May 2016:
Paddle Steamer Princess Elizabeth 1962

May 2016:
Paddle Steamer Princess Elizabeth 1962

After two poor seasons running from Torquay, which culminated in her being banned by the Local Authority, Princess Elizabeth retreated to Weymouth Harbour in September 1961 to lay up for the winter in the Backwater where she can be seen in this picture berthed ahead of Cosens’s Embassy in the spring of 1962.

Money to bring her out again was tight so, in a neat bit of company law footwork, she was sold by the debt laden Torbay Steamers Ltd, Managing Director Cdr Edmund Rhodes, to a new company, Coastal Steamers and Marine Services Ltd, Managing Director also Cdr Edmund Rhodes, and it was announced that for 1962 she would revive sailings on the Sussex Coast from Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings.

A crew was engaged under the leadership of her 1961 master and former Cosens’s captain Harry Defrates, seen here on her port bridge wing in 1961, and work commenced getting her ready.

The door in the side of the fiddly opened for access for work on her boiler mountings and safety valves.
A view from the bridge looking down onto the foredeck with a pair of cowboy boots belonging to one of the new crew taking an airing on the box.
Looking aft from the bridge towards the berth just vacated by the Embassy which had gone to one of the Admiralty slipways at Portland for her annual bottom survey and painting.
Looking aft from the starboard sponson.

Work proceeded slowly as the legal wrangling and arguments about where she would operate during the summer season continued in the background and, although it had been the intention to get her away for her slipping in May, it was not until 19th June that she eventually arrived at White’s Shipyard on the Itchen at Southampton. By then it was clear that she would not be going to Sussex after all but would be running a Bournemouth to Swanage service in competition with the Embassy and the Fairmile launches of Crosons.

Princess Elizabeth eventually left Southampton on 6th July for Poole with a view to taking up her new service on 15th July but it was actually three days later before she made her first public trip including a promotional event involving the TV star and comedian Dick Emery who was appearing in a summer season show at Bournemouth.

After the Monarch was withdrawn in September 1960 the 1961 Swanage service had been run by the Embassy fitting in some trips around her Isle of Wight schedule and augmented with an afternoon round trip a couple of days a week during the peak season by the Consul coming up from Weymouth but with the lion share in the hands of the Croson Fairmiles.

In 1961 there had been competition from Herbert Jennings’s Swanage Queen, ex Sussex Queen ex Freshwater but that ended in failure. For 1962 the gap, if indeed it could be said that there was a gap, was to be filled by the Princess Elizabeth. On paper it looked as though she might do well. Why would anyone want to sail between Bournemouth and Swanage on a small Fairmile when they could do it on a lovely paddle steamer?

In practice it did not work out like that. The Fairmile timetable was incorporated into the extensive marketing of Cosens and they had the better timings long associated with the route. For example, the Fairmile sailed from Bournemouth at 10.45 creaming off much of the trade before the Princess Elizabeth arrived for an 11.15am departure. Ditto in the afternoon with the Fairmile taking the popular 2.30pm timing with the Lizzy turning up for a 3pm departure after most people had already gone. It was not long before the lunchtime round trip was abandoned due to lack of demand. The Sunday evening cruise was also pulled. It was not a good summer for the Lizzy.

A Bournemouth – Swanage return ticket.

A schoolboy enjoys a trip back to Bournemouth from Swanage with one of the engineers getting a breath of fresh air on the right. The most interesting feature of this picture is the gauze over the ventilator. Originally installed to stop passengers popping sweet papers and fag ends down the cowl you can see that it is not in good condition and is rusting away around the bottom and the edge. Of course it is not a major part of the ship’s structure but it is an indication that by 1962 the Princess Elizabeth was thirty five years old and was showing signs of her age.

As with all the attempts to put paddle steamers back into service in the 1960s there were crew problems that season. Capt Defrates did not always get the engine movements he was expecting from what he had rung on the telegraph and there were times when the safety valves on the boiler lifted, with all their attendant noise, alongside the piers because the boiler furnaces had not been properly damped before arrival.

The season continued until 19th September after which the Lizzy laid up for the winter on a buoy in Poole Harbour off Hamworthy in a position clearly visible to all taking the train between Wareham and Poole.

For 1963 a new opportunity would open up for her. With Cosens abandoning trips from Weymouth and selling the Consul, Princess Elizabeth had three more golden summers to come plugging that gap.

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