The 1964 Weymouth Paddle Steamer War

Forty years ago this summer, in an era when routes were being closed and paddle steamers were making off for the breakers with ever increasing frequency, Weymouth suddenly found itself with two excursion steamers locked in fierce competition for what was, by then, a vastly diminished trade.


Consul, pictured off Kingswear in her 1964 colours, returned to Weymouth that year to revive the Lulworth Cove landing trips abandoned by Cosens & Co in 1962.


This put her in direct competition with the Princess Elizabeth, pictured above, which had taken over the Weymouth sailings after Cosens had sold the Consul in 1962.


Both ships ran to Lulworth Cove but only the Consul called there as her operators never tired of pointing out.  On Wednesdays and some Fridays in the peak weeks Princess Elizabeth sailed on the popular and remunerative run to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight leaving the way clear for the Consul on the local trips. For potential passengers to tell them apart, their promotional material described them as "The Red Funnel Ship" and  "The Ship with the Yellow Funnel" respectively.


As may be imagined, relations between the two operators started in a rather less than cordial atmosphere which continued downwards ever after with allegations of one thing or another being made by one side and counter allegations of another thing and something else being made by the other. Consul's owners were doubtless cock-a-hoop when Princess Elizabeth ran out of fuel one day in the Solent and received a reprimand from the Board of Trade.  And Princess Elizabeth's owners were doubtless cock-a-hoop when a Board of Trade surveyor turned up, perhaps as a result of a tip off, to find that Consul was overloaded by sixteen passengers as recorded in the press cutting above. Some may say that this was not altogether fair as Consul had had her Passenger Certificate slashed from over 400 to just 230 for 1964 and she still carried LSA for over 400 but, nevertheless, it was an offence and her master, Capt Holleyoak, was prosecuted and fined 10.

Consul lasted until the end of August after which she was withdrawn never to operate again and, after a spell as an accommodation ship at Dartmouth, was scrapped in 1968. Princess Elizabeth continued to run at Weymouth in 1965 but that was the end of her operational career. After periods as a static ship on the Thames and then in Paris she is now a conference venue in Dunkirk.

One person who greatly benefited from the 1964 Weymouth Paddle Steamer War was Bob Wills, a former employee of Cosens and Chief Engineer of the paddle steamers Empress and Consul. At that time he was running the fifty passenger launch Topaz from a pitch on the Pleasure Pier which all intending passengers for the two paddle steamers had to pass. Bob's keen commercial antennae soon picked up the fact that he was often asked by people if they were going the right way for the "Red Funnel Ship" or the "Ship with the Yellow Funnel". Ever eager to improve his own business, Bob painted the diminutive funnel perched on the top of the cabin of the tiny Topaz half red and half yellow so when asked the question again he could legitimately say "This way Madam!" Bob always said that 1964 was one of the best seasons he ever had with his "Topey"!

Return to Pictures of the Month