to take advantage of the delights of a foreign port including gambling at the Casino. The return trip got back to Eastbourne around 9pm.

The steamer notice advertises that “Passengers must be able to satisfy the purser that they are British or French subjects or they will not be permitted to land in France”. One wonders just how the purser did this in the likely absence of passports which were then held by only a tiny proportion of the population although I expect that common sense prevailed for most of the time. How different from trying to get in and out of the country today!

On Tuesday 14th the Devonia had a different roster. Coming first from Brighton, she was scheduled to be away from Eastbourne at 12 noon for a cruise to Hastings giving an hour and a half ashore there followed by an afternoon cruise eastwards passing Fairlight, Lover’s Seat, Pett, Rye Bay an on towards Dungeness before returning to Eastbourne at 5pm.

The Waverley (pictured above) visited Eastbourne on only the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week with most other days seeing her based at Brighton. And do remember that in the confusing muddle of paddle steamers called Waverley this is not our Waverley of today nor her eponymous Clyde predecessor. This one was built as the Barry for the Barry Railway Company in 1907, was acquired by P & A Campbell just before the First World War and ended up being lost on war service in 1941.

On Tuesday 14th this Waverley was scheduled to cruise westwards with a day trip to Sandown on the Isle of Wight. She would have started the day at Newhaven and sailed light ship to Hastings for a 9am start, then picked up at Eastbourne at 9.50am with a further call at Brighton on the way. She was scheduled to get back to Eastbourne at 9pm and Hastings about an hour later.

On Wednesday 15th, she came up to Eastbourne from Brighton to offer a 4.20pm “Afternoon Cruise round the Royal Sovereign Lightship” before setting off back to Brighton at 5.30pm.

On Thursday 16th she was scheduled to leave Eastbourne at 10.30am after an earlier pick up at Brighton at 9am for a three hour coastal trip eastwards to Folkestone, calling at Hastings on the way, and giving two hours ashore at the Kent port with a return time to Eastbourne of 6pm.

It was the Brighton Belle (pictured above) which was the local paddle steamer doing the rounds of the piers and generally offering the shorter trips this week as usual. She features on this Eastbourne steamer notice every day except Tuesday 14th with her basic roster being to run between the piers at Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings with the odd excursion “Towards Seaford Bay”, “Round the Royal Sovereign Lightship” and to Newhaven “to witness the arrival of the Mail Steamer” thrown in.

What a feast of cruises there were that week on the Sussex Coast. Three paddle steamers, trips eastwards to Folkestone, trips westwards to the Isle of Wight and trips across the Channel to Boulogne not to mention all the other shorter options in and out of the piers, round the lightship and along the coast. There were other destinations to enjoy in some other weeks including Cowes, Ryde and Ventnor but the basic format of this week’s schedule was pretty typical of P & A Campbell’s South Coast operations at the time.

If only someone could invent a time machine to send us back to that summer of 1927 to enjoy all these heady paddle steamer delights once again. I’d buy a ticket for a trip on that straight away!

Iain McLeod has emailed some fascinating details of incidents involving the Devonia’s visits to Boulogne gleaned from press cuttings of the time:

Because I have a subscription to the British Newspaper Archive (I’m doing some research on schools in Malvern) I’m afraid it’s become a habit to root about in it a little whenever I come across an interesting topic – which happens every month when I read Pictures of the Month. You might like the following:

Devonia’s trips to and from Boulogne in the twenties were not without incident. In August 1927 a chartered accountant was convicted of trying to smuggle ashore at Hastings a bottle of brandy and one of eau de cologne, having also thrown into the sea two more bottles which the Customs officer on the pier thought were perfume on which duty should have been paid. The incident was viewed by the town’s magistrates as a threat to the steamer service, so they imposed a stiff fine as a deterrent.

In September 1928, a teacher travelled from Brighton to Boulogne. He bought two tickets aboard Devonia and handed one over in France to an Italian acquaintance. At Boulogne it was found that the numbers of tickets issued and passengers going ashore did not tally, so ‘a strict search was made’ and the two men were arrested. The Italian was sentenced to a month’s hard labour for landing in the United Kingdom without permission – his passport revealed that he had previously been refused permission to return to his wife and children – and the teacher was fined.

Perhaps the strangest of Devonia’s ‘border incidents’ concerned an Egyptian prince, Ahmed Seif-ed-din, who served a prison sentence in Egypt for shooting at the country’s future king and then, somehow or other, was sent to a Sussex mental institution. One day in August 1925, after he had been there 23 years, he went out for a drive, slipped aboard Devonia and crossed to Boulogne, where he was met by his mother. She took him off to Turkey where he lived until his death in 1937.

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