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P & A Campbell’s

White Funnel Fleet

 Peter & Alex Campbell’s Clyde-based paddle steamer company transferred its operations from Glasgow to the Bristol Channel in 1888, following a successful charter of the ‘Waverley’ to Bristol the previous year. The ‘Waverley’, built in Paisley for Campbells in 1885, was the first White Funnel steamer to work the Bristol Channel, and many more were to follow.

 During almost a century of operating in the Bristol Channel and on the south coast of England P & A Campbell used more than twenty different ships, and almost half of these worked out of Swansea at some time or another. Up to the First World War, most passenger sailings between Swansea and other ports in the Bristol Channel had been undertaken by Pockett’s Bristol Channel Steam Packet Company, but Pockett’s last remaining paddle steamer, the ‘Brighton’, was requisitioned for war service in 1915 and never returned to Swansea.

 Following the demise of Pockett’s, P & A Campbell took on the role of providing excursions between Swansea and Ilfracombe, beginning with the paddle steamer ‘Glen Gower’ in 1922. Also included were occasional trips to Porthcawl, Minehead, Lynmouth, Tenby, Lundy, Clovelly and Bideford, together with evening cruises around the Gower Peninsula. The ‘Glen Gower’, as with later White Funnel steamers, would berth in the River Tawe, at either Pockett’s Wharf or the South Dock Jetty.

 The ‘Glen Gower’ had been built for Campbells by Ailsa Shipbuilding in 1922 specifically for the Swansea to Ilfracombe service. Apart from the Second World War when she was requisitioned for war service as HMS ‘Glenmore’, she worked continuously out of Swansea until being laid up in 1957. Although extensively reconditioned after the war, the ‘Glen Gower’ was considered beyond economic repair, and was sold to Belgian breakers in 1960.

 Another White Funnel paddle steamer working regularly out of Swansea in the 1920’s and early 1930’s was the ‘Lady Moyra’, built as the ‘Gwalia’ in 1905 by Clyde shipbuilder John Brown & Co Ltd. Acquired by Campbells in 1922, the ‘Lady Moyra’ was transferred to the south coast in 1933 and renamed the ‘Brighton Queen’. She was lost to enemy aircraft attack during the Dunkirk evacuation of 1940. Replacing ‘Lady Moyra’ from 1933 on the Swansea to Ilfracombe run was the ‘Devonia’, also built by John Brown in 1905, and also lost to enemy action in the Dunkirk evacuation.

 Campbell’s paddle steamer ‘Britannia’ often worked out of Swansea in the early to mid 1950’s but she was, by then, nearing the end of her useful life. Built in Ayr by S McKnight & Co. in 1896, she had been requisitioned for war service in both World Wars, firstly as HMS ‘Briton’ and then as HMS ‘Skiddaw’. Long considered the flagship of the White Funnel fleet, the ‘Britannia’ had spent most of her working life on the Bristol to Ilfracombe run. After the war she continued on various Bristol Channel routes until being taken out of service in 1956. She was scrapped at Newport that same year.

 Campbell’s steam turbine twin screw ship ‘Empress Queen’ also worked in the Bristol Channel after the war, sailing out of Swansea on many occasions. Built by the Ailsa Shipbuilding Company in 1939, she was requisitioned for war service as HMS ‘Queen Eagle’. In 1955, the ‘Empress Queen’ was sold to a Greek shipping company and renamed ‘Phillipos’. After many years of cruising in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, she was destroyed by fire in 1972.

 The last two paddle steamers to be built for P & A Campbell were the ‘Bristol Queen’ and the ‘Cardiff Queen’. The ‘Bristol Queen’ was built by Charles Hill & Sons of Bristol in 1946 and sailed mainly between Bristol, Cardiff and Ilfracombe, although she worked out of Swansea on several occasions during the 1960’s. Taken out of service due to a damaged paddle wheel 1967, she was broken up in Antwerp the following year.

 The ‘Cardiff Queen’, built by Fairfields Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. of Govan in 1947, worked many seasons out of Swansea throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s until taken out of service 1966. She was scrapped at Newport in 1968. The passing of the ‘Bristol Queen’ and the ‘Cardiff Queen’ marked the end of the era of White Funnel paddle steamers in the Bristol Channel after a period of almost 80 years.

 The final chapter in P & A Campbell’s link with Swansea began in 1970 with the chartering of two former Red Funnel twin-screw diesel ships – the ‘Westward Ho’ and the ‘Balmoral’ – to run excursions to Ilfracombe from the new Swansea Ferryport Terminal. The ‘Westward Ho’ operated from Swansea until 1972 and the ‘Balmoral’ until 1980 when the service was eventually withdrawn. These days, however, along with the paddle steamer ‘Waverley’, the ‘Balmoral’ is operated by the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society, and remains a regular visitor to Swansea during the summer months. No doubt as a gesture to the memory of P & A Campbell’s famous fleet, she is painted in the traditional White Funnel colours.


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