COSENS & CO
POST WAR PADDLE STEAMER REBUILDS

After the Second World War many paddle steamers were returned to their owners in terrible condition and consequently needed almost a complete rebuild with new steel work, decking and much else before they could be returned to service. Cosens & Co of Weymouth returned their Monarch (1888), Victoria (1884)and Empress (1878) to service looking very much as they had done pre-war apart from a lowering of the white paint of the hull down a strake. But Embassy (1911), Consul (1896) and Emperor of India (1906) were re-built very substantially and in all three cases re-appeared looking very different from their pre-war selves.

 

PS Embassy alongside Cosens' works in the Backwater at Weymouth

Much of the rebuild work was done at Cosens' own works shown in this picture and to this day (April 2000) there remain the taller riding posts positioned at each of the paddle steamer berths which had been specially fitted along the quay to prevent the paddle steamer sponsons riding over the top of the quay wall and getting caught on exceptionally high tides . This was a purpose built paddle steamer harbour! Also on the quayside just by Embassy's bow you can see one of the large deckhouses which covered the aft promenade deck companionway on Consul and Embassy from their return to service after the war until around they were removed around 1956/7.

 

Another view of the Cosens' works with Princess Elizabeth, Embassy and Balmoral alongside in the Weymouth Backwater around1966/67

Cosens ship repair business was quite extensive and Red Funnel's Balmoral, Vecta and Medina were regular visitors. Cosens also did much of the work converting Vecta's car deck into a saloon when she became Campbell's Westward Ho in 1966.

 

PS Consul making her way through the Weymouth Town Bridge to her winter berth closer to the Cosens' works.

 

SOME OF THE RE-BUILT PADDLERS

 

PS MONARCH

PS Monarch undergoing major work on the Cosens slipway at Weymouth at the end of the Second World War

The above picture shows plates removed from the hull around the turn of the bilge of the aft boiler room - unusally Monarch had two boiler rooms one forrard and one aft of the engine room- as well as the funnels and much else removed. It is also unusual to see a ship up a slipway stern first but this was necessary here due to Monarch's long length in relation to that of the cradle which meant that one end of the ship, in this case the bow, remained in the water. To complete the whole job, Monarch therefore had to be put back in the water half way through the refit, turned and then hauled out again facing the other way.

Monarch was built by R & H Green of Blackwall with engines by John Penn & Son in 1888 for Cosens & Co and initially ran on their longer excursions from Bournemouth and Weymouth including across the Channel to Cherbourg and Alderney. After the introduction of the PS Majestic in 1901, Monarch sailed less and less further afield and for much of the latter part of her life was much associated with the Bournemouth to Swanage service.

 

PS Monarch backing out of Bournemouth Pier in the 1930s with the Needles in the far distance. The Monarch was one of the first excursion paddle steamers to be fitted with a wheelhouse which in her case bore a passing resemblance to a garden shed.

 

PS Monarch after the war

On her return to service after the war Monarch looked much the same as before except for painting the white a strake lower on the hull. She was withdrawn in 1950 and scrapped, her place being taken at Bournemouth by the former Southern Railway paddle steamer Shanklin which Cosens renamed Monarch. Sadly she lasted only until the end of the 1960 season after which she was scrapped in Cork. The second Monarch's paddle box crest now has pride of place in the Kingswear Castle office.

 

Cosens' second Monarch (ex Shanklin) sharing a drydock at Southampton with the Embassy sometime 1951-1953

 

PS EMBASSY

Embassy at Weymouth in war-time grey

 

After the Second World War the Embassy was returned to her owners in a dreadful state as can be seen in this picture and was subsequently rebuilt ultimately emerging so rebuilt as to be hardly recognisable as her former self.

 

PS Embassy before the Second World War

 

The rebuilt Embassy seen here around 1960

Embassy was built in 1911 by D & W Henderson of Glasgow as the Duchess of Norfolk for the Joint Railway service from Portsmouth, Southsea and Stokes Bay to Ryde on the Isle of Wight. Cosens acquired her in 1937 for longer sailings from Weymouth to Bournemouth and the Isle of Wight etc. After the Second World War she was re-built with much replacement of steel work and decking as necessary and she was given a new deck house and bridge and full width saloon on the main deck aft. She returned to service late in the 1946 season and the following winter was converted to oil firing and given a much larger funnel as in this postcard with an induced draught system which necessitated the curious attachment to the forrard end of the funnel.

