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E0705 PS Kingswear Castle post 1930

This photograph shows the paddle steamer the PS Kingswear Castle, but there is a story of imperfect cataloguing here, of which more below the picture! Things like this add a great deal to the fun of museums and of volunteering for them!

The real vessel in the picture

Our picture is the 1924 built Kingswear Castle, purpose built for the river Dart pleasure trade.

The Kingswear Castles, both of them, were tourist and trip boats. Part of their job was to run trips to Totnes and back, and they also may have delivered folk to makeshift jetties that were run out to sea or by putting their bows onto Blackpool Sands and Slapton Sands. They were not intended to be seagoing except in the gentlest of weather and that trip was usually the preserve of a different cruise operator, so more checking is required to determine if either of the Kingswear Castles delivered that service. Did you travel on either of them to a beach landing in the Dartmouth area? Tell us, please. Richard Clammer, below, points out that it is, at best, unlikely that these seamers ever left the harbour mouth in their years of service.

The original 1904 Kingswear Castle was withdrawn from service in 1924 after a distinguished career, and her rusting remains can be seen on the left bank of the Dart on the excursion by river to Totnes. The skippers will tell you quite a story, and some of their stories are true. It is said by them of the Kingswear Castle:

She was used as a fever isolation hospital for soldiers of the Great War. When she was released back to her owners they were so fearful that contagion had infected her timbers that they stripped her of her engines, set her by the river bank and set fire to her rather than put her back into service.

How true that is you will have to judge from your own researches into dusty archives, but it makes a great story. Surely the folk of the time weren't that ignorant, even in the era before antibiotics and current medicine? Surely there was another reason? If they were that afraid, why did they dismantle the power plant for reuse and expose the workers to the presumed risk of infection. She certainly was no great age to be scuttled. Richard Clammer has given us authoritative history below which sets the skippers' tale into historical perspective.

The present Kingswear Castle was built in 1924, and had a distinguished career on the Dart until the 1960s. Not only that, she was one of triplets with the Totnes Castle and the Compton Castle.

PS KIngswear Castle, but not the one in the caption, which is incorrect! This is the second vessel. The first one was scuttled on the Dart in 1924, passing her engines to the current ship. The rotting hull is visible there today.
Note that the caption is incorrect. Hover your mouse pointer over the picture for a correction to the caption

Imperfect cataloguing

When we catalogued this picture originally it was considered to be the original Kingswear Castle, built in 1904. But something in our webmaster's mind said the picture was wrong. He spotted something and said, here:

The picture is interesting for a second reason. It shows a full embankment between Coombe Mud and the river. You can see it in front of the terrace of cottages, Coombe Terrace. But that was started in 1928. Obviously more information is required about this picture. Do you have that information?

Someone did have that information. Our webmaster asked the very nice people at The Kingswear Castle's home. They replied to him almost at once, confirming that this is not the vessel referred to in the caption, the one converted to be an isolation hospital, but is their ship in full tourist and film use today, still using the engines from the 1904 original. They also helped him tie down a better date. Remember that the embankment was started in 1928? They added this valuable snippet of information:

Our 1924 Kingswear Castle was built without the landing bridges on either side of the wheelhouse. These were added, I think, in the early 1930s so the picture must post date that.

Our original description said, incorrectly:

[This is] the original paddle steamship of that name. This is not the ship preserved and sailing on the Thames and the Medway, that is a successor ship of the same name that did the same job on and around the Dart. Come to that it isn't the Kingswear Castle, either!

Patently that was wholly wrong. What we're pretty sure happened is either that a label came loose and was enthusiastically re-fixed to the wrong picture, or that it was a plain simple mistake during the digitising of a very large number of pictures. What's been great is putting the mistake right, and doing it in public.

Where is the 1904 Kingswear Castle today?

The answer is that she is a rotting hull, surprisingly small, on the Dart opposite the Sharpham Estate, marked on the map with a blue pin:

Our webmaster went there today, 16 May 2012, and took these pictures of the wreck:

Wreck of the 1904 PS Kingswear Castle, a coal fired Paddle Steamer, scuttled on the river Dart in 1924
[Picture © Tim Trent all rights reserved]

There is nothing useful in this picture to act as a reference for scale, unfortunately.

