September 2021:
Day Trips from Bournemouth 1953

September 2021:
Day Trips from Bournemouth 1953
Monarch circa 1953.

The 1953 season at Bournemouth opened in mid May with Monarch. She was joined by Embassy on Whit Sunday 24th May with Consul making her first appearance of the season at the pier on a day trip up from Weymouth on Thursday 4th June during which she offered a “Grand Cruise to the Needles Lighthouse (Isle of Wight)” at 2.30m, returning at 4.45pm for a departure back to Swanage and Weymouth at 5pm. The following Tuesday 9th June Emperor of India arrived and so the scene was set for a summer programme of daily trips offered by three paddle steamers with a fourth, Consul, calling in and offering some sort of trip to the Needles, Brownsea Island or adding extra capacity on the Swanage service according to need on two or three afternoons a week.

Consul 1952.

Consul was scheduled to make her last call at Bournemouth from Weymouth on Thursday 10th September and put in one round trip on the Swanage service away from Bournemouth at 3pm and Swanage at 4pm while there. Emperor of India finished the following day after which she returned to lay up for the winter in Weymouth. Monarch’s last trips were on Friday 25th September running the Swanage service after which she too returned to Weymouth to lay up for the winter. Embassy closed the season with a double run across to Totland Bay at 10am and 2.15pm on Thursday October 1st returning also to lay up in Weymouth the following day. That gave a season of about 140 operating days.

The core business model at Bournemouth in 1953, as in other years, was for a combination of the Swanage service, with a journey time of 45 minutes each way, and morning and afternoon runs across to either Totland Bay or Yarmouth, Isle of Wight at 10am and 2,15pm (4pm on Thursdays in the peak weeks) with a journey time of one and a half hours each way. Monarch was the mainstay of the Swanage service with departures from Bournemouth at 10.45am, 2.30pm, 4pm and 6pm with an extra trip at 12.15pm in the peak weeks.

Emperor of India 1952.

Emperor of India was the mainstay of the double run to the Isle of Wight on which she ran for the vast majority of her season. The only exceptions when she was rostered for longer day trips further afield were on Thursday, 11th, Friday 12, Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th June when she ran from Bournemouth to Spithead for the Coronation Naval Review and on Sunday 2nd August when she was rostered for the day trip from Bournemouth at 10am to Southampton Docks back 6.45pm with Embassy otherwise engaged on her Sunday afternoon coastal cruise to Lulworth Cove.

Embassy 1952.

In the early part of the season there was a three ship service on four days a week with only two of them running on Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays giving the opportunity for each of the three paddlers to have one day off each week. During the peak weeks all three were in service six days a week with Saturdays being the only day off for one or other of them alternating between the steamers. Embassy therefore relieved on the Swanage service on some Saturdays and on the double run from Bournemouth to the Isle of Wight on other days but for the 1953 season she was the mainstay of the longer day trips to more distant and exotic destinations from Bournemouth. She was smaller than Emperor of India. Her running costs per hour steamed made her cheaper to run and therefore she was the more obvious choice for the longer trips in a declining market.

Embassy’s trips to these more far flung destinations fall into several categories and of these the only one which was programmed regularly and consistently throughout the whole season from mid May to late September was from Bournemouth to Southampton Docks to view the liners and in particular the Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary, United States and America. For this, in an attempt to tempt passengers up the gangway with views of the latest technologies, the steamer notices made clear that the trip would be “Passing the new Esso Oil refinery at Fawley, now one of the sights of the South”. How times change. This trip was offered once, and in the peak weeks twice, sometimes thrice and in the week at the beginning of August no less than four times a week. It was away from Bournemouth at 10.15am, back at 6.45pm and gave one hour ashore at Totland Bay on the return journey. The first such trip in 1953 was on Tuesday 26th May and the last was on Tuesday 29th September. All were run by Embassy with the exception of Sunday 2nd August when Emperor of India was scheduled instead.

