Part 6: Paddle Steamers in Preservation
With the decline of paddle steamers in coastal waters around Britain during the mid 1950’s, a group of enthusiasts joined together and formed the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society in 1959. Initially the Society concentrated on recruiting members who were interested in this form of transport, which was fast disappearing from our seaside resorts and the few rivers where paddle steamers operated.
A steamer revival
During the early years, members of the Society were mainly interested in meetings and cruising on the remaining steamers, but in 1967 an opportunity arose to purchase P.S. Kingswear Castle, a small river steamer operating on the River Dart in Devon. This steamer has now been completely restored and operated cruises on the Rivers Medway and Thames up to 2012 during the summer months, but moved back to the River Dart in December 2012 where she will operate from Kingswear to Totnes in 2013 and subsequent years. However during the 1970’s, the only paddle steamer in revenue earning service was P.S. Waverley, an LNER paddle steamer built in 1947 and operating on the River Clyde in Scotland by Caledonian MacBrayne. However in 1974, she was offered as a gift to the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society (PSPS) for the token sum of 1 pound and Douglas McGowan, Honorary President of the PSPS Scottish Branch, handed over the 1 pound note on behalf of the PSPS on 8th August that year. P.S. Waverley was then prepared and went into service under PSPS ownership in May 1975.
Steamer cruises around the British coastline
After 2 years operating on the River Clyde, a decision was made to expand its operational area to the rest of Britain, and in 1977 P.S. Waverley offered cruises from Liverpool and North Wales. This was a great success and from 1978 P.S. Waverley operated cruises from the Sussex Coastal towns of Hastings, Eastbourne, Newhaven and Worthing, as well as other parts of Britain. From the mid 1980’s however P.S. Waverley has only operated from the 4 Sussex resorts of Eastbourne and Worthing, due to the unsuitability of Newhaven and the poor condition of the landing stage at Hastings Pier. In 1990, P.S. Waverley did operate cruises along the Sussex Coast and to the Isle of Wight from Brighton Marina during the Brighton Festival in May, but in subsequent years similar cruises have been operated by the 1949 Motor Vessel Balmoral, although these cruises ceased in 1995.
P.S. Waverley in Brighton
It is not possible for P.S. Waverley to call at Brighton during its annual visit to the Sussex Coast, because the West Pier, which at one time had a substantial landing stage, is closed and the original landing stage at the Palace Pier, now known as Brighton Pier, has long since gone with no prospect of it ever being reinstated.