 

Embassy sometime between 1947-1953

Based mainly at Bournemouth for all but the 1948 season when she was the Weymouth long distance steamer, Embassy ran on all the Bournemouth routes although she did not have her bow strengthened to take the beach at Lulworth Cove. She was sometimes advertised to sail from Bournemouth to Swanage and Lulworth Cove but usually on these occasions her passengers transferred at Swanage to Consul which had come from Weymouth with her passengers transferring to Embassy to be taken to Totland Bay on the Isle of Wight. This direct run from Swanage to Totland was popular with Swanage visitors as most Isle of Wight sailings took the longer route via Bournemouth but the transfers did tend to annoy the Weymouth and Bournemouth passengers who had settled into their seats aboard Consul and Embassy on their day out and did not welcome having to get off one paddler and fight for seats on the other particularly if both ships were nearly full.

After the sale of Consul in 1962, Embassy paddled on as the lone Cosens steamer until the end of the 1966 season running a schedule based at Poole and sailing sometimes between Swanage and Bournemouth but more often between Bournemouth and Totland Bay or Yarmouth with an extension to Cowes during the regatta. The PSPS chartered Embassy several times in the 1960s reviving the sailing around the Isle of Wight, the trip in 1965 unusually starting from Weymouth and conveniently arranged as Embassy had, in any case, to position herself from Weymouth to Poole for the start of the season.

The first part of this charter made for an exciting trip as it was in the the days before the magic of radar had arrived on the bridge of many paddlers and thick fog covered the South Coast. Swanage Pier was eventually found by the now little used traditional technique of listening for and then aiming for the sound of the bell being vigorously rung at the end of the pier by the piermaster.

After the 1996 season Embassy retreated to the Weymouth Backwater for layup as usual but was disturbed from from her winter hibernation in the following March to be towed away for breaking in Belgium.

One feature of the Cosens steamers was the excellent state of the engine rooms which were generally the equal of and often superior to the best maintained Swiss steamers today. One exception to this, for a period in the late 1950s, was Embassy, her engine room being almost as dirty and badly kept as became the norm on the Portsmouth paddlers Ryde and Sandown later in the 1960s. However, Chief Engineer Alf Pover (who later became the General Manager of Cosens) took over the engine room in 1961, transferring from the newly scrapped Monarch (ex Shanklin built 1924) and he transformed the machinery.

 

The Embassy's engine room.

For her last six seasons Embassy boasted the most beautifully kept engine room which I have ever seen with sparkling brass and steel work. Mr Pover also manged to cure the continual thick black oily smoke which had become Embassy's trademark since the war and which was often visible in the far distance as evidence of her presence long before the steamer herself could be seen.

With her last captain, John Iliffe (who is still alive and living in Weymouth today), on the bridge and with Alf Pover on the engine controls, Embassy was a joy to watch coming in and out of the piers and under their guidance and much aided by Chief Officer Eric Plater, himself an excellent ship handler, Embassy was immaculate and one of the best kept paddle steamers of the 1960s.

 

PS CONSUL

 

PS Consul on the Cosens & Co slipway at Weymouth around 1960

By this time the slip was not considered strong or large enough for Cosens' other vessels and Monarch and Embassy were often dry-docked at Southampton although in later years Embassy used the slipway in the Portland Naval Dockyard.

Consul was built in 1896 by R & H Green of Blackwall with engines by John Penn & Son as the Duke of Devonshire for service on the Devon coast based at Exmouth and Torquay. During the First World War she was called up and saw service as far afield as the Dardanelles. She was sold to P & A Campbell in 1933 and almost immediately sold on to J Dwyer for service from Cork in Ireland but she was back on the Devon coast in 1936 now owned by Alexander Taylor of Torquay and sporting a red funnel. In 1938 she passed to Cosens who renamed her Consul.

