Wednesday, 23 January 2013

London's Short-lived Paddle Steamer Fleet

Clyde-built PS Earl Godwin of the London CC fleet leaving the berth on the Thames just downstreamof Hungerford Bridge (Photo from the collection of Dr J Meister, Basel,Switzerland)

In 1905 London County Council began operating a river service, to use the modern term, between Hammersmith and Greenwich. Interestingly, this was two years after the Clyde Navigation Trust ceased operating their Clutha steamer service along the Clyde from the Broomielaw to Whiteinch. The Clutha' had been successful for a number of years and would probably have continued to be so had it not been for the arrival of Glasgow Corporation Transport's new fleet of electric tramcars or the 'Caurs' as the Glaswegians called them with great affection. The 'Caurs' ruled the roost on the city streets for the next 6 decades before they succumbed to the joint pressure of the motorbus and the private motor car. In contrast the London service was never succesful and lasted just 2 year managing to build up an enormous debt in such a short period. The fleet of 30 paddle steamers was old off in 1909. A fair number remained on the Thames and were operating successfully by the City Steamboat Company until the start of the Great War in 1914. 

The fleet of 30 almost identical paddlers were built in 4 UK Shipyards. Originally ten vessels were allocated to three shipbuilders, namely:

Thames Iron Work
J I Thornycroft & Son, Chiswick, Chris London
Napier & Miller Ltd, Yoker, Glasgow.

Thames Iron Work also built the compound diagonal reciprocating engines and boilers boilers for the vessels that they supplied but the machinery and steam-raising plant for the 20 ships allocated to Thornycroft and to Napier & Miller were supplied by the world's oldest shipbuilding company, the Scotts Shipbuilding & Engineering Company (founded 1790) of Greenock on the Clyde. 

By the early 1900s, hipbuilding on the Thames was on the wain and between 1905 and 1907 two of the principal shipbuilding firm on the River had moved to pastures new. Thornycroft moved to Woolston on the River Itchen at Southampton while Alfred Yarrow moved his operation over 400 miles north from Poplar to a brand new yard at Scotstoun on the Clyde. As a result of the Thornycroft move four of the paddlers originally allocated to them were built by a smaller Thames builder, G Rennie & Co. 

Following the collapse of the LCC venture the 30 paddle steamers were dipersed far and wide destinations including the German rivers, Belgium, Rouen, Belgrade, Dundee, Portmouth and Bari. Two of them went to Lake Lugano where they were renamed Lombardia and Svizerria. On of them, originally named Ben Johnon (originally built by Thornycroft in Southampton) went to the Lake of Lucerne in Switzerland, becoming the PS Rhein. After WW2 he wa rebuilt a the MS Waldstatter and he remained in service until 1995. I made a point of ailing in her each time I visited Luzern. Sadly he was scrapped on the lake at Beckenreid in 2001.

Two of the LCC paddlers, the Shakespeare (built by Thornycroft) and the Clyde-built Earl Godwin came north to Loch Lomond in 1914, being renamed Princess Patricia and Queen Mary respectively. Sadly the Napier & Miller craft Queen Mary ex Earl Godwin was destroyed by a fire at Balloch before he even entered service. Princess Patricia erved on Loch Lomond until 1938 when she wa crapped at Balloch. The view below show the Yoker-built Earl Godwin leaving the berth on the Embankment (Cleopatra' Neddle behind) near Waterloo Bridge (where another steamhip named Queen Mary, with Clyde connections, lay until recent times. 

The fascinating story of the LCC's impressive but unsuccessful fleet of 30 paddlers and their ultimate fates has been extensively researched by Swiss steamship enthusiast Dr Jurg Meister of Basel and published in an extensively illustrated book. I am grateful to Dr Meister for sending me a copy of such and impressive and informative piece of maritime heritage research. The text is Swiss German. The view below is the front cover of the book and the picture in the bottom right corner is the MV Waldstatter ex PS Ben Johnson, on which I enjoyed many sailings in the 1980s and early 90s. Note the text of the book is written in German.

Stuart Cameron

PS Duchess of Fife at Rothesay

The Caledonian team Packet Company paddle steamer Duchess of Fife, built 110 years ago by the Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Company Ltd, Govan (same yard that is now building the largest sub-assemblies of the two new aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy). Duchess of Fife was requisitioned into the Royal Navy during both world wars and, thankfully, returned to the Clyde after both conflicts. She continued to serve the Clyde resorts until replaced (with others) by the four new diesel-engined passenger ferries, known collectively as 'the Maids', in 1953. In this view the 'wee Fife' is occupying the eastern end berth of Rothesay pier (the Berth 3 end), port-side-to for a quick get-away.

