Not much more than half a century ago, excursion paddle steamers were still a
common sight plying the lakes, lochs, rivers and coastal resorts of Britain.
people were sufficiently familiar with them to have at least a basic understanding of
how they worked! Children of all ages marvelled at the polished brass on the engines
— often visible through glass panels — and the crew members working away below.
By the 1950s, with the increase in motoring holidays, the popularity of the excursion
steamer trip was already waning, and by the 1960s few were making any money. And
then suddenly, just like steam trains, they had almost all gone — victims of the
growing popularity of the motor car, cheap flights and more sophisticated holiday
expectations — and we had barely noticed.
There are currently seven of them left,
and at the time of writing two of those are still sailing. They are the 1947-built
Waverley and the Dartmouth-built excursion steamer Kingswear Castle which has
recently returned to work on the River Dart after many years sailing on the Medway.
Many of the finest Edwardian excursion steamers were featured in the millions of
postcards produced for the tourist market. A number of those cards — beautifully
tinted and printed at a very high quality — form the basis of many of the illustrations
in this book.
The finest often came from print works in Saxony, Bavaria and Belgium
in the years before the First World War.
This book does not set out to be a comprehensive history of the paddle steamer.
Rather it offers a series of snapshots of the fascinating story and enduring charm of
paddlers over the last two hundred years, profusely illustrated by nostalgic historic
images and the author’s own superb photography.
It also offers a look at those few
precious survivors of the age of the excursion steamer, the ferry and the paddle tug,
and the efforts of those whose passion is to keep them alive and steaming.
John Hannavy is a writer, photographer, photographic historian and incurable steam enthusiast.
Until retirement he was Professor in Photography and Photographic History at the University of
Imprint: PiXZ Books. ISBN 978 0 85710 092 4, hardback, 210x148mm, 144 pages. Published September 2014.