Paddle Steamer Ryde
Sadly, silently, this grand old Lady of the Solent, a veteran of wartime Normandy landings, sits marooned in a sea of Medina mud, waiting, wondering what her fate lies in store.
Gone are her majestic contemporaries, Solent Queen, Duchess of Norfolk, Freshwater, Sandown, Whippingham, only the Ryde, last of Southern Railway’s lovable paddle-steamers remains, forlorn reminder of glorious days between and after the two great wars when thousands of holiday makers packed the paddlers for the ‘two-bob’ crossing between Portsmouth and Ryde.
Most of the steamers ended their days in breakers yards. Somehow the Ryde, later renames Ryde Queen, survived and was moved to a mudflat on the river Medina at Binfield, where she entertained youngsters as a floating disco. In recent years the old ship has faded with the music, resting, rusting in the mud.
But all is not lost; the new owners of Island Harbour Marina are hoping to restore some of the Ryde’s former pride, converting at least part of the ship into a maritime museum.
Volunteer members of the Island and Wessex branch of the Paddle-Steamers Preservation Society are also helping with restoration work at weekends.
Mr Phil Fricker, a retired engineer from Cowes said the ship was not structurally in such poor condition as she looked. “It would be grand to see her operational once more, but perhaps that’s too much,” he said.
The voluntary work being led by Mr Nick James, chairman of the Society which has a nation wide membership of about 3,000. “Our main concern at the moment is making her water-tight, replacing damaged plates and generally trying to prevent further deterioration,” said the 40-year-old teacher from Southampton.
Could the ship be made seaworthy? “It’s possible, but it would cost a lot of money for complete restoration, perhaps up to £2 million,” said Mr James.
In happier times, the Ryde was remembered with affection by countless thousands of trippers who looked on the thirty-five minute crossing as part of the family outing. Undoubtedly the earlier Victorian and Edwardian years set the pattern for constantly improving ferry operations between the Island and mainland. Majestic ships with majestic names – Brighton Queen, Monarch and Solent Queen. They ran from Southampton as well as the Railway fleet at Portsmouth, and competition was keen. These vessels used to carry up to 500 or more passengers from Southampton to Cowes in under an hour.
The Ryde was launched from the Clyde shipbuilders Denny and Bros. Ltd., of Dumbarton in 1937 as a replacement for the Duchess of Norfolk, the last vessel delivered to the joint Railway Companies Portsmouth fleet before the grouping of railways in 1923. Later renamed Embassy, the Norfolk ended her seagoing days in 1967.
Ryde and her sister ship Sandown, built three years earlier, were coal-fired, 223 ft., long with a beam of 29 ft., and were the only ships in the Portsmouth based fleet with three cylinder engines.
Although Ryde and Sandown were the last of seven paddle steamers built by Southern Railway for the Portsmouth to Ryde service, they were not the largest. This honour fell to sister ships; Whippingham and Southsea, both built in 1930. Like the Ryde, the 825-ton Whippingham took part in the Dunkirk evacuation. She was withdrawn from service in 1963 and sold to a Belgian company for scrap. Her war years were initially spent in the Thames Estuary and Dover Straits with HMS Sandown. The two ships worked as minesweepers, keeping the channel clear for merchant shipping, part of Ryde’s saloon was cut away for minesweeping gear. With the end of hostilities, the Island quickly reaffirmed its popularity with holiday-makers, and during peak summer months it was not unusual for five steamers on the Portsmouth run to carry up to 40,000 passengers in a day.
In 1945 two new diesel ships were ordered to replace the old Southsea and Portsdown lost during the war, thus ending the supremacy of the paddle steamers on this route.
John Woodhams in the magazine 'Old Glory', describes how one by one the Portsmouth paddlers were withdrawn, leaving Ryde as the sole survivor after the 1965 season. Even she was only used in summer months, largely on the service between Ryde and Southsea piers, Clarence and South Parade, with occasional relief ferry duties. She would spend winters laid up at Newhaven. In 1969 she was sold to the operators of Binfield Marina for £12,000, joining the old Medway Queen and for a time, Kingswear Castle also stored nearby. After some months in the river, Ryde was manoeuvred into an old millpond as centrepiece of the developing marina complex.
Although the engines remained in place, the boiler was scrapped to provide more room for a disco dance floor. Renamed Ryde Queen, she became a nightclub/disco, although proposals to convert part of the ship into a ‘boatel’ were never fulfilled.
Twenty years later the ship still lies in the millpond, now out of use, yet a survivor, even after suffering a major fire some years ago. At one time she was repainted in her original livery with buff funnel, and green paddle boxes, although she now sports a red funnel. Two of her starboard lifeboats still hang in their davits, whilst the port davits hung empty, and much of the promenade deck furniture had disappeared over the years.
What of her future? Her conversion into a floating museum is a splendid idea, well worth pursuing. Falling that perhaps Medina Council might consider bringing the old lady back to her namesake home port of Ryde, maybe to a permanent berth in the new Esplanade Harbour, a floating tribute to the ferry ships and personnel who have serviced the Island so well for the past 160 years.
In August 2006 her funnel collapsed and she is now possibly beyond repair. In September 2009 it was announced that enthusiasts were attempting to raise funds to buy the steamer, held by receivers after her former owner, Island Marina Holdings, went into administration. A non-profit company, PS Ryde Trust, wished to restore the vessel to once again be in the condition to sail tourists across the Solent. It was estimated that £7 million would be needed for the restoration, with fund-raising needs of £1,000 a month for mooring fees and £600,000 for the move to a dry dock, with the remainder of the funding coming from the National Lottery. In early 2010, work began to dismantle the vessel, beginning with asbestos removal. In 2012, the ship's bridge collapsed and is now beyond repair indefinitely. The PS Ryde Trust failed to negotiate a deal to save the vessel and the PS Ryde is now being scrapped.
Vessels named in this article with brief histories
PS Duchess of Norfolk built by D & W Henderson of Glasgow in 1911 with length of 190 ft., beam 26.1 ft was used on the Portsmouth to Ryde route. Sold to Cosens & Co, Weymouth in 1937 and renamed PS Embassy. She became a minesweeper both in WWI and WW2. Her last passenger service was on September 22, 1966 and left for the Ghent, Belgium scrap yards on May 25, 1967.
PS Freshwater built by J Samuel White at Cowes in 1927 for the Southern Railway Lymington service. She was withdrawn from service in 1961, later to become Sussex Queen and then Swanage Queen ending her days in 1969.
PS Whippingham built by Fairfield Shipbuilders & Engineering Co. Ltd. Of Glasgow in 1930. She had a length of 254 ft, beam of 31 ft and tonnage of 825. Withdrawn from service 17 May 1963 and sold for scrap to Ghent, Belgium.
PS Shanklin built by J I Thornycroft of Southampton in 1924, with a length of 190 ft, beam 26.1 ft and tonnage of 399. Sold to Cosens & Co. in 1951 and renamed PS Monarch. She was retired and scrapped in 1961.
Portsdown built by Caldon & Co. of Dundee with a length of 190 ft, beam 25.1 ft and tonnage of 342. She was involved with the Dunkirk evacuations but was mined and sunk off Southsea September 1941.
Sources: VariousThis page was last edited on: 26th January, 2022 17:50:44