During the Second World War she was an examination vessel at Weymouth and, after the war, she was thoroughly rebuilt with steel and deck renewals as necessary, the main saloon being extended to the full width of the ship, a new bridge and deck house being added and her boiler converted to oil firing. She returned to service for the 1949 season, the last steamer of the fleet to be re-built and returned to service after the war.

 

PS Duke of Devonshire pre war before she became Cosens' Consul

 

PS Consul off Weymouth in the late 1930s

 

PS Consul as re-built after the war alongside the Pleasure at Weymouth sometime 1954-1956

During the post war years Consul ran on most of the company routes with the possible exception of round the Isle of Wight and, apart from a brief period in the early 1950s when at Bournemouth for the high season, she was otherwise based at Weymouth being much associated with sailings to Portland Harbour, the Bill of Portland, the Shambles Lightship, Lulworth Cove, where she put her bow onto the beach to unload, Swanage and Bournemouth and occasionally, to Totland Bay, Isle of Wight.

Prior to the 1962 season problems with the concrete which covered much of Consul's bilge were discovered and her sailings for that summer were restricted to Weymouth Bay. After that Cosens sold her to South Coast and Continental Steamers who ran her without much success on the Sussex Coast in 1963 and from Weymouth in 1964 in direct competition with the Princess Elizabeth thereby dividing business hardly sufficient for one paddle steamer by two.

At the end of the 1963 season Consul spent a couple of difficult weeks on the Thames on charter to Don Rose who, fired by enthusiam for the venture, subsequently bought the Clyde paddle steamer Jeanie Deans and attempted to run her with a most spectacular lack of success on the Thames as Queen of the South in 1966 and 1967. Consul became an accommodation ship at Dartmouth in 1965 and was scrapped at Southampton in 1968. It is said that her keel was never removed from the mud where she was broken up and remains today under the quayside extension built over it.

 

PS EMPEROR OF INDIA

Emperor of India at war as a minesweeper

The paddle steamer Princess Royal was built in 1906 by J I Thorneycroft of Southampton for the Southampton Isle of Wight and South of England Royal Mail Steam packet Co (later to be called Red Funnel Steamers) but, as she failed to meet design standards, was sold on to Cosens in 1907 who renamed her Emperor of India and placed her on their long distance excursions.

Initially having an open foredeck at main deck level, the ship was lengthened to try to improve her performance but any advantage so achieved was lost when the promenade deck was subsequently extended to the bow. She was also large for the available business outside the peak weeks and therefore often had a shorter season than other members of the fleet latterly in the 1950s appearing usually at the beginning of July and retreating to winter layup in early September. The Cosens' minute books recount that Emperor of India was often put up for sale during the 1930s but nobody wanted to buy her.

After war service Cosens senior master, Capt Rawle, whose father had been captain of the PS Majestic, went to collect Emperor and found her in a terrible state with one of her wheels in half. He had her towed back to Weymouth where she was gutted and completely re-built emerging from the Backwater in her new guise in July 1948. She returned to service at Bournemouth shortly afterwards with much local press coverage at the time describing the extent of the works which had been carried out by the Cosens team and the opulence of her new fittings.

 

The Emperor of India before the Second World War

 

The Emperor of India re-built after the war

The addition of extra weight after the war may have improved her amenities but it did nothing for the performance of the ship. Like Waverley, Emperor of India sat low in the water and her paddle boxes had a tendency to clog which affected her speed. In an article in Ships Monthly in June 1970 Capt Rawle described her as "built like a battleship with massive wheels and machinery." Various attempts were made to lighten the ship with holes cut in beams under the sponsons and apparently eighteen inches lopped off the top of the funnel but this did not stop Capt Rawle from referring to his former command as "a nightmare for all who had to run her - difficult right up to the end".

Although primarily the long distance Bournemouth excursion steamer during the peak weeks, this position became more often taken by the more reliable Embassy after the war and for a time during the 1950s Emperor spent periods on the Swanage service. Withdrawn after the 1956 season she was towed away in January 1957 for breaking up in Ghent having had only nine seasons of use out of her complete re-build.

J M

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