In the first of a series of blog posts, we take a look back at some of the most prominent attempts at operating a commuter service on the Thames from the early 1900’s to the present.
In this post, we take a look at London County Council’s attempt to operate a paddle steamer service using approx 30 steamers between 1905 – 1907. The service officially opened by the Prince of Wales on 17th June 1905 (photo below) which would run between Hammersmith and Greenwich.
The paddle steamers were built at 4 separate yards these were Thames Iron Works , J.I Thornycroft at Southampton , Rennie at Greenwich and Napier and Miller at Glasgow.
The vessels were 130 feet long, 18 feet breadth and 120 gross tons with a carrying capacity of 530 passengers. A single boiler fed steam to the compound diagonal engine of 350 IHP, which turned the two 10ft 6-inch paddle wheels giving a speed of 12.5 knots. Scott’s Engineering & Shipbuilding Co., Greenock, and Thames Ironworks supplied the engines
The service ran at a loss due to low passenger numbers and by 1906 the winter service ran a reduced service to save costs. Although an agreement was reached with The Thames Steamboat Company ,a rival company which also shared the same piers and tried to undercut L.C.C , an agreement was made over fares routes and piers in the spring of 1906,however takings during the summer of 1906 was well below expenditure. In the summer of 1906 the decision was taken not to run a winter service and that in 1907 they would only run a service for 4½ months in the summer. In early 1908, the Committee recommended selling or chartering all the boats, following an earlier decision to sell off just six boats. Attempts to sell the whole fleet were unsuccessful and the boats were sold over the period from April to July 1909, for a total of £18,204.
A rival company, The City Steamboat Company bought fourteen of the boats and tried to run a profitable service but even they had to concede defeat at the beginning of the First World War. Many of the other boats were snapped up at their bargain price and ended up being used all over Europe including Mesopotamia, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Germany and Russia
A complete history of each steamer and its fate can be found here