The only other of these longer trips consistently rostered every week from late June until early September was to Lulworth Cove. On Sundays from June 28th through to September 6th Embassy was scheduled for a “Grand Channel Cruise along the beautiful Dorset Coast To Lulworth Cove” away from Bournemouth at 2.15pm and back at 6.45pm. On these she often went into the Cove although she never landed there. She had a bow rudder and it was thought that this might get damaged by putting her bow up onto the beach as Consul and Empress did.

On Fridays from July 17th through to September 11th she was rostered for a trip from Bournemouth at 10.45am or 11am to Lulworth Cove back 5.30pm, later 6.45pm, which was advertised from August 7th as landing for one and a half hours. However it was Consul and not Embassy which did the landing. She came up from Weymouth to Swanage where she met Embassy. Passenger were transferred with Consul making her way back along the Dorset Coast to Lulworth Cove and Embassy taking some of Consul’s Weymouth passengers, plus anyone else from Swanage. on a direct route to Totland Bay for time ashore.

1953 was the year in which Ventnor Pier re-opened after the war so six trips were advertised by Embassy from Bournemouth at 10.15am to call there for about 2 hours ashore or on to Shanklin for about 1 hour ashore due back at 7pm. The first of these was on Thursday June 25th then two weeks later on July 9th and after that on Tuesday July 14th and Thursday July 23rd so that was looking like becoming once a week. However I think that we can take it that they weren’t a great commercial success as another one was not scheduled until four weeks later on Thursday August 20th and after that there was just one final trip on Thursday September 3rd. As day trips go it is not such an interesting cruise with almost all the trip, except when passing the Needles, some way off land. And the course inward and outward bound is pretty much broadside on to the prevailing SW wind so in anything other than light airs would have produced a bit of rolling which is not to everyone’s taste and may bring on seasickness in those prone to feeling a little bit queasy at sea.

The other rostered day trips this summer come across to me a little bit like “Let’s try this”. “Let’s try that” and “Perhaps we should give that a go if the other doesn’t work anymore”. For example, excursions from Bournemouth to Ryde or Southsea had been in the schedule over many years but in 1953 there were just two of them advertised in July. On Wednesday 1st July Embassy was rostered to be away from Bournemouth at 10.15am for a “Special Cruise Through the Solent to Southsea” (1pm – 3pm) and the following week on July 8th at 10am for the same trip but also calling at Ryde (12.30pm & 3.30pm). But this formula was not repeated again in 1953 suggesting that interest in this trip option was by then in decline and passenger numbers slender.

On the following three Wednesdays July 15th, 22nd & 29th Embassy did not run any day trips to distant destinations. Instead she offered a morning cruise at 10.45pm “Towards the Needles Lighthouse” and then in the afternoon took the 2.15pm to Yarmouth, usually taken by the Emperor of India, which on these dates did not return to Bournemouth after her morning run to the Isle of Wight but lay alongside Yarmouth Pier. The issue here was that if the Emperor was full on her morning run and she then carried another load across in the afternoon she had up to two boat loads to bring back on one trip at 5pm. Doing it this way got round that in a very busy period with Embassy there to help. Another solution more generally used during the season was for Embassy to call in at Totland Bay or Yarmouth where possible on the return leg of her longer day trips, for example to Southampton Docks. So long as she wasn’t full she thereby provided some extra capacity for those brought to the Island on the Emperor’s two trips.

With the day trips eastwards to Southsea having been discontinued, on Monday August 10th trips westwards to Portland Harbour and Weymouth were revived and given a go. Embassy was rostered to leave Bournemouth at 10.15am for a “Grand Cruise to Portland Harbour to view Warships including HMS Indefatigable and HMS Implacable” giving one and a half hours ashore 2.30pm – 4pm back at 6.45pm. This was repeated each week after that on 17th, 24th August & 1st September.

