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Medway Queen boss hits back at "crackpot" claims the ship now back in Gillingham is a Trigger's broom replica


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One of the leading members of the Medway Queen Preservation Society has hit back at claims the ship is now only a replica, calling them crackpots.

The paddle steamer was brought home to Gillingham on Friday after undergoing further restoration work in Ramsgate.

The Medway Queen being towed back to Gillingham Pier Picture: Geoff Watkins/Aerial Imaging South East
The Medway Queen being towed back to Gillingham Pier Picture: Geoff Watkins/Aerial Imaging South East

But her arrival at Gilligham Pier caused a row to break out on social media. Some said the ship was just like Trigger's broom - a reference to Only Fools and Horses character Trigger who claims he's had his road sweeper's broom for 20 years but says it has had 17 new heads and 14 new handles.

Some have claimed the vessel now being restored isn't the same Medway Queen that rescued 7,000 soldiers from Dunkirk in the Second World War because it has been rebuilt.

The hull of the paddle steamer was re-built in Bristol from 2009 to 2013 with a £1.86 million National Lottery grant.

The existing hull was too fragile to tow or lift onto a pontoon so the ship was dismantled and the re-usable materials were taken by road to Bristol. Every part of the ship was listed, numbered and photographed before being dismantled and transported across the country.

In the re-build, the Society says the dockyard used traditional methods and incorporated as much as possible of the original ship’s material – more than 60-65%.

The Trigger's broom scene from Only Fools and Horses Picture: YouTube
The Trigger's broom scene from Only Fools and Horses Picture: YouTube
The Medway Queen being worked on in Bristol Picture: Richard Halton
The Medway Queen being worked on in Bristol Picture: Richard Halton

One KentOnline reader commented: "The Trigger's broom of ships. Isn't it just a replica at this point?" and others agreed.

Medway1979 wrote: "Absolutely!! It was a new keel, and a new hull, so yes, it's a replica, with a few original parts used.

"Such a shame to see so much lottery grant money wasted on a replica vessel. It's not the Medway Queen, it will never be the Medway Queen."

PaddleBarge, whose late father was managing director of the New Medway Steam Packet Company which ran a fleet of paddle and pleasure steamers including the Medway Queen, says the original was cut up for scrap.

He said: "The vessel named Medway Queen is not the ship that was built in 1924 and therefore did not take any part in the rescue of the British Expeditionary force from the beach at Dunkirk in 1940.

The Medway Queen loaded with soldiers evacuated from Dunkirk
The Medway Queen loaded with soldiers evacuated from Dunkirk

"The original ship, that had been built in 1924, had indeed been being slowly worked upon when moored in Damhead Creek.

"Unfortunately, whilst there, she broke her back and was cut up for scrap with only items that could be recovered and possibly capable of restoration – such as her machinery – being removed.

"The Medway Queen Preservation Society, having received lottery funding, then had a new replica vessel built in Bristol.

"The vessel named Medway Queen and moored at Gillingham is purely and simply a tribute to, and not, the real Heroine of Dunkirk – nothing more, nothing less!"

But Pam Bathurst, director trustee of the Medway Queen Preservation Society, has dismissed the claims.

The Medway Queen is now back at Gillingham Pier Picture: Jason Arthur
The Medway Queen is now back at Gillingham Pier Picture: Jason Arthur

She said: "We get these crackpots every now and again who claim she is a replica.

"Any Naval man will tell you that if you still have the heart of the ship, it remains the ship.

"The Medway Queen still has its original main engine, ancillary engines and a lot of the original decking. Over 60% of the ship is original."

She added: "We are tired of trying to explain it to these people.

"I would liken it to a solider who has lost his arms and legs in war- would you say he was a different man if he got new prosthetic arms and legs?"

Mrs Bathurst admitted the vessel the Society took on in 1984 was "just a wreck" at the bottom of the river.

She praised the work done so far, adding: "Who would have thought that we would have had such a beautiful ship in 2022."

The Society will need substantial investment to achieve its long term aim of getting the vessel back to steam - Mrs Bathurst said a new boiler alone will cost £1 million.

But their first job will be to get the ship ready for visitors again so they can start welcoming people back on board from next month.

And then they plan to fit a new bar so the ship can be hired out for parties to help generate some income which Mrs Bathurst says has been "wiped out" in the last two years because of the pandemic.

The Medway Queen during one of her excursions
The Medway Queen during one of her excursions

They still have a long way to go, and with a team of volunteers and supporters now mostly in their retirement years, it's possible the restoration may never be completed. But Mrs Bathurst remains optimistic.

"We can't dwell on what might not happen," she said. "We are determined to plod on.

"And you never know what might happen. Richard Branson might get in touch and say he has a spare £5 million."

The Medway Queen will open to visitors again from February 12. To find out more click here.

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