One paddle steamer route from history is still very much with us today, although sadly no longer operated by a paddle steamer, the one mile crossing between Hythe Pier (pictured bottom right) and the Town Quay at Southampton (the second quay down from the top left above).
A ferry service of one sort or another between Hythe and Southampton has existed for hundreds of years. In the nineteenth century steam came to the route and the connection was made by various vessels including small paddlers like the Forester, Louisa and the Frederica pictured above at Hythe shortly after the opening of the new pier in 1881.
In 1887 the service was taken over by Mr James Percy whose family continued an involvement with the ferry for more than one hundred years. The following year he built the paddle steamer Hotspur pictured above towards the end of her career.
Hotspur was joined in 1894 by the newly built Hampton (pictured above). These were very practical vessels designed for carrying several hundred passengers on the short route in some comfort. There were two saloons on deck and more accommodation below so that in the winter rains and gales the passengers stayed dry. The same could not be said for the captain who, in the early days, enjoyed an entirely open bridge on which he could combine a good view with absorbing much fresh air and keeping nicely cool and damp according to the circumstances.
The Hampton with the later addition of a comfortable wheelhouse passing the giant floating dock at Southampton prior to berthing at the Town Quay.
The paddle steamer Hotspur (pictured above) was re-named GEC in 1927 to release the name for a new Diesel vessel and, shortly afterwards, was withdrawn. Her engine, boiler and other kit were removed and she was eventually hulked in Dibdin Bay.
The paddle steamer Hampton continued in service until the arrival of the newly built Diesel Hotspur II (pictured above) in 1936 and was eventually scrapped in Holland. The new Hotspur II proved to be such a success that an almost identical Hotspur III appeared in 1937 and Hotspur IV in 1946. Hotspur II continued on the ferry until 1978 when she was sold for further service on Clyde where she can still be found today based at Gourock and sailing as the Kenilworth. The Hythe ferry remains very much in business and is currently operated by the former Gravesend/Tilbury ferry Great Expectations.
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.