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Paddle Steamer Preservation Society

Beneficial owners of  paddle steamers Waverley and Kingswear Castle - and provider of grants to other British paddle steamers
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Above : Paddle Steamer Waverley : Saved for and operated on behalf of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society (Photo at Ilfracombe on 7/6/09 by Kenny Whyte)

The Paddle Steamer Preservation Society, a registered charity in England/Wales and separately in Scotland, is an organisation with open membership and is the majority shareholder in Waverley Steam Navigation Company Ltd, also a charity and owners of the Paddle Steamer Waverley. The Company is owned by its shareholders on behalf of the Society and shareholders take no dividends. Share ownership is subject to closed trading only but in practice is limited to a small number of people with long-term involvement in its operations, past or present. Supporters are able to become "Friends of Waverley", which entitles them to certain benefits only. The Society is also the beneficial owner of the paddle steamer Kingswear Castle through a separate Trust. In the case of Waverley (and supporting motor vessel Balmoral until 2012) the operators are Waverley Excursions Ltd, a subsidiary of WSN, which as a commercial company does not itself have charitable status but gathers donations on behalf of WSN. PS Kingswear Castle is separately managed and is now operating on the River Dart under a 15-year charter to the main excursion ship and heritage transport operator in the area. 

The Society operates through regional branches in the UK (Scottish, London & South East, Bristol Channel, Wessex & the Dart and North of England & North Wales) and holds regular branch meetings with speakers on subjects of relevance. Non-members, visitors and potential new members are welcome to the meetings. As well as a "social club" and a good place to meet and keep in touch with like-minded people, the Society owns a large collection of artefacts, photographs and ephemera relating to paddle steamers which can be made available for study. 

The Society raises funds for its various purposes, the major activity being to support the ships it owns through its subsidiary companies, with grants towards essential expenses incurred by the ships. Strictly speaking, the objects of the Society include to assist in preserving ships in operating condition, so ownership and operation is vested in other companies. As donations to PSPS (and WSN) attract Gift Aid by virtue of their charitable status, grants made by PSPS out of charitable funds can only be used for the preservation of the ship and not for revenue support. Grants are made to PS Maid of the Loch and PS Medway Queen although these ships are owned by independent charities. The society publishes a quarterly journal, Paddle Wheels, with detailed reports about its ships and excellent coverage of paddle steamers worldwide, which is sent free to members.

The founding of the Society in the early 1959 coincided with the increasingly frequent withdrawal of a once large coastal fleet. Not only were paddle ships and steam ships disappearing; they were, in many cases, not being replaced at all and the possibilities for the traditional pursuit of coastal cruising were dwindling. The Society aimed to preserve as much as possible of the memory of these vessels whilst attempting to delay their demise. Although cash was sparse, the Society supported private preservation attempts, a number of which were undertaken by enthusiasts in the south coast area culminating in the 1966 and 1967 sailings of the Clyde steamer Jeanie Deans out of London as PS Queen of the South. A regional branch of the Society was formed in Glasgow to try and avert the demise of the paddle steamer Caledonia, withdrawn after the 1969 season. Although operation of the vessel on their own account was considered, however far fetched it seemed, it was not progressed due to the ship's owners not countenancing any opposition service (a stance which, ironically, was to soften slightly four years later when the time came for Waverley's withdrawal). Nevertheless, with Caledonia sold for scrap, the new Society branch did persuade the scrap yard's management to re-sell the ship for static use in London.   

Ownership came early, with the purchase of the near-derelict small River Dart paddler, Kingswear Castle. Clearly the Society did not have the financial means nor the knowledge and experience to operate the vessel and she lay for many years tended but without real hope of a return to service. In late summer 1969, the society was instrumental in delaying the scrapping of the Clyde paddler Caledonia which had been sold for scrap and lay at her new owner's quay at Dalmuir. The best the society could hope for was her static preservation, and the brewery company Bass-Charrington came to the rescue and moved the ship to London to begin a new life as a pub.

The whole situation changed when Waverley was withdrawn by her Clyde operators after the 1973 season. Too costly to operate and in need of significant expenditure, her owners, Caledonian-MacBrayne, large ferry operators and with a tradition of steamer ownership going back for almost a century, gladly gifted the vessel, the last of a long line of Clyde paddlers to members of the PSPS for the token sum of one pound. Terry Sylvester and Douglas McGowan, two young businessmen were convinced that the vessel could be returned to steam although Caledonian-MacBrayne and almost everyone in the Society believed that it would be a non-starter. Just in case, Caledonian MacBrayne stipulated that she should not sail in competition with their remaining cruise vessel, TS Queen Mary.

Willing to support Sylvester and McGowan's optimism, a massive fund raising campaign was initiated by the Society, and behind the scenes, an organisation was put in place to attempt to turn the dream into reality, but to protect the sceptical society, Waverley Steam Navigation Company was registered in the names of a small group of directors. The Society had no experience of operating a vessel - but a highly professional set-up would be essential if the directors were to succeed.

Waverley did sail in 1975, but at that time it was virtually unthinkable that she would still be sailing into the 21st century, with the expectancy of many more years in service after major renovation at the turn of the century. Even more unlikely would be that a second paddler, Kingswear Castle would be in frequent service, with former Southampton-Cowes ferry and Bristol Channel excursion vessel MV Balmoral (of 1949) also continuing the tradition of coastal cruising under the beneficial ownership of the Society for a number of years until withdrawal in 2012 and her transfer to a separate charity for her further operation.

The efforts of volunteers and fund raisers remain the backbone of the Waverley story. Without them, there would now be no Waverley. Funds have been committed regularly to support Waverley  and as a result, new shares in WSN have been issued through which the society is now legally the major shareholder in the company. She has become a well-established presence on many parts of the British coast and can now be regarded as operated as a "going-concern", run to the highest standards of marine practice.

The detailed and definitive history of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society's fascinating story was published in 2019 to mark the 60th anniversary of the society. It is written and edited by Richard Clammer, a well-known paddle steamer historian and author, with contributions from many people who were part of the story

Sixty Years of PADDLE STEAMER PRESERVATION (The Paddle Steamer Preservation Society Story)
Compiler - Richard Clammer
Published 2019 by Black Dwarf Publications
ISBN - 9781903599  27  3


There are many books about Waverley - see the vessel page for a short representative bibliography - but this volume, published in 2014, can be regarded as the definitive work on the story behind the saving and first 25 years of operation of the ship and has major contributions from the key players in the fascinating story of running the ship

Waverley Steam Navigation Company
Compilers - Alistair Deayton and Iain Quinn
Published 2014 by Amberley Publishing
ISBN - 978-14456-4155-3

Above : River paddle steamer Kingswear Castle, the first ship to come under PSPS's wing, which found new life on the River Medway after being restored by society volunteers. In 2013 she began yet another chapter in her life, restored to her original home the river Dart, on a 15-year lease to the Dartmouth Steam Railway & Riverboat Company. Thanks to Phil Barnes for the photo

Steam Engine of PS Compton Castle : Preserved for many years in a museum on the Isle of Wight, these were purchased by the Paddle Steamer Kingswear Castle Trust in November 2014 and in February 2016 were moved to Kingswear Station, Devon, for eventual display. Compton Castle was an older "sister" of Kingswear Castle in the River Dart fleet.

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