A Memorable Weekend with Bristol Queen

Supporting the preservation and operation of paddle steamers Waverley and Kingswear Castle

A Memorable Weekend with Bristol Queen

Long-standing PSPS member Keith Abraham recently provided a number of his slides to the PSPS Collection for digitalisation. Amongst the slides provided were some excellent images of P. & A. Campbell’s Bristol Queen.

Paddle Steamer Bristol Queen was built by Charles Hill and Sons of Bristol, her engines were built by Rankin and Blackmore at the Eagle Foundry in Greenock. At 961 Gross registered Tonnes, she was the largest Paddle Steamer to grace the Bristol Channel. She measured at 244.7 ft x 31.2 ft and her boiler was oil fired from the outset which required her to have two funnels.

Bristol Queen was launched with a bottle of Bristol Cream Sherry, on 4 April 1946 by Lady Mayoress J Owen. She undertook sea trials on the 7th September 1946. During the “Lean Years”, Bristol Queen was laid up at the end of the 1958 season and did not resume active service until the 1961 season. This was a period of financial reconstruction for P. & A. Campbell Ltd, who were going through the most turbulent period in their long history.

For the 1963 season a special 3 day trip to Penzance and the Isles of Scilly was operated by Bristol Queen where on Friday 17th May she sailed from Cardiff to Penzance. On the Saturday she ran a return excursion from Penzance to the Isles of Scilly (4 hours ashore) and then on the Sunday sailed back to the Bristol Channel. The ticket price for the three days sailing from Cardiff or Weston to Penzance and Scilly was £9 or £7 10s from Ilfracombe.

Bristol Queen at Penzance alongside Scillonian on the morning of Saturday 18th May 1963. Keith Abraham

Keith recalls his memorable trip to Penzance and the Isles of Scilly in May 1963.

Bristol Queen at Penzance in May 1963 alongside Scillonian. Keith Abraham

I drove from London with two friends – John Richardson and Roy Asher – to Ilfracombe to join Bristol Queen for this quite unusual sailing – a weekend to Penzance and the Isles of Scilly. We sailed from Ilfracombe on a gloriously sunny Friday afternoon, and apart from a swell at Lands End, we duly arrived at Penzance, where we booked in to a hotel, this had been pre arranged as part of the whole package.

On the Saturday morning, which as indicated by the pictures was fine and clear. The ship was on the other side of the harbour from Scillonian, and when I arrived she was resting on the mud. By the time the tide had enabled the paddle steamer to be afloat again, she was brought across the harbour and all the passengers had to go aboard via the Isles of Scilly vessel. At sailing time, Captain George, being a no nonsense individual, just rang “full astern” on the telegraph, and we sailed out of Penzance.

A stern view of Bristol Queen alongside Scillonian at Penzance. Keith Abraham

The rest of the day was idyllic, with most of the passengers enjoying time ashore at St. Mary’s until the return sailing. This again was a most splendid paddle steamer sailing with the sun at our stern for the whole journey back to Cornwall. We returned to the same hotel for the Saturday night, and the Sunday saw us going around a somewhat rougher Land’s End than we had encountered on the Friday!

Bristol Queen at St Mary’s on the Isles of Scilly. Keith Abraham

One particular item of paddle steamer interest was that on both the Bristol Queen and Cardiff Queen it was possible to go right to the bows, and provided you were within about ten feet of the bow, you did not get wet. It was not quite the same experience on-board the Cardiff Queen! Wonderful memories have been stirred!

The trips to the Isles of Scilly proved to be successful and having operated initially during the 1963 season they continued until Bristol Queen’s last year in service in 1967.

In addition to Keith’s images a new video showing the Bristol Queen in service during 1964 has been uploaded to the PSPS YouTube channel. The video also features an interview with Mr Smith-Cox who was Managing Director of P. & A. Campbell Ltd.

On Saturday 26th August 1967, while departing Barry, Bristol Queen suffered catastrophic damage to her starboard paddle wheel. She limped back to Cardiff under her own power but at a much restricted speed. Sadly, she was immediately withdrawn from operational service and was never to carry passengers again. She was sold to Belgian ship breakers and departed Cardiff and the Bristol Channel for the last time on Thursday 21st March 1968, for Willebroek in Holland under the tow of German Tug Fairplay XI.

However the sight and sound of a paddle steamer on the Bristol Channel was not lost forever as Paddle Steamer Waverley made her first visit in 1979 and has visited the Channel almost every year since. In 2018 Waverley will be visiting the Bristol Channel from Friday 31st August till Tuesday 4th September. Tickets are on sale on-line from Waverley Excursions or by calling 0141 243 2224.  Waverley’s 2018 Bristol Channel timetable is shown below.