Part 1: Introduction to the Paddle Steamer

Robin Jones
From a private collection

Britain’s first commercial Paddle Steamer commenced operations in 1812. Named Comet and designed by Henry Bell, it operated a service between Glasgow and Greenock in Scotland. The success of this venture influenced Shipping Companies around Britain to look at this form of propulsion for coastal excursion vessels. From the mid 19th century small fishing villages were expanding into large towns and a feature of these towns in most cases was the Seaside Pier.

Piers and paddle steamers
The majority of Piers were structures built a short distance out to sea with a landing stage constructed at the end. With this facility, shipping companies could operate pleasure cruises from seaside resorts around Britain. Due to the shallow water at the end of the pier, the most suitable vessel was the paddle steamer. The paddle steamer had a shallow draught, the depth of the hull below the waterline, and was easily manoeuvrable, making it an ideal vessel for calling at seaside piers.

Types of paddle steamer
A number of different designs of paddle steamers were developed. The steam engines, providing power to the paddle wheels, could be of an oscillating type, a compound diagonal or a triple expansion design. Other features within the paddle steamer would also vary. Some paddle steamers only had one funnel, while others had two. The design of the paddle wheels themselves varied, the smaller vessels having fixed floats, while the paddle wheels of larger steamers incorporated a feathering mechanism to ensure each float entered the water vertically to improve the steamers operational efficiency. Other features included various designs of passenger areas, and over the years further improvements were introduced to ensure passenger comfort.

Comments about this page

  • My father used to ‘scrape and save’ to give the family a holiday at Brighton in the pre-war days. Always for me the highlight was a trip on one of the paddle steamers – probably the Brighton Belle. The last journey was the big event. We went on an all day excursion to Southampton Water to greet the arrival of the King and Queen back from Canada. I well remember how everyone clambered to one side of the boat to get the best view. I am sure the boat ‘listed’ at least 45 degrees. In those days we lived in Birmingham and, for me, returning there was like being confined to prison – so far inland from the sea. Now I live on the east coast and hope to have a ‘day out’ on the paddle steamer Waverley from Southwold to London Bridge later this year. What nostalgia!

    By Edward G Platt (02/03/2005)
  • What do you know of Henry Pearson Maples? He operated Paddle Steamers and Screw Steamers from Brighton to Jersey and accross the channel to France in the 1850s and 1860s. He appears to be the Freddie Laker of his time. He would do – Cheap Excursion to Rouen via Newhaven – Excursions to Boulogne. Special trips to – Dieppe Races – Jersey Races – Paris Grand Military Fete. His Ships were Screw Ships Alar, Viborg, Rouen. Paddle Steamers London, Scud, Petrel, Foam, Paris, Ladybird. Steam Yaught London (could be the same as above).
    You applied for some of these these trips through the Brighton Railway Company. These ships left from Brighton or from New Haven.He must have been one of the Earliest operators.

    By Ian C Pearson (06/08/2008)
  • Of Henry Pearson Maples, can anyone confirm if an Edward St Hill MAPLES b.abt 1886, Eng. is a son of his? I have on his NZ WWI enlistment that his next of kin is H.P. Maples (father) of Hull, England.

    By Rachel Hill (13/08/2011)
  • Rachel Edward Sainthill Maples was the second child of Henry Pearse Maples and his first cousin Jane Maples. Henry Pearson Maples was the father of Henry Pearse Maples.

    By Ann Adams (25/08/2012)
  • Thank you for that family info Ann, really appreciated!

    By Rachel Hill (18/10/2012)
  • Above is mentioned the PS Glengower and that she went to Bristol. I visited the “Great Britain” in dry dock at Bristol several years ago and in an adjacent building was a small museum in which there was a glass cabinet with a large model of PS Glengower, along with several other large models. I hope this interests someone.

    By John Snelling (27/10/2019)

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *