When she served at Dunkirk, the 60ft. Dartmouth excursion boat Dartmothian was called Seymour Castle. She was taken on her 200-mile journey to Ramsgate by Cyril Roper, one of the River Dart Steamboat Company's skippers. It was a company with a long tradition in a popular holiday area. Formed in 1834 to operate steam tugs and the local barges, they began a river passenger service to Totnes, Devon, in 1856 at the suggestion of the Duke of Clarence. Although the company closed in 1974, River Dart trips to Totnes have remained an enjoyable feature of holidays in the area since their mid 19th century origins. Dartmothian continues this tradition.
In 1940 she set sail for the Channel with the GWR's The Mew - an old railway ferry boat which operated between Kingswear and Dartmouth, and whose job she occasionally took over. This was the longest sea voyage ever undertaken by the Seymour Castle since she was built by Ferris and Blank, Dartmouth, the previous year and no Dunkirk Little Ship came from further west. A whole fleet of boats was brought together from nearby Exmouth and Lympstone and taken to Dartmouth, where they stayed overnight to be returned unused the next day! Not so with Seymour Castle; after Dunkirk the Admiralty kept her on in the Folkestone area for towing the portable Mulberry Harbours. This was the cover name for pre-fabricated floating harbours towed across the English Channel and placed off the Normandy beaches when allied troops returned to the continent of Europe in 1944. These would have saved many lives if they had been invented four years earlier.
Seymour Castle was built by Ferris and Blank at Old Mill Creek, Devon. One of a similar pair of passenger boats, she was the largest vessel these specialists in pulling boats and small motor yachts ever made. Victor Ashton, who worked for a rival firm of boatbuilders, designed her privately as a favour, and the builders made her frames from local oak trees, cut up on the pitsaw. (One man stood in the pit below, whilst another guided the long pitsaw to cut lengths of timber from above). She was built to take 210 passengers and crew - now reduced to 141 for reasons of safety and comfort -and given a Gleniffer engine.
In 1945 she came back to the River Dart as a passenger pleasure craft, and later took holiday-makers up and down the Tamar for a Plymouth operator.
For some years she was owned by the naturalist and writer Tony Soper, who gave her a new wheelhouse and equipped her saloon for lectures. As Wildlife Expedition Ltd.'s floating field centre, he used her for natural history tours out of Plymouth and later from Dartmouth. That is where she is now, again sailing on the Dart as one of the fleet of Red Cruisers of G.H. Ridalls & Sons.
Source: 2, 3, 4, 5, 11, 19 & 20
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