China souvenirs for the paddle steamer trippers

TODAY'S picture is of a traffic-free Bridge Street in Newhaven. Crown Inn landlord T Pace, it seems, will oblige you with wines, spirits and Burton ales or stout,

Not a lot of help date wise, so we will have to resort to the steamer showing between the three legs of the giant harbour crane, better known as Sheerlegs.

The two funnels are of the RMS Dieppe. Built at the Fairfield Yard and delivered here in 1905, she lasted until 1933.

Here we can assume she is at the Marine Workshops, Railway Quay, for probably her annual refit. Her funnels are white with black tops, which suggests the photo was taken before the amalgamation of the railways, after which they would have been buff yellow with black tops, the colour then adopted for all the Southern Railway steamers.

So, as there are no other vessels in the picture to help close the gap, it seems the date will just have to remain sometime between 1905 and 1923. If the date was of such importance probably the period of Mr Pace, if found, would reduce the span of years.

The Dieppe always seemed to be one of those ships that never achieved much, good or bad. She did have the misfortune to finish up stern first into the bight of the breakwater at 3.30am on November 27, 1924.

Two tugs, the larger the Alert and the small Richmere, were despatched to try to get her into harbour. As the draught of the Alert and the Dieppe was about the same it was essential the former kept to seaward or she might go aground, so the Richmere had the job of connecting the two vessels with the towing cable.

Sadly, the cable got around the propeller of the little tug. She was disabled and driven against the wall of the sand beach. When the wind is strong and blows into there, it can be incredibly rough and spectacular. Our lifeboat of the time, the open Sir Fitzroy Clayton, had been summoned and coxswain Dick Payne pulled off one of his daring rescues, being dashed against the tug which was in turn being dashed against the wall.

Not a nice situation, especially in the dark. The tug sank, but was later brought round to Sleepers Hole where it was repaired by our marine shops staff. A diploma for bravery went to the Lifeboat crew in due course.

On the morning of terror, the Dieppe berthed at 8.10am. Not too bad in view of all the problems.

In September 1933 the Dieppe was sold to Lord Moyne of the Guinness family and became the luxury diesel yacht Rosaura, hosting the Prince of Wales and Mrs Wallis Simpson.

So the rather ordinary Dieppe took on a period of glamour but was sadly lost on war service in the Mediterranean in March 1941.

In the picture can be seen several displays of postcards for sale and also a sign which reads Coss China. This supports the story of the passengers of the little pleasure steamers which used to call here for their coal. While this was being delivered by barge and coolies, they would wander the shopping streets of our little town and patronise the few cafes we could offer, return to the paddle steamer and continue their cruise or pier hopping as may be.

The Sheerlegs crane could lift 80 tons when new. Group photos show about 100 staff. Things got done!


Peter Bailey is curator of the Newhaven Local and Maritime Museum based in its own fascinating premises in the grounds of Paradise Park in Avis Road, Newhaven. Summer opening hours are daily, 2-4pm or by arrangement. Admission 1 (accompanied children free). Contact the curator on 01273 514760. Log on to the website at