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As Time Goes By: Penny Paddle Steamer

Eileen Perrin, continuing her life story, tells of an idyllic day out on the River Thames.

To read earlier chapter of Eileen’s life story please click on As Times Goes By in the menu on this page.

I was nine in the summer of 1932 when one morning Dad said we were having a day trip on the river and should start out early.

After our breakfast of Shredded Wheat, of which Dad had two every day – except Sundays when it was eggs and bacon - we walked up to Dalston Junction and took a bus to Kings Cross underground station. We went on the Inner Circle to Mark Lane and emerged into the daylight once more, coming out of station at the top of Tower Hill. In a few moments we had walked down past the Tower of London on the left, and on to the Thames-side jetty, which was Tower Pier.

Quite a crowd were jostling around, all looking down river from where our paddle steamer would appear. At last it hove in view, but we had to wait an age while it manoeuvred into position alongside the pier for the gangways to be put down. So we boarded the Crested Eagle on a sunny morning for our trip down the Thames as far as Clacton-on-sea.

A toot on the ship’s siren and we were off. The paddle wheels churned out torrents of white water, and with the ship’s funnels telescoped down, we made our way under Tower bridge which was raised for us to go through, as we passed Traitors gate at the Tower.

We reached the Millwall Docks, where timber boats were unloading huge planks of wood from Finland, and on the south bank of the river where twenty years hence the former 19th century tea clipper ‘Cutty Sark’ would be berthed, we looked up the hill to the Greenwich Observatory behind the Naval College.
Rounding the bend we passed the entrance on our left to the West India Docks, and the Beckton Gas Works.

Coming up to the Royal Albert and King George the fifth docks there were cargo boats of the Union Castle and P.& O. (Peninsular and Oriental) lines anchored midstream waiting their turn to enter, and as we sailed past dark-skinned Lascars waved to us from the ship’s rails. (Lascar is the word for an Indian sailor).

The Union Castle line from South Africa carried coffee beans and fruit, but cargo carried by the P.& O. was butter from Australia and frozen meat from New Zealand. The Transport and General Workers’ Union stevedores received ‘cold air allowance’ for going into the refrigerated holds attaching loads for the cranes to lift on to the quayside, from where dockers took them into refrigerated warehouses.

Our paddle wheels churned out white water as we steamed on past Tate and Lyle’s Sugar Refinery, carrying on down river as far as Barking Creek. When we reached Canvey Island the river widened out and we could see the Isle of Sheppey on the further south bank.

Approaching Southend we met some cockle boats going back to Leigh and Benfleeet. At last the Crested Eagle drew in to Southend pier, which was the destination for some of the crowd, who left down the gangways put out by our sailors, meaning there was more space left, with more seats, so we re-settled ourselves and Mum opened our brown paper bag packet of corned beef and pickle sandwiches, and some with cheese and mustard for Dad.

It was lovely sitting in the breezy sunshine, listening to the splashing water of the Eagle’s paddle wheels, the gulls swooping overhead, with nothing else to see except the waves of the estuary under a blue sky.

When we reached Clacton I think there was an option to stay on board for the return trip, as I cannot remember getting off the boat, or anything about Clacton at all.

Until we started back, we probably bought an ice cream from the refreshment bar and took the opportunity of going downstairs to see the engine room, where the giant pistons were at rest before starting up for the trip back upstream.

Back on the upper deck we watched our sailors - they had CRESTED EAGLE on their navy blue jerseys - as they caught the ropes thrown to them from Clacton pier as we cast off, and our steamer backed out, turning in a great semi-circle to the sound of gushing white torrents of water as the paddles started up.

From Clacton back to Southend there was nothing to see. We had already walked all round the decks, looked in the downstairs saloon, and been to see behind the funnel where the wooden life rafts were stored with rope handles along their sides.

Then just outside the saloon in a niche in the lea of the wind we found two or three fruit machines and Dad had the idea that we should try our luck.

I had never had a ‘go’ on one before. Dad produced a handful of pennies and several ‘go’s’ later the machine clocked up three badge-like symbols in a row, which meant we had won the jack-pot.

We didn’t really believe it, but suddenly the machine began disgorging a shower of coins which Dad caught in his cap.
Taking our booty back in triumph to Mum we all laughed at our good fortune, and I expect Dad went to see if he could change some of it up in the saloon bar, as I never remember seeing the pile of coppers when we got home.

The outcome of our lucky trip was that as I had outgrown my three-wheel tricycle, I was treated to a scooter with the money.
We lived at number 35 Stanley Road, off the Balls Pond Road, Islington, and there I enjoyed scooting up and down the pavement for quite some time, but when I won the scholarship in1934 and left St.Jude’s C.of E.School to go to the High school for Girls on Highbury Hill, it was probably relegated to some neighbour’s child, as I don’t remember wanting to ‘go out to play’ after that.


In May 1940 in World War 2, while helping in the rescue during the evacuation of troops from the beaches of Dunkirk, the Crested Eagle was bombed and sunk.

It was full of wounded soldiers and just half a mile out from the beach.

There were a few survivors who managed to swim ashore, there to be taken prisoner by the Germans.


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