Wreck of the 1904 PS Kingswear Castle, a coal fired Paddle Steamer, scuttled on the river Dart in 1924, showing some detail of the stern section of the wreck
[Picture © Tim Trent all rights reserved]

Time has taken its toll, and the wreck blends in to the background rather more than is helpful. Slightly better for scale, the second shot has fallen tree debris to give some sort of proportion to the hull. Both pictures show how just under a century of dereliction and neglect destroy a scuttled hull exposed to the weather and lapped by the tide.

Some authoritative Dartmouth and Devon paddle steamer history

We've been in correspondence with Richard Clammer by email. He has given us substantive historical detail and, almost better than that, permission to reproduce it here. He says:

The vessel shown [on this page] is the current Kingswear Castle of 1924, and not her predecessor of 1904. It was the latter ship which was sold to the Port Sanitary Authority for use as an isolation hulk, her engines being transferred to the present Kingswear Castle.

The hulk story is an interesting one since, as far as I can tell, she was never used as such. The Port Sanitary Authority, having bought and converted her at great cost, discovered that the legislation requiring them to have such a facility had lapsed some years previously. There were resignations and reprisals! The old ship was finally beached at Fleet Mill just below totnes, where she can be seen to this day.

You mention [above] the practice of landing passengers on the open beaches. This was never done by the River Dart steamers, which did not even venture beyond the harbour mouth. The practice was invented by Cosens & Co of Weymouth who, as early as the late 1850s were sending their steamer "Prince" and others around Portland Bill and calling at open beaches at Bridport, Seaton , Sidmouth, Budleigh Salterton and westwards to Torquay. They later invented a patent landing gear which was attached to the ship's bow and hauled upright at sea. As the vessel approached a beach she would drop a kedge anchor over the stern to keep her square on, run her bows onto the shingle and drop the gear onto the beach. Passengers disembarked through a small door in the bulwarks forward.

The "westward trip" was a regular feature of Cosens's programme for many years, usually on a Thursday.

In 1879 Cosens based "Prince" at Torquay and inaugurated trips along the coats from there, including to Dartmouth and the open beaches.

In 1887/8 they sold Prince to Messrs Ellett and Matthews of Exmouth who took over the Devon services. Cosens helped and advised them and even supplied a skipper and engineer. Their business prospered and they added the purpose built "Duchess of Devonshire" and "Duke of Devonshire" in 1891 and 1896 respectively. The company became the Devon dock, Pier & Steamship Company Ltd and the two vessels became a much loved part of the Devon coast Scene until their demise in the 1930s.

Both ships came regularly to Dartmouth and either anchored in the harbour, landing their passengers by boat, or went alongside the embankment. Their passengers regularly transferred to one of the Dart paddlers for the trip to Totnes.

The full story of Cosens and Co's services, including much on the Dartmouth connection can be found in my two books, "Cosens of Weymouth, 1848-1918" and "Cosens of Weymouth 1918-1996". The books also cover the Duke and Duchess in quite a lot of detail, though a full history needs to be written at some stage.

Richard Clammer has supplied us with full details of books he used to cite the information he has given us:

  • Clammer, Richard (1 November 2005). Cosens of Weymouth - 1848-1918. Black Dwarf Publications. ISBN 978-1903599143
  • Clammer, Richard (31 August 2001). Cosens of Weymouth: 1918 to 1996. Twelveheads Press. ISBN 978-0906294482
  • Clammer, Richard; Kittridge, Alan; Paddle Steamer Preservation Society (March 1987). Passenger Steamers of the River Dart & Kingsbridge Estuary. Twelveheads Press. ISBN 978-0906294130

Clicking the ISBNs will take you to Wikipedia's impartial book search from where you may, if you choose, find the books online and make an order. The museum chooses not to have a preference for book vendor and makes no commissions from book sales, nor does it recommend a particular book.

18 December 2012

At 1600hrs on 18 December 2012 the PS Kingswear Caste returned to the Dart. She had to wait for a weather window after the strong winds of the past several days, and she came into the Dart, under tow as is normal since she is not a seagoing vessel, as dusk was falling.


This picture is part of the picture archive of Dartmouth Museum and is represented in restricted quality and size. The full picture can be viewed when you visit the Museum. The code in the heading is the catalogue code in our archives. Many of the pictures in the Dartmouth Museum Archives are available for purchase.

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