With fierce competition from Cosens and what became Red Funnel, P & A Campbell moved their south coast operating base from Southampton to the Sussex Coast shortly after the start of the twentieth century with their Cambria making trips from Brighton in 1901.
Up to the Second World War they usually based three and sometimes four paddle steamers at Newhaven for the summer seasons taking advantage of the huge tripper market from Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings as far eastwards as the Dover Straits, westwards to the Isle of Wight and occasionally Bournemouth and across the Channel particularly to Boulogne.
After the war that market declined as it did elsewhere throughout the UK. Cross Channel trips were not permitted until 1954. And instead of three or four paddle steamers Campbells generally fielded only one steamer with a second coming for the peak weeks only in the immediate post war years. In 1951 they withdrew completely from the area and fielded none at all. However things looked up again in 1952 and 1953 when Cardiff Queen revived some of the services. From 1954 to 1956 Glen Gower took over and with no passport trips once again allowed in 1955 plus sparkling sunshine and little wind it was a bumper season. For 1956 the weather turned with lots of wind and rain and Glen Gower spent many days that summer tied up alongside at Newhaven doing nothing but waiting for the wind to subside. That was the last year P & A Campbell rostered a paddle steamer on the Sussex Coast.
However they did not completely abandon Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings chartering in the General Steam Navigation Co’s motorship Crested Eagle to provide some sort of service in 1957. Originally built as Royal Lady in 1938 for short trips from Scarborough she was bought by the GSN for their Thames services after the war but by the mid 1950s was surplus to their requirements. At 135ft LOA she was smaller than Campbells’s paddle steamers. She was not as fast. And she did not have a Cross Channel Passenger Certificate. So she spent much of her weeks in the summer of 1957 from Sundays through to Thursdays offering local trips from Eastbourne and Hastings with extensions on to include Brighton on a handful of days. On Fridays, and some Mondays, she offered day trips from Brighton to Shanklin, Isle of Wight.
For example on one day she might come up from Newhaven to Eastbourne and offer a morning cruise round the Royal Sovereign Lightship at 10.45am before sailing on to Hastings for a 2pm departure to return to Eastbourne for 3.15pm for a “Cruise Towards Seaford Bay” returning to Eastbourne at 4.40pm for Hastings at 6pm and Eastbourne once again at 7.10pm. Usually on at least one day a week she proceeded from Newhaven to pick up first at Brighton at 10.15am or 10.30am or 12 noon for Eastbourne and Hastings and then back again for about 8pm.
Every Friday and on some Mondays she was rostered to run from Brighton (Palace Pier) at 10am for about two hours ashore at Shanklin due away at 4pm for return to Brighton at 7.45pm.
It was not a good summer for Crested Eagle. She arrived from the Thames and started on Sunday 2nd June with “Special Half Fare Inaugural Trips” advertised from Eastbourne and Hastings under the command of Capt Harris late of Glen Gower. By the Thursday of the same week he had gone and been replaced by Bristol Queen’s mate Neville Cottman. The wind blew quite a lot during the summer as it had done in 1956 with numerous trips cancelled. There were engine issues as well with Chris Collard recording that overall she spent 21 days tied up at Newhaven doing nothing and earning nothing that summer.
Her last day was billed as “Farewell Trips of Crested Eagle” on Sunday 29th September from Brighton at 10.30am to Eastbourne 12.15pm and Hastings 1.30pm. There was then a round trip from Hastings 2pm to Eastbourne 3.15pm to Hastings 4.30pm before she set off to retrace her route to Eastbourne 5.45pm and Brighton 7.30pm and returning to overnight at Newhaven. She left there first thing the next morning at 05.40 bound for lay up in St Katherine’s Dock London where she arrived at 18.42.
That was the last time P & A Campbell based any ship for service on the Sussex Coast. That was the end of Crested Eagle’s UK career. She was sold for a new passenger carrying incarnation in Malta under the name Imperial Eagle. where it is believed she remained operational until 1995. Her hull is today in St Paul’s Bay where it was sunk as an artificial reef.
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.