The famous paddle steamer Medway Queen is gearing up for her centenary celebrations. Built by the Ailsa Shipbuilding Company of Troon, she was launched on St George’s Day (23 April) 1924.
She is now moored at Gillingham Pier, ME7 1RX, and is open to the public on Saturdays from 11am to 4pm (last admissions 3pm) starting on 17 February. Naturally, in this centenary year, the Medway Queen Preservation Society plans appropriate celebrations, and these begin in earnest on Sunday 21 April with a Memorial Service in Rochester Cathedral for an invited crowd of people with family connections to the ship at any stage in her career. Tuesday 23 April, the actual launch anniversary, sees a reception for invited guests on board Medway Queen.
To accommodate visitors to the ship over this period the vessel will be open as usual on Saturday 20th April, and she has a second public day on Monday 22 April. Then on Saturday 27 April the usual public open day will be enhanced with the added attraction of a visit from some Dunkirk Little Ships and the Chatham Cruising Society.
A summer draw is planned with ticket sales from the beginning of April until the end of June and some exciting new merchandise which will be available to personal visitors and also via the society’s website www.medwayqueen.co.uk. There will be other events through the year, details will be posted on the Medway Queen Preservation Society website.
A long career
Medway Queen’s original maiden voyage across the Thames Estuary was on Friday 18 July 1924, under the flag of the New Medway Steam Packet Company. Medway Queen’s standard route was then from Strood and Chatham to Southend, and then back across the estuary to Herne Bay. Additional trips were made to Clacton and Margate at times and several private hirings took her upstream to the Pool of London, especially in later years.
The excursion service was seasonal, usually starting at the Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend (now the Late May Bank Holiday) and terminating in September. She worked these routes from 1924 until the beginning of September 1939, and again from 1947 to 1963.
During the Second World War, HMS Medway Queen was a commissioned minesweeper and took part in the evacuation of the BEF from Dunkirk. Working out of Ramsgate most of the time Medway Queen and her crew made seven return trips to the beaches or the East Mole at Dunkirk. They rescued thousands of men and seven officers and crew received gallantry awards.
When her excursion work ceased the ship’s future was extremely uncertain but, in 1965, she was purchased to be a club house and restaurant on the Isle of Wight, at what was then called the “Medway Queen Marina” at Binfield.
The “Medway Queen Club” opened in May 1966 and ran in various guises until the end of 1974. All aspects of the ship’s career in all chapters of her history are extensively covered in books published by the Medway Queen Preservation Society, and available online (www.medwayqueen.co.uk ) or from the Medway Queen Visitor Centre on Gillingham Pier.