Abandoned Paddle Steamer PS Ryde: A Forgotten Ghost Ship of a Bygone Era

ps-ryde-isle-of-wight-6 (Image: Paula Bailey; abandoned PS Ryde paddle steamer on the Isle of Wight)

She’s one of various elegant passenger vessels of a bygone age destined to spend decades tethered to virtually-derelict jetties, slowly rotting away. Launched in 1937, the paddle steamer PS Ryde was built for the Southern Railway company as a passenger ferry between the south coast of England and the Isle of Wight. But unlike her older sister ship PS Sandown, which was broken up in 1966, retirement from service didn’t spell the end for the grand Ryde, as it embarked on an uneasy maritime afterlife that endures – just – to this day. Here’s a brief history of a historic vessel that is now little more than a corroding, derelict wreck.

ps-ryde-isle-of-wight (Image: Damian Haworth; abandoned paddle steamer PS Ryde photographed at night)

Powered by a triple expansion steam engine and paddle wheels, the 216 ft PS Ryde was built on Clydeside, Scotland, for £46,000. She soon made her way to the south coast of England, where she was slated to replace the older PS Duchess of Norfolk on the lucrative ferry service from Portsmouth to Ryde Pier, the oldest seaside structure of its kind in the world.

ps-ryde-isle-of-wight-2 (Image: Paula Bailey; details of decay – for more close-ups see here)

For two years PS Ryde plied the waters of the Solent, but as tensions in Europe boiled over the elegant paddle steamer was dragged, along with the rest of the nation, into World War Two. Called for duty with the Royal Navy as HMS Ryde, she served as a minesweeper in the Dover Straits before being refitted as an anti-aircraft on the Thames Estuary.

ps-ryde-isle-of-wight-4 (Image: Razzladazzla; PS Ryde beached in the mud of the River Medina)

By the summer of 1944 the Ryde was steaming south across the English Channel to Normandy, poised to take part in the largest seaborne invasion in history, forever known as the D-Day Landings. She almost ended her days on the notorious Omaha Beach, having been ordered to run aground if coal supplies ran too low while providing cover for US troops storming the beaches.

ps-ryde-isle-of-wight-15 (Image: Paula Bailey; the rusting stern)

The vessel limped back to British waters, and as World War Two played out its bitter and brutal endgame and the Cold War cast an icy shadow over the continent, the paddle steamer Ryde returned to the Southern Railway. There she resumed her old route from the Isle of Wight to Portsmouth, adding a variety of charter voyages to her busy schedule.

ps-ryde-isle-of-wight-7 (Image: Paula Bailey)

As life returned to normal, the old ship steamed the Solent for two decades more. But as Britain’s tired, once-proud railway companies found themselves in the grip of nationalisation, an effort to modernise the nation’s transportation stock not only brought innovations on the railways, but heralded the end of the paddle steamers too.

ps-ryde-isle-of-wight-8 (Image: Paula Bailey; inside the waterlogged hull)

Sandown had been scrapped as early as 1966 and, by 1969, the decision was taken to withdraw PS Ryde also. What followed was not the breaker, but a turbulent and at times less dignified fate, albeit one that may ironically have bought the abandoned paddle steamer a few more precious years as dedicated preservationists rally to save her.

ps-ryde-isle-of-wight-9 (Image: Paula Bailey)

In 1970, after PS Ryde was withdrawn from service and laid up on the Isle of Wight, she was sold for £12,000 and  turned into a luxury nightclub and restaurant. Renamed the Ryde Queen and moored on the River Medina near Newport, the county town of the Isle of Wight, the faded steamer’s immediate future looked guaranteed.

ps-ryde-isle-of-wight-10 (Image: Paula Bailey)

But like other defunct ferries turned dance venues, and despite her early success, the Ryde Queen’s new lease on live would not prove plain sailing. Though repaired, the ship never really recovered from a mystery fire that broke out in 1977 and had become a commercial failure by the late 1980s. For the last 25 years, the grand old steamer has been left to rot.

ps-ryde-isle-of-wight-5 (Image: Paula Bailey; the collapsed funnel)

Her funnel, which collapsed in 2006, was the first of her rusting components to give up the ghost. Then, in 2012, the bridge collapsed into the Ryde’s decaying superstructure. Despite her place on the National Register of Historic Ships, and the ongoing efforts of preservationists to save her, the old paddle steamer has never been able to escape the abandonment that has gripped her for decades.

ps-ryde-isle-of-wight-11 (Image: Paula Bailey; heavy corrosion around the windows)

In 2009, the PS Ryde Trust was formed in a bid to purchase the derelict Ryde Queen nightclub and restore it to its former oceangoing glory. A survey concluded that the rotting vessel amazingly looked worse than it was, and that £7 million would be enough to save the ship, some of which would hopefully be raised through the National Lottery.

ps-ryde-isle-of-wight-12 (Image: Paula Bailey; a porthole with glass still intact)

Plans were put in place, spirits soared and fundraising efforts began in earnest. But hopes were dashed when the trust’s efforts failed to negotiate a deal with the historic paddle steamer’s owners, and PS Ryde continued to rot in the mud of the River Medina.

ps-ryde-isle-of-wight-13 (Image: Paula Bailey; PS Ryde’s decaying paddle)

Despite her condition, which some feel is beyond economical repair, 2014 saw a fresh application made to island’s planning authority by the new owners of Island Harbour Marina, which is home to a selection of other historic paddle steamers including PS Monarch, Kingswear Castle and the Medway Queen, which too deteriorated after being replaced as a nightclub by Ryde, but has since been fully restored.

ps-ryde-isle-of-wight-14 (Images: Paula Bailey; faded sign of the abandoned ‘Ryde Queen’)

The application, which was approved, has allowed the harbour to retain the decrepit hulk of PS Ryde on site for a further three years, buying the ailing ship crucial time while a new funding source is negotiated. Hopefully, by the summer of next year, the future of this old paddle steamer, which was present off Omaha Beach on that historic day in June 1944, will finally be secure.

Related – 11 Abandoned Ferries, Ocean Liners, Cruise Ships & Hovercraft

 
 


 
 
 

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