A trip round the Isle of Wight by sea had ever been popular in earlier years but by 1953 the numbers wanting to do it that way were seriously on the wane. Yes you could have had a trip round the Isle of Wight every Monday to Friday for almost all the 1953 season on any one of around 100 operating days but the only sea part was the bit between Bournemouth and Totland Bay or Yarmouth on a paddle steamer with the rest in a motor coach driving around the Island on a “Combined Steamer and Motor Coach Tour”. If you had wanted to do it by sea then Embassy provided just three opportunities in 1953 away from Bournemouth on Tuesdays August 11th & 25th & September 8th at 10am, back at 6.45pm and giving about an hour and a half ashore at Shanklin on the way.

So to sum it all up, the basic business model of around 140 operating days at Bournemouth in 1953 was underpinned by the regular Swanage service and the two round trips to Totland Bay or Yarmouth which packed in passenger numbers and revenue day in and day out throughout the season. On top of that there were trips to more exotic locations of which, as we have seen, the most often rostered by a long chalk were the 32 trips to view the liners at Southampton. There were eleven trips to land at Lulworth Cove, nine more to view the Cove, six along the Isle of Wight coast to Ventnor and Shanklin, four to Portland Harbour and Weymouth, just three complete circuits of the Island by sea and only two trips to Southsea.

If you look at the fares they also tell a tale which is not supportive of a good business case for the long day trip market by sea in 1953. The fare for the three hour round trip between Bournemouth and the Isle of Wight was 10/- which comes in at just under 3/6 per hour steamed. Yet the fare for the eight hour trip from Bournemouth to Southampton Docks was only 13/6. That is only another 3/6 for as much as five hours extra steaming which is a sorry 9d per hour steamed. That’s five hours extra steaming for the price of one hour steamed on the basic run across to the Isle of Wight. And it was even worse on the round the Island fare of just 12/6. That’s only 2/6 more for the very much longer extra sailing.

Emperor of India backing out from Totland Bay with Victoria alongside.

But here’s the real shock. The round the Isle of Wight fare by motor coach with the sea connection to Totland or Yarmouth was priced at £1. Yes, that’s right £1. That is where the money was in 1953. People were willing to pay another 10/- on top of their steamer fare, forking out £1 each, to go round the Isle of Wight on a coach on 100 or so operating days during the season. But paying only 2/6 more to do it by sea there was insufficient business to justify more than three such trips on Embassy all season.

Now let’s get technical. As far as the steamer trip is concerned it is the fare which you get per hour steamed which is the important thing and that which any management should always look at in working out the business model. The headline fare is neither here nor there. It might look expensive. It might look cheap. But the key indicator of potential profitability to keep the business solvent is the fare per hour steamed. Does it cover the costs? Does it cover the fuel and the wages? Does it pay off the standing costs of running the business? Does it make a surplus? And can I get the same headline fare by shortening the hours steamed on any trip thereby saving on fuel and wages and so bumping up the fare per hour steamed and so enhance the profitability of the business?

I love browsing through these old steamer notices searching for the secrets of history which they throw up. And here’s another one just to finish off taken from notice no 12 in the pile for the sailings from Bournemouth in 1953 I have here on my desk. This week included August Bank Holiday Monday 3rd August. How were the steamers rostered then? What were they doing to maximise revenue on this day of the season when, given fine weather, management might have expected really good loads of intending passengers? For this Cosens opted for the routes which provided the highest revenue per hour steamed. Emperor of India was rostered for her two trips from Bournemouth to the Isle of Wight at 10am and 2.15pm as usual. And the Swanage service was boosted by adding Embassy to assist Monarch maximising the take, more than doubling the capacity on the route and offering departures from Bournemouth at 10.30am, 11am, 12.15pm, 1.15pm, 2.15pm, 2.45pm, 4pm, 5pm, 6pm and 7pm. The longer day trips didn’t get a look in.

That’s the sort of day when you need a good sized wheelbarrow to shift the day’s cash takings to the bank. That’s the sort of day you need to help offset the lean times when the wind blows, the rain drives down and the paddle steamers are tied up looking forlorn, doing nothing and earning nothing whilst the old taximeter of wages and other ongoing costs ticks on relentlessly racking up the bills.

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