Paddle Steamer built 1924 by Ailsa Shipbuilding Co, Troon
National Historic Fleet
Engine Steam Paddle
Scotch Return Tube
Wallsend Shipbuilding & Engineering Co Ltd, Tyne
To be confirmed
24.23 feet (7.39 metres)
179.87 feet (54.86 metres)
7.61 feet (2.32 metres)
MEDWAY QUEEN was built for the New Medway Steam Packet Co. Ltd by Ailsa Shipyard, Troon (who also built her engines) and launched on 23 April 1924. Her design was based on the Ailsa-built BOURNEMOUTH QUEEN of 1908.
After trials on the Clyde, she sailed to Rochester to replace the company's PRINCESS OF WALES and joined their other paddler, CITY OF ROCHESTER, operating from Strood and Sun Pier, Chatham. In 1936, the New Medway company was taken over by the General Steam Navigation Company (GSN) but New Medway kept its name, identity and livery of black hull, white promenade deck sides and cream funnel emblazoned with the company badge. MEDWAY QUEEN was present at the Coronation Review of the Fleet at Spithead 1937 where she ran an excursion for a pre-booked party.
In 1938, she was converted from coal to oil-fired steaming by the Wallsend Slipway & Engineering Company although the work was done in Chatham. In 1939, she carried children who were evacuated from Kent to East Anglia, before being requisitioned by the Admiralty on 9 September for war service as a minesweeper. Her conversion to that role was carried out at the GSN Yard at Deptford Creek. A 12-pounder gun was fitted on the forecastle and a Hotchkiss gun was mounted on each paddle-box. Minesweeping gear was fitted aft and an enclosed bridge cabin was constructed. Repainted grey, she hoisted the White Ensign as HMS MEDWAY QUEEN and displayed the pennant J48. After trials she went to Chatham Dockyard for adjustments. At first, she was based at Harwich and carried out daily sweeps of the Thames and Medway estuaries. She was then transferred to Dover to join the 10th Minesweeping Flotilla patrolling the Dover Straits.
On 28th May 1940, HMS MEDWAY QUEEN was anchored off the South Coast, spotting enemy aircraft laying mines, when she was ordered to proceed to Dunkirk to assist in the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from the beaches and was one of the first ships to arrive on the scene. As the ship returned to Dover with her first load of troops, she was attacked by German fighter planes and her machine-guns downed one of them. She came upon the sinking paddler HMS Brighton Belle, which had hit a submerged wreck, and rescued all her crew and survivors. On the following day, MEDWAY QUEEN entered Dunkirk harbour amid heavy gunfire. Another full load of troops was embarked and the ship returned to Ramsgate. In all, she made seven trips between 27 May and 3 June and rescued about 7,000 men. Seven awards for gallantry were gained by her crew and three enemy aircraft were shot down.
On the last trip, the starboard paddle-box was badly damaged by a ship that had hauled up alongside after being hit by shells, but MEDWAY QUEEN managed to limp back to Dover Harbour and had to be repaired at Chatham Dockyard. For her part in this massive operation, she was awarded the battle honour 'Dunkirk (Operation DYNAMO) 1940'. After Dynamo, Medway Queen and other ships of the flotilla were refitted in Portsmouth. Later in 1940 Medway Queen was transferred to the 8th minesweeping flotilla on the east coast and January 1943 MEDWAY QUEEN became a minesweeping training ship based in Granton, Edinburgh until being returned by the Admiralty to her owners in January 1946.
A refit by Thornycroft at Southampton followed and she returned to the excursion trade in 1947. Her regular itinerary started at Strood, with calls at Chatham (until 1959) and Sheerness (until 1954), and onward to Southend and either Clacton or Herne Bay. In June 1953, she was in the official line-up at the Coronation Review of the Fleet at Spithead. After seventeen post-war seasons, she made her last sailing on 8 September 1963.
In January 1964, she was towed to the East India Dock, London, and initial preservation attempts were made. In the event, she was sold to become a marina clubhouse on the River Medina, Isle of Wight, was towed there in January 1965 and opened in her new role on 14 May 1966. She was also in use as a nightclub and was joined by the paddle steamer RYDE. By the mid 1970s Medway Queen was derelict although Ryde continued in business. In 1984, she was sold and moved back to the Medway on a pontoon and berthed at St Mary's Wharf, Chatham. Shortly afterwards, the MEDWAY QUEEN Preservation Society was formed.
The vessel sank at her moorings before being towed, on 1 November 1987, to Damhead Creek, Kingsnorth on the Hoo Peninsula. Eventually, a solution to restore the ship to full working condition was arrived at. The hull had deteriorated beyond repair, so the ship was dismantled to salvage the engines, paddles, and other equipment, the other funnel, paddle-boxes and some decking. All this was to be reconditioned and installed in a new hull, the latter being funded through a £1.86m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, announced in 2006.
