1954 was P & A Campbell’s centenary season celebrating 100 years since their first steamer Express sailed on the Clyde. And whilst this was true it was not until 1887 that they introduced their first sailings on the Bristol Channel, 1893 when they became a limited company and 1897 when they started their South Coast operations initially running from Southampton. By 1954, a hundred years on from the start, the fortunes of the company were in steep decline.
Before the Second World they had based three and sometimes four paddle steamers on the Sussex Coast each season. After the war there was just Empress Queen in 1947, Empress Queen and Britannia in 1948 and 1949, down to one again in 1950 firstly with Glen Gower which was replaced by Empress Queen in the peak weeks, no steamer at all in 1951, Cardiff Queen in 1952 and 1953 and then Glen Gower for 1954, 1955 and 1956.
Glen Gower made her first passenger sailings of the 1954 season on the Bristol Channel on Good Friday 16th April joining the Glen Usk, which had started the day before, to provide a two ship service over this Easter weekend. After that Glen Gower returned to Bristol leaving Glen Usk to carry on alone. She was fired up again at the end of May for a few more days sailing on the Bristol Channel before being relieved by Cardiff Queen which enabled her to set off on Wednesday June 2nd for Ilfracombe and the Sussex Coast. Her first trips there were rostered for Saturday June 5th with a morning cruise from Brighton (West Pier 11am & Palace Pier 11.15am back 12.40pm) to Newhaven Breakwater and an afternoon trip (PP2pm – WP 2.15pm – 9.30pm) to Shanklin for one hour ashore.
Let’s now take a snapshot of what she was up to in the first couple of weeks of July 1954 to give a flavour of how her season panned out. And remember that on each day she either started from and returned to her overnight base at Newhaven or, if the weather and other circumstances permitted, then from wherever she had anchored for the night off one of the piers at Brighton, Eastbourne or Hastings.
Saturday July 3rd: Leave Brighton (PP 2pm & WP 2.15pm)) for Worthing and Shanklin (5.30pm – 6.30pm) for Brighton (9.20pm)
Sunday July 4th: Leave Brighton (WP 10.50am, PP 11.5am) for a Morning Channel Cruise returning to Brighton (WP 12.30pm & PP 12.45pm) for Eastbourne (2.15pm), Hastings (3.15pm) for a Cruise Round the Royal Sovereign Lightship returning to Hastings (4.50pm), Eastbourne (6pm) and Brighton (7.30pm) for an Evening Cruise off Worthing returning to Brighton (9.10pm) and Newhaven (10pm)
Monday July 5th: Leave Newhaven (9.30am) for Brighton (PP 10.45am & WP 11.5am) for Ventnor (2.35 – 5pm) for Brighton (8.30pm) and Newhaven (9.30pm)
Tuesday July 6th: Leave Newhaven (9am) for Brighton (WP 9.50am & PP 10.5am) for Eastbourne ( 11.40am), Hastings (12.40pm) for a Cruise to View the Coast of France off Boulogne returning to Hastings (6.40pm), Eastbourne (7.40pm) and Brighton (9.15pm)
Wednesday July 7th: Leave Brighton (WP 11am & PP 11.15am) for a Morning Channel Cruise returning to Brighton (12.40pm) . She then lay alongside the Palace Pier before leaving (PP 2pm & WP 2.15pm) for Worthing and Shanklin (5.30pm – 6.30pm) returning to Brighton (9.30pm)
Thursday July 8th: Leave Hastings (8.15am) for Eastbourne (9.15am) and Brighton (PP 10.45am & WP 11am) for Sandown (2.15pm – 4pm) for Brighton (6.55pm) and Eastbourne (8.30pm) where her passenger carrying day ended with those for Hastings taken on from Eastbourne by coach. She then sailed light for Newhaven (9.15pm)
Friday July 9th: Off service
Saturday July 10th: Leave Newhaven (10am) for Eastbourne (11.15am) for a Cheap Cruise round the Royal Sovereign Lightship returning to Eastbourne (12.40pm) where she lay alongside until (2pm) for Hastings (3pm) for Eastbourne (4pm) for Hastings (5pm) where she lay alongside until (7.30pm) when she departed for a Cheap Evening Cruise round the Royal Sovereign Lightship returning to Hastings (9.10pm).
Sunday July 11th: Leave Hastings (9am) for Eastbourne (10am) for Brighton ( PP 11.30am & WP 11.45am) for Shanklin (2.40pm – 4.40pm) for Brighton (7.25pm) and Eastbourne (9pm) where passengers for Hastings disembarked for onward carriage by coach.