Picture from the album of my friend the late Mr John MacDonald of Mount Florida, Glasgow

Stuart Cameron

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Kingswear Castle on the Dart December 2012

Kingswear Castle was towed from the Medway on 11 December by the tug Christine, she reached Portland the following day and had to seek shelter until 18 December before finally arriving on the Dart. Her first public cruise is scheduled for Friday 29 March (Good Friday) when she will offer a cruise from Dartmouth with all proceeds being given to the PSPS.

Chris Jones visited the Dart on Sunday 30 December and has kindly supplied the following pictures he took of her at rest awaiting the start of her new life on the river she was built to serve.

More pictures of Kingswear Castle can be found at Chris's blog site by clicking here.

Website of the Dartmouth Steam Railway and Riverboat Company can be found here. Details of her public sailings can now be found on this site.

Paul Semple

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Swiss Winter Paddling

For some years now one Paddle Steamer can be found in steam on Lake Luzern operating over the festive period but this year another lake put it's paddler into service. On Lake Thun Blümlisalp was used for the first time for winter duties. She operated two cruises each day, one from Thun to Beatenbucht in the morning and a full-length sail to Interlaken in the afternoon.

PS Blümlisalp was built by Escher-Wyss & Cie, Zurich. She entered service on Lake Thun in 1906 and at 206 feet can carry up to 1000 passengers. She is based at Thun and her normal summer duty involves a full-length cruise of the lake to Interlaken West. On many days in high season she also offers an evening departure from Thun to Beatenbucht complete with a full catering service. Due to the fact that Interlaken West is reached by a canal of nearly 2 miles in length Blümlisalp was designed for passing down the canal stern first. Her single ventilator does not obstruct the view looking aft from the bridge wings and she has a large bow rudder to allow her to navigate the canal. She also approaches the landing stage at Thun stern first on the River Aare.

Blümlisalp was withdrawn from service in 1971 and lay in a deteriorating condition for a number of years before a full restoration began including reboiling and extending her by almost 8 feet. She re-entered service on 22nd May 1992 and has proved to be a great attraction. She celebrated her centenary in 2006.

Daniel Eichenberger visited Lake Thun over the festive period and has supplied some excellent shots. Daniel describes the weather conditions more like spring than Christmas. There was no trace of snow at lake level but as can be seen from the pictures there was on higher ground. She is reported to have carried many passengers and proved a popular addition to the normal winter offering.

Blümlisalp at Interlaken West. The railway station is adjacent to the berth.

A stunning shot showing the excellent weather conditions.
At Thun
Winter paddling at it's best.

Blümlisalp arrives at Interlaken on her 100th Birthday on 31st July 2006, on this occasion each passenger was issued with a brochure to mark 100 years of the ship giving an outline of her career including plans and technical details. (Picture P Semple)

Many thanks to Daniel for the pictures.

Paul Semple

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Festive Cruise 2012

The Scottish Branch's annual festive cruise successfully took place on Saturday after some initial concerns about weather. Leading up to Saturday the forecast was not good but in the end the wind dropped for a few hours allowing the cruise to take place as planned.

As usual M.V. Cruiser was provided by Clyde Marine Services Ltd. Cruiser was built for the Gosport Ferry Company in 1974 and was originally named Southsea Queen. Her arrival in Gosport saw the end of the last three traditional ferry boats working between Gosport and Portsmouth across Portsmouth Harbour; Vita, Ferry Queen and Vesta. In fact Southsea Queen only lasted 4 years at Gosport before being sold to White Horse Ferries for use on its Hythe ferry service. In 1995 she was chartered to Brownsea Island Ferries Ltd for service in Poole Harbour eventually being sold on to Blue Funnel Cruises in 1997 and renamed Poole Scene. It was in 1999 she was sold to Clyde Marine Services Ltd and renamed Cruiser.

Cruiser departed the Victoria Harbour, Greenock and first headed across to Blairmore to receive the usual warm welcome complete with mulled wine and mince pies. The picture below shows Cruiser at Blairmore Pier.

Passengers rejoin Cruiser before heading up Loch Long.

It was noted that a plaque to the late Dr Joe McKendrick has now been installed at Blairmore Pier in recognition of Joe's long associated with the pier and Waverley.

The plaque on Blairmore Pier in memory of Dr Joe McKendrick.

After leaving Blairmore Cruiser headed up Loch Long and into Loch Goil while passengers enjoyed the buffet lunch. To add interest each table on-board was named after a Clyde Pier of yesteryear and tables were called up to the buffet one at a time. Favourites of the past such as Craigendoran, Arrochar, Lamlash and Whiting Bay were all included.

Passengers on deck.

With some time in hand after cruising Loch Goil and Loch Long Cruiser provided an unadvertised bonus with a quick circuit of James Watt Dock and then into East India Harbour before returning to the Victoria Harbour. It was of interest to see Hebridean Princess in the James Watt Dock.
Hebridean Princess at Greenock.
As in recent years a small profit was realised and many thanks are due to Branch Chairman Peter Reid for once again arranging the cruise.
All pictures provided by Gordon Wilson.
Paul Semple