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South Coast of England : Southampton, Portsmouth, Bournemouth, Weymouth & Isle of Wight
The South Coast of England was to become one of the main areas of excursion steamer operation in the United Kingdom. With a mild climate, the resorts of Bournemouth and Weymouth became popular holiday destinations and the Isle of Wight equally so. Regular ferry services to the Isle of Wight continue to be provided from the major mainland ports of Southampton and Portsmouth as well as the small Dorset town of Lymington.

Paddle Steamers and excursion services were effectively discontinued in the 1960s in favour of point-to-point car ferry operations and the so-called "Fast Ferries" (hydrofoils), but PS Waverley has, in recent years, ensured that the area does have approximately two weeks of traditional sailings in the Autumn of each year.

Railway owned steamers provided the connections from Portsmouth to Ryde and what was come to be known as the "Red Funnel" fleet served Cowes from Southampton. Whilst the railway owned steamers offered excursions, the Red Funnel fleet at Southampton owned a large fleet of paddlers offering excursions along the south coast including to Brighton and the Sussex piers and across the English Channel to France. The Cosens company (latterly as a subsidiary of the Red Funnel Fleet) operated a large excursion fleet out of Weymouth and Bournemouth into the mid 1960s.

Southampton was and remains Britain's main port for cruise liners, and in earlier times, cross-Atlantic passenger services, and vessels were regularly used to tender (and view) these ships. Portsmouth is the main base for the British Navy and the frequent assembly of large parts of the Fleet at Spithead off Portsmouth provided paddlers with very popular duties sailing amongst the battleships at these naval Reviews. Smaller paddle steamers also served the short ferry service from Southampton to Hythe

Although the various fleets were to be seen throughout the area, the main operating groups can be summarised as follows:
a) Southampton - Cowes Ferry and excursions provided primarily by the "Red Funnel" line and Cosens & Co
b) Portsmouth - Ryde Ferry, latterly a railway-owned , with associated excursions (and Portsmouth-Fishbourne car ferry from 1927)
c) Lymington - Yarmouth Ferry, latterly railway-owned


Isle of Wight Royal Mail Steam Packet Company (1820-1861)

Isle of Wight Steam Packet Company (1826-1861)

Amalagamated to form : 

Southampton, Isle of Wight & South of England Royal Mail Steam Packet Co Ltd (1861-date)

Subsidiaries / Companies taken over

Southampton, Isle of Wight & Portsmouth Improved Steam Boat Company (1861-1862-1865)

Bournemouth, Swanage & Poole Steam Packet Co/Bournemouth and South Coast Steam Packet Co (1877-1909)

John Tizard (1853-1876)

Cosens & Co.(1876-1966)

Other Operators:

Southsea, Ventnor, Sandown & Shanklin Steamboat Co

P and A Campbell (1897-1902)

Herbert Jennings (1961)

Coastal Steamers (Weymouth) Ltd

- Portsmouth - Fishbourne and Lymington - Yarmouth Car Ferries

Portsmouth & Ryde Steam Packet Co (1827-1851)

Portsea, Portsmouth, Gosport & Isle of Wight Steam Packet Co (1849-1851)

Amalgamated to form :

Port of Portsmouth & Ryde United Steam Packet Co (1852-1880)

Later incorporated :

Southsea & Isle of Wight Steam Ferry Co (1873-1876)

Under Railway Ownership :

London & South Western Railway / London, Brighton & South Coast Railway (1880-1922)

Click here for details of paddle steamers
operating before 1923

Railway Amalagamation

Southern Railway (1923-1947) / British Railways (1948-1984)

Pleasure Steamers
By Bernard Cox
Published in 1983 by David & Charles
ISBN 0 7153 8333 7
A survey of pleasure steamers around the England & Wales coast devotes a chapter to developments on the South Coast.

Red Funnel and Before - Ships of the Southampton, Isle of Wight & South of England Royal Mail Steam Packet Company
By : R. B. Adams
Published in 1986 by Kingfisher Railway Productions, 188 Bitterne Road, Southampton, SO2 4BE
ISBN 0 946184 21 6
History of the fleet latterly known as "Red Funnel" with detailed vessel histories covering ferries, pleasure steamers, tugs and tenders.

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