December 2nd 1972 – A momentous day in the history of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society – a decision was taken to make an all-out effort to secure the preservation of Kingswear Castle.
During the autumn the future of Kingswear Castle looked bleak – with no substantial financial backing or interest of members in practical work, the steamer was deteriorating further and further. The Society’s Central Committee recommended selling – even if it was only for static restoration. At an Extraordinary General Meeting in London thirty members voted to reject the decision to sell, while only twenty accepted it. A large number of those unable to attend had expressed their view, with the overwhelming majority of the replies in favour of selling.Nick Knight, the Ship Manager, vividly illustrated the gradual deterioration over the past six years or so. Perhaps it was these slides more than anything else which determined the mood of the meeting. They brought home to the fifty members present just how much would have to be done, but they also brought home just how worthwhile the restoration would be. It needed only a little imagination to see how attractive Kingswear Castle could eventually become.
There were words of warning – money would be needed not only for initial work – halting the decay in the first place, with restoration proper coming much later – but also for maintaining the steamer if she ever became operational again. Even if the money was there it would need not months but years of hard work – a concerted and prolonged effort from members prepared to sacrifice time and energy to the steamer. It was despite such warnings that when the vote was taken, the Society set itself, perhaps, its most difficult task ever.
From the Chairman – It is fair to say that the Central Committee were delighted beyond measure at this belated show of determination to try and redeem previous failures, and provide vitally urgent working parties. Now we have the opportunity because a member has come forward to volunteer to organise the working parties. The task is formidable but this is the last chance. If the Society fails this time there will be no alternative but to dispose of Kingswear Castle. Your committee is not prepared to allow deterioration beyond repair.
To Cherbourg by Balmoral – JE Cowper recalled a boyhood trip across the Channel.
It was the last trip of the season to Shanklin and Cherbourg in, I should think, 1903, 4 or 5. Although the day broke sunny, the barometer was falling sharply. There were on board about 300 from the Midlands. Soon after leaving Shanklin, sunshine gave way to heavy rain and by mid-channel a fierce south westerly gale had blown up. However we were only a little late at Cherbourg and had about one and a half hours ashore. When we were due to leave, the skipper thought it would be wiser to remain tied up. However, the party from the Midlands told the Captain that it was imperative that they get back for work on Monday morning. So we set sail in the south westerly gale. Balmoral behaved splendidly in mountainous seas. Most people were sick and the waves smashed some saloon windows besides removing a ventilator or two. Due at Shanklin at 8pm, we did not make it until 11pm and then broke five ropes before landing. The vessel had to call at Southsea before going on to Southampton, so I should think the seasick Midlanders would have been unfit for work on Monday!
Reading this edition of Paddle Wheels has made me realise just how close we came to losing Kingswear Castle twenty five years ago. The dedication of the Project Manager and the Ship Manager, Nick Knight through some very tough times eventually won through as we know. The story, will I expect, unfold, with more Peeps into the Past.
Kingswear Castle is now, as always, dependent on the dedicated efforts and goodwill of relatively few people and organisations, and we are indebted to her custodians on the River Dart. Perhaps one of the best ways to demonstrate support is to join one of the cruises. If every PSPS member made at least one trip during the season it would show a measurable effect – and you might be very pleasantly surprised!