Monday July 12th: Leave Eastbourne (8.40am) for Brighton (PP 10.15am & WP 10.30am) for Worthing (11.20am) and Ventnor (2.15pm – 5.15pm) for Worthing (7.50pm), Brighton (8.40pm) and Eastbourne (10.15pm)
Tuesday July 13th: Leave Eastbourne (10am) for Hastings (11am) for Cruise Round the Royal Sovereign Lightship to Hastings (12.40pm) for Eastbourne (1.40pm – 2pm) for Hastings (3pm) for a Long Cruise Towards the Dover Straits returning to Hastings (7.10pm), Eastbourne ( 8.15pm) and Newhaven (9.15pm)
Wednesday July 14th: Leave Newhaven ( 9.30am) for Boulogne (2pm – 6pm) for Newhaven (10.45pm)
Thursday July 15th: Leave Eastbourne (8.10am) for Brighton (PP 9.50am & WP (10.5am) for Worthing (11.55am) for Ryde (1pm) for cruise to Southampton to view the liners United States and Mauretania with time ashore (2.30pm – 4.30pm) before setting off back to Ryde (5.40pm), Brighton (8.40pm) and Eastbourne (10.10pm)
This week in July was pretty typical of the sailings she offered that season with a combination of days spent on shorter local cruises from and between Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings along with day and afternoon trips westwards to the Isle of Wight and/or Southampton and to the east towards the Dover Straits.
The star attraction this week was the advertised sailing on Wednesday July 14th to land at Boulogne, the first such trip since before the Second World War. Government restrictions after the war did not permit passengers to leave and re-enter the country without passports and there were other difficulties too about taking UK currency abroad. The General Steam Navigation Company on the Thames and P & A Campbell lobbied for a change in the rules to allow “No Passport” trips as before the war but their pleas fell on deaf ears. Despite this in 1954 P & A Campbell decided to go ahead anyway and start a limited service to France falling in line with the Government requirements for passengers to have passports and that the trips should run only from Newhaven Harbour where there were already HM Customs officials on hand.
Not surprisingly, given these limitations, they were not a success. As travel aboard was at that stage the preserve only of the better off most people back then didn’t have passports and those who did tended not to take them with them on domestic holidays. As it turned out this first trip on 14th July was cancelled due to the weather and of the eight such sailings offered in the steamer notices during the season only four took place with three more blown out by gales and the fourth cancelled because of crew issues. Two additional sailings initially programmed for later in the season were pulled before the steamer notices were published. Chris Collard records in his excellent book White Funnels 1946 – 68 that on the four which did go ahead the average passenger loading was just 135 which is not a lot really for a large paddle steamer like Glen Gower. However it was a start and may have influenced the Government because in May 1955 a decision was taken to allow “No Passport” trips on a trial basis that season between June 17th and September 30th from Gravesend, Southend, Folkestone, Eastbourne and Newhaven only with a review in October.
But back to 1954. A handful of “Long Day Cruises to the French Coast off Boulogne” were also rostered. This offered excitement of a sort by almost but not quite going foreign and solved the passport issue because they weren’t required if you weren’t getting off in France. But they were long old days away from Brighton at 9.15am and not back until 9.15pm with passengers sitting on wooden seats on deck all day on a paddle steamer with limited catering facilities in relation to her maximum passenger capacity and with no opportunity for passengers to go ashore to stretch their legs. These trips did not bring out the crowds.
Worthing Pier was in the schedules as and when tides suited. Sometimes Glen Gower called there outward and inward bound on her way between Brighton and the Isle of Wight. Sometimes she only called on the outward leg with Worthing passengers being returned to Brighton at the end of the day. Sometimes she didn’t call at all.
Another excitement in 1954 was the re-opening to steamers of the pier at Sandown with Glen Gower scheduled to make her first call there on Whit Monday June 7th on a day trip from Eastbourne and Brighton. After that Sandown was included in the roster roughly speaking once a week alongside, but on different days from, more regular calls at Shanklin. There were also a handful of visits to Ventnor, which had re-opened the previous year, and Ryde.
Glen Gower’s last advertised trips of the season on the Sussex Coast were on Sunday 26th September from Brighton with a Long Morning Cruise to Seaford Bay (WP10.30am & PP 10.45am back 12.40pm) and an afternoon cruise towards Worthing (PP 3pm & WP 3.15pm back 5pm) followed by a single run to Newhaven with passengers returning either by rail or bus. She left the Palace Pier Brighton (9am) the following morning for Ilfracombe, Cardiff and Bristol where she arrived at 9.30pm on Tuesday September 28th. For the remainder of that week she filled in on the Bristol Channel services until making her last trip of the season on Sunday October 3rd.
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.