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Queen of the Channel and Royal Sovereign (VI) took holidaymakers from Deal to France and back in a day

by Colin Varrall

In 1824, the General Steam Navigation Company (GSNC) was founded and incorporated, becoming one of the oldest successful steamship companies in the world, which had originally operated its service along the Thames, North Sea, and also the English Channel, dealing with both cargo and passenger services.

One of the vessels that had operated for the company on the short distance cross-Channel excursions was the Queen of the Channel, which had served with the company from 1949 to 1966.

She was 1,472 tons, 272 feet long and was capable of carrying 1,536 passengers.

Queen of the Channel vessel (5431674)
Queen of the Channel vessel (5431674)

Other vessels that worked for the shipping company included the Royal Daffodil, which was 2,061 tons, 313 feet long and could carry 2,385 passengers, and served from 1936 to 1966.

A further vessel was the Royal Sovereign (IV), which served with the company from 1948 to 1966, and was 1,851 tons, 285 feet long and could carry up to 1,782 passengers.

The Queen of the Channel was just one of the main vessels that could often be seen arriving and departing from the end of Deal pier until the mid-1960s. Advertisements regularly displayed details for the vessels being able to collect passengers from Southend, before heading to Herne Bay, Margate and Deal, before setting off across the Channel to the port of Calais.

Then Queen of the Channel could often be mistaken for looking very similar to one of the company’s other vessels, the Royal Sovereign (IV), but she was always easily recognisable by the house flags of the GSNC and New Medway Steamship Company displayed on her bow, with one above the other, plus she also had a larger forward saloon.

Passangers boarding a ship from Deal pier (5431704)
Passangers boarding a ship from Deal pier (5431704)

Early prints show that vessels did embark at the end of Deal’s first pier, or more accurately named wooden landing jetty, which was never fully completed to its planned length of 445 feet, since the 225 feet of it that had actually been constructed was destroyed by a gale in 1857.

The Victorian iron pier, which was first opened on July 14, 1864, and later finally opened fully by Mr Knatchbull-Hugessen on November 8, 1864, did also allow for the arrival and departure of tourists by vessels.

With the opening of the new and present concrete structured Deal pier, which was officially opened to the public on Tuesday November 19, 1957, ferry excursions began again seeing the arrival and departure from, continuing a tradition that had been seen operating from the previous Victorian iron pier.

At the end of August 1968, the East Kent Mercury newspaper printed an article that gave details for steamer trips to be revived in Deal and Thanet for the 1969 summer season. The news had been released by a shipping company, which was planning to offer holidaymakers sea trips similar to those of the old Eagle Steamers that used to leave from Thanet.

A poster advertising trips from Deal Pier (5431672)
A poster advertising trips from Deal Pier (5431672)

The new vessel that was said would be be making the trips would be taking the place of the Royal Sovereign and Daffodil would be the almost new “Queen of the Isles” that had previously been used for West country passenger work. The vessel would be operated by P and A Campbell, the firm which took over the Eagle teamer offices in Thanet, and would be sued on the Thames Estuary, with ports of call including Deal, Ramsgate and Margate.

It was believed that it might be possible to run a cross-channel passenger ferry service in the future as well.

In the annual tourist guides, trips from Deal pier were advertised to encourage people to take the “Channel cruises and the popular ‘no passport’ trips to the continent. Breakfast in Deal, lunch and tea in France and then back to Deal for supper!”

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