Source: Paul Brown, Historic Ships The Survivors (Amberley, 2010), updated Mar 2011.
Richard Halton, The Medway Queen, (Noodle Books 2013)
Documents held by the naval museums in Chatham and Portsmouth
- February 2014: Restoration update: Current restoration priority is the Aft Saloon. Laying of the decking in this area is not yet complete and needs to be progressed. Once the work of laying the deck timbers is complete attention can be turned to completing the caulking of all deck timbers on the Main Deck. The second priority, the engine room, is also an area where work can get started, including painting and preventative maintenance. As further funding becomes available, the auxiliary machinery can be restored and re-installed. The timescales for this work will be entirely dependent on the support that can be raised Source: The Medway Queen Preservation Society, Feb 2014
- January 2013 Restoration update: the boiler room has been completed and fuel tanks installed, the crank shaft was installed in October and the poop deck was lifted into place very early in January. The hull plating at the stern is progressing but some rivetting work remains in this area. In Gillingham, work has continued on parts for Bristol including the water and sewerage tanks, watertight door assemblies and refurbishment of the bow rudder. Back in Nov 2012 the apprentices and staff from Gillingham along with representatives from Mid-Kent College visited the Albion Dockyard in Bristol to see the progress there for themselves and to get a better idea of what happens to all the sub-assemblies that they see disappear westwards after completion. The big events for the year will be centred around the ship’s return to the Medway. No date for this was available when this was prepared but information will be posted on the website when available. Source: Association of Dunkirk Little Ships, Jan 2013
- November 2013: MEDWAY QUEEN returned to Gillingham with the help of her tug CHRISTINE and was greeted by waving crowds after five year restoration in Bristol. She will be based at Gillingham Pier in Kent where the fitting out phase of the restoration will be undertaken, concentrating first on the aft saloon and then on the engine room Source: Medway Messenger, Kent Online
- 1924 Built in Troon, Scotland for service on the River Medway and the Thames Estuary
- 1924-1939 Operated as part of the Queen Fleet of the New Medway Steam Packet Co. based at Rochester
- 1937 Attended the Spithead Review
- 1938 Converted from coal to oil by the Wallsend Slipway & Engineering Company
- 1939 Carried evacuees before being requisitioned by the Admiralty for use as a minesweeper
- 1940 Ordered to proceed to Dunkirk to assist in the evacuation of the BEF. In all she made seven trips, rescuing some 7,000 men
- 1943 Became a minesweeping training ship
- 1946 Returned to her owners by the Admiralty
- 1947-1963 Resumed excursion trade after an extensive refit at Thorneycroft, Southampton
- 1953 Took part in the Spithead Coronation Review
- 1963 Taken out of service
- 1964 Towed to the East India Dock, London, and initial preservation attempts were made before vessel was sold for use as a marina clubhouse on the River Medina, Isle of Wight
- 1966 Opened in her new role and was also used as a night club before being replaced by the paddle steamer RYDE and falling derelict
- 1984 Sold and moved back to the Medway on a pontoon and berthed at St Mary's Wharf, Chatham. Shortly afterwards, the Medway Queen Preservation Society was formed. The vessel sank at her moorings.
- 1987 Towed to Damhead Creek, Kingsnorth on the Hoo Peninsula and subsequently dismantled as part of a reconstruction project
- 2006 Awarded a grant of £1.86m from the Heritage Lottery Fund to build a new hull
- 2008 Contract signed for the rebuild
- 2009 Ceremony held to mark the unveiling of the keel
- 2012 Vessel being refitted in Bristol but due to move to Gillingham Pier later in the year to take advantage of an EU grant of 1m Euros
- 2013 Returns to Gillingham, after undergoing 5 years of restoration in Bristol
- 1985 Ships Monthly Medway Queen Preservation
- 1989 The Little Ships of Dunkirk: 1940-1990 - Brann, Christian
- 1990 Warship World HMS Medway Queen - Heroine of Dunkirk
- 1993 International Register of Historic Ships - Brouwer, Norman J
- 1994 Steamboat Register: An illustrated Register of surviving steam vessels in the British Isles
- 1995 Ships Monthly Future of the 'Medway Queen'
- 2011 Transport Digest New paddler takes shape
- 2012 Classic Boat Bristol: Engine returns to Medway Queen
- 2015 Classic Boat The Little Ships Prepare to Revisit Dunkirk
- 2013 A grant of £40,00 was given towards an apprenticeship scheme by The Headley Trust
- 2014 A grant of £5,000 was given towards the refitting of the engine room by The Headley Trust
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