September 2006:
Last Sailings of the Paddle Steamer Embassy in 1966

September 2006:
Last Sailings of the Paddle Steamer Embassy in 1966

The paddle steamer Embassy, pictured alongside Bournemouth Pier in the early 1960s, made her last public sailings forty years ago in September 1966.

Although Embassy had been used on Cosens’ longer excursions since they bought her in 1938 from her previous incarnation as the Southern Railway’s Portsmouth to Ryde paddle steamer Duchess of Norfolk, by the 1960s she had settled down to a more limited diet, over-nighting during the summer at Poole and running mostly from Bournemouth to Totland Bay or Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight with connections on some days to and from Swanage and a day or two each week in the early and late season spent maintaining the Swanage service. In Cowes week she usually made a couple of trips to view the Royal Yacht and from time to time in the 1960s was chartered, particularly by the PSPS, for more adventurous cruises. It was, though, the shorter, regular routes targeted at the ordinary holiday-maker which brought the money in on a daily basis.

Embassy alongside Swanage pier.

Embassy’s gleaming engine immaculately maintained by Chief Engineer Pover in her last years from 1961 to 1966.

Embassy’s paddle box crest was much more ornate than on any other Cosens paddle steamer. Sadly the one on the port side fell off and was lost during an incident with a yacht in the North Channel near Hurst Point on Thursday 28th July in 1966. Proceeding outward bound from the Isle of Wight, Capt Iliffe was forced to make an emergency stop during which the port paddle wheel suffered damage. Embassy had to be towed back to Poole and was out of service for more than a week whilst repairs were carried out.

On top of the paddle box you can see a pile of deck-chairs. Cosens’ steamers always carried a lot of these which were often stowed in rather exposed places and consequently could be a tad on the damp side when passengers came to sit on them.

A lovely deck-shot from the camera of June Bushell.

Embassy made her last public sailings on the 22nd September 1966 and returned to lay up in the Backwater at Weymouth where she is pictured with the gigantic mainmast acquired for the 1966 season to accommodate a change in the regulations for the positioning of navigation lights. Ahead of her is the Princess Elizabeth which had been withdrawn the previous year and astern is the Balmoral in her Red Funnel Steamers colours undergoing a refit by Cosens. Sitting in the Backwater at Weymouth amongst the other paddlers, Balmoral always seemed to me to be the final development of South Coast paddle steamer design even though she had no paddle wheels. She was about the same size as her wheeled elders, had a similar onboard layout and had the feel of a paddle steamer about her. Even the engine room alleyways had windows through which to gaze, if not at a steam engine in motion, then at least at the seemingly unmoving Diesel engines presaging a new age. She might have had a raked rather than a straight stem, a cruiser rather than a counter stern, a bigger bridge with a wheelhouse fashioned in steel; her masts and flat topped funnel may have been set at a jaunty angle to make her look the last word in “up to date” circa 1949 but this successor to the South Coast paddle steamer fleets still seemed to owe a lot in basic design to the past and, at the very least, deserved the title of “honorary paddle steamer”.

Embassy lay in the Weymouth Backwater until May 1967 when she was towed away to Ghent to be broken up, just about the time of year she would normally have been steaming out of the harbour on her way to Bournemouth to start the new season.

Pictures by Pat and June Bushell, Jill Harvey, Tony Horn and from the archives.