Picture:Medway Queen Preservation Society Collection

An historic paddle steamer which rescued hundreds of troops from the beaches of  Dunkirk is expected to return soon to the Medway.

The Medway Queen, which once took thousands of passengers on trips around the Thames Estuary and beyond, has been in a Bristol shipyard undergoing major rebuilding work as part of a long-term restoration programme. 

The latest news coincides with the publication of a new book about the steamer (see below)

Work on the hull is nearly complete after which the vessel will return to Gillingham for final fitting out and the installation of  a new boiler. Though a date has not yet been set, talks are under way with a tug company.

The Bristol shipyard is building a new hull - the old steel was almost all corroded away. The finished ship will, according to the consultants involved in planning the project, be 60-65% "original" bearing in mind the ship built in 1924 and was previously rebuilt in both 1939 and 1946/7.

The society has the original machinery, much of the woodwork and smaller fittings. It was dismantled in Kent and all reusable material is being taken down to Bristol as needed. More original material and any necessary replacements will be fitted when she is back in Gillingham.

Meanwhile the Medway Queen Preservation Society has emphasised the need for ongoing support and funding to enable final completion. A spokesman said: “We have recently launched a Completion Fund asking for donations or from people or companies”

More details on the Preservation Society website

“The society's base on Gillingham Pier includes a suitable mooring where we have installed fenders to protect the paddles and additional bollards to hold the ship.

“When the ship returns we will have a complete hull with the heavy machinery in place but a lot of work will remain. We still need to fit out the ship internally and get everything working.”

Built on the Clyde in Scotland, the 180 foot long ship was operated by the Medway Steam Packet Company on the River Medway,  mainly between Strood and Southend, and would call at Chatham, Upnor, Sheerness as well as Herne Bay, Clacton and occasionally Margate.

After the outbreak of war the ship was called up for service, and her first duty was to assist in the evacuation of children from Kent to East Anglia, embarking at Gravesend.

In 1940 she was sent to Dunkirk as part of Operation Dynamo to assist in the Allied evacuation . By the 1960s the ship needed extensive repairs and was destined for the breakers' yard before a successful campaign to save her. She then became a floating nightclub on the River Medina on the Isle of Wight but afterwards fell into disrepair before enthusiasts successfully returned her to the Medway in 1984.

The ensuing years have seen fund-raising and gradual restoration by a dedicated band of supporters

Story dated January 28th 2013


This book by Richard Halton tells the history of the ship in first-hand accounts and carefully researched detail from archive sources.

The story is set in the context in which the ship found herself; whether in peace or war; sailing the Thames estuary, dodging bombs at Dunkirk or hosting a lively nightclub on the Isle of Wight.

The book is available from MQPS sales, priced at just £10 plus £1-95 for UK P&P. Send your cheque for £11-95, payable to “Medway Queen Preservation Society (Sales)”, to 46 Brockenhurst Close, Wigmore, Gillingham, Kent ME8 0HG.

Also available through MQPS exhibition stands and the Medway Queen Visitor Centre during the 2013 season. Proceeds will be used in support of the preservation project which is still in need of funds to complete the ship’s restoration to working order.

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