My interest in paddle and excursion steamers is in the blood, as they say.
My grandfather, Henry James Burnham Lee, was born in in Dulwich, England in October 1871.
After attending the City of London School, where he did well, he started to train as a chemist, when his father was injured by a runaway horse and had to give up his job due to the injuries he sustained. Henry had to give up his training and find immediate work to support himself and his parents. Consequently he started work with Thomas Trapp, who were carters and carriers for the General Steam Navigation Co. Ltd. He transferred to the GSN Co and his duties included visits to the docks and on occasions issuing tickets for the paddle steamers. Later, he was appointed as a clerk with the General Steam Navigation Co.Ltd., at their Chief Office on 25 August 1890 on a starting salary of £45 per annum. He continued to work for them until his retirement, as Head of the Coastwise Department, some forty six and a half years later.
Henry Burnham Lee & Annie Sophia Lee walking along the seafront in the 1920s
From old General Steam Navigation Co. Ltd. staff records (kindly supplied by P&O), his salary at retirement on 28 February 1938 was a heady £439 and five shillings per annum. He remained a GSN Co. Ltd pensioner until his death in May 1949.
He had a company pass for the paddle steamers and as he had to work on Saturdays, trips with his wife and son (my father) from Southend to Margate and Ramsgate were confined to Sundays. My father, Gordon Burnham Lee, was always keen to go, though church on Sunday morning generally had to take place first. Dad was born in 1920 and, living in Leigh on Sea in Essex, was well placed for paddle travel on the Thames. With the benefit of a company pass he could spend weekends travelling on such ships as PS Eagle (on which he first travelled as an infant in a basket!) PS Golden Eagle , PS Crested Eagle and PS Royal Eagle. On one occasion, when about three years old, my father travelled on the company's steamer Woodcock with his mother and father. They sailed from the General Steam's Ironmonger's Wharf (just below Tower Bridge, where the Tower Thistle Hotel is now) to Leith, which was a regular service in those days. For a picture taken aboard this trip please click here.
My father remembers on one occasion pleading for a trip to Ramsgate in 1934 and my grandfather saying "By the time I have taken you and your mother on the bus to and from the pier, train both ways, lunch on board (he was charged staff prices) and tea and biscuits in the afternoon, I don't see much change out of £1!" For a record of this trip please click here.
Whilst I was born in 1955 and thus missed the halcyon days, I did travel on MV Royal Sovereign and MV Royal Daffodil from Southend Pier to Deal and Margate and on more than one occasion from Southend to Herne Bay on PS Medway Queen. I treated the ships then just as a means of transport and was really too young to appreciate the ships themselves.
Interest was kindled when I started travelling on PS Waverley from Southend Pier in the 1970's and then started collecting old postcards of the General Steam ships to use as presents for my father on birthdays and at Christmas.
The rest, as they say is history and whilst I now live in Sussex, I still try to travel on the Thames and Medway a couple of time a year on PS Waverley, PS Kingswear Castle and MV Balmoral. My father was born in Leigh on Sea, where he lived for the vast majority of his life and I was extremely lucky to have travelled regularly with him on PS Waverley .
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