THIS weekend will mark the 70th anniversary of the paddle steamer Monarch passing through Weymouth’s Town Bridge on her final journey to the breakers.

Transport historian Brian Jackson shares memories of this glorious vessel, which turned heads in its 70 years of existence from 1888 to 1950.

"Seventy years ago on February 22 1950 the paddle steamer Monarch passed through Weymouth’s Town Bridge on her final journey.

"Monarch was a sleek two funnelled craft and a complete success. Built in 1888 by R & H Green at Blackwall, she cost£14.939.

"Her principle dimensions were 210ft long, 22ft 2ins.beam and 9ft beam. 309 ton gross. The two cylinder diagonal engines and boilers were constructed by John Penn of Greenwich had cylinders of 41ins with a 48in stroke, developing 130 nhp, 850 ihp.

"Steam at 30 psi was supplied by two single ended scotch boilers one fore and one aft of the engine room. Monarch undertook trials on the Thames in late June 1888 where a speed of 14¼ knots was recorded. Billed as “the new steel clipper saloon steamship”, she was certified at the time to carry 309 passengers across the channel, 511 between Beachy Head and Start Point, 588 inside a line between the Isle of Wight and Portland Breakwater and 1082 inside Southampton Water.

"Arriving at Weymouth on June 24 she was open to public inspection, additional work to complete the vessel were carried out at Weymouth including the electric wiring carried out by Mr Petter a Yeovil ironmonger and the fitting of a steam driven dynamo supplied by E.S. Hindley of Bourton, Dorset, this was mounted on the upper deck amidships, the first Weymouth vessel to have such a luxury (the first GWR vessels so equipped did not arrive until 1889). On 7th July she carried out a trip to Swanage, Bournemouth and Yarmouth for Directors and invited guests. On 12th July Monarch made a sailing from Bournemouth to Brighton. Monarch carried out her first cross channel excursion to Cherbourg on 19th July 1888 when 250 passengers sailed from Bournemouth and Swanage, taking 5 hours 21 minutes on the outward journey.

"She also carried out Bournemouth-Torquay excursions and from Weymouth to Torquay. 1889 saw her repeat the same configuration of sailings, on July 13she made a special three day sailing to Jersey and the following month made her first visit to Alderney. In June 1890 she made a Cherbourg sailing in 4½ hours in each direction, and continued to operate the long distance excursions until the arrival of the larger Majestic and Emperor of India in 1901 and 1908 respectively.

"As with all long lived vessels alterations took place over the years, in 1889 her foc’s’le head was lengthened, the main mast removed in 1906 and the bridge moved forward of the funnel in 1908. In 1912 her lifeboat capacity was doubled by the addition of two additional lifeboats on the forward boat deck.

"Requisitioned in May 1917 following re tubing at Weymouth she sailed to Gosport and converted into a minesweeper. Renamed HMS Monarchy she proceeded to the Bristol Channel, based at Swansea, sweeping the Bristol Channel. In the winter of 1917 a wartime wheelhouse fitted. In August 1917 the flotilla sailed to Ireland, working from Acklow, Wicklow and Kingstown sweeping the area off shore before returning to the Bristol Channel. "At that time her hire fees paid to Messrs Cosens were £195 per month. Her minesweeping duties completed in May 1919 she proceeded to Southampton whilst the Admiralty and Cosens negotiated the sum payable in lieu of reconditioning, receiving £11.000 the vessel had four hull plates replaced at Southampton before returning to Weymouth where a complete refit was carried out in the winter of 1919-20.

"Reopening the Bournemouth service for Cosens in May 1920, revised regulations precluded her former cross channel exploits, she now plied to the Isle of Wight and the Bournemouth-Swanage service, and usually worked the longest season. With no Sunday sailings from Bournemouth and Swanage allowed until 1928-1929 from 1923 Monarch often sailed from Poole to Southsea, the Isle of Wight, Weymouth, Lyme Regis or Torquay. Early in 1930 Monarch had new boilers fitted by J.S.Whites’ of Cowes, the original thin 4ft diameter funnels were replaced by 5ft 3in diameter funnels which gave a more pleasing appearance. November 1931 saw Monarch return to Whites for hull plate replacement.

"The deteriorating international situation in August 1939 resulted in Monarch being chartered by the Admiralty on August 28 as a contraband patrol vessel based at Weymouth, adding to this duty for a short period she was nominated as a harbour block ship in the event of invasion. Renamed HMS Exway she served at Weymouth for the duration manned by a Cosens crew this arrangement continuing until 1944, she was later reactivated for local duties for D Day, and released from Government service in November 1944. Monarch received a refit at Weymouth in late 1945 early 1946 and with the Embassy reopened sailings from Bournemouth pier on 2nd September 1946 and continued until the 2nd October.

"After 62 years' service her final season was 1949, a forthcoming annual survey would require the replacement of a considerable number of hull plates, and with her age her fate was sealed, sold to the British Iron & Steel Corporation for £900 in February 1950 she was towed to Briton Ferry and broken up, thus ending the career of a highly successful vessel."