Type: Thames Passenger Launch
Beam: 14ft 6ins
Draft: 5ft 5ins
Displacement: 40.80 tons
Engine: Thornycroft 75 Diesel
Construction: Teak on oak
Builder: H. Tagg, East Molesey
A year after Queen Victoria died in 1902 the bearded, pleasure loving Prince Edward, Prince of Wales was crowned King Edward VII. As one of the many ways of celebrating this, the end of the 'Victorian Age', Harry Tagg of East Molesey on the river Thames, built an 81ft Hurlingham-style passenger steam-boat, not in iron and steel, but in teak. She was christened The King and became sister ship to The Windsor, owned by Thames Launches Ltd, of Eel Pie Island, Twickenham.
Year after year, The King would take up to 200 passengers at a time to and from Hampton Court, Richmond and Kew. Powered by a single steam engine and immediately recognisable by her bowsprit, clipper stem and classic lines, she was a charabanc afloat at a time when most motor cruising was confined to the wealthy.
On 28th May 1940, The King was one of the 540 privately-owned vessels commandeered for the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from the beaches of Dunkirk. Her elegant shape and low freeboard were ill-suited to the open sea and even the wash from a destroyer would have swamped her, especially when she was fully laden with troops. But it was one of the miracles of Dunkirk that the sea was calm, and she returned without mishap.
When the war was over, she was returned to Twickenham to continue her peacetime activities. Her steam engine was replaced by a 75hp, 6-cylinder Thornycroft internal combustion unit of 1947 vintage.
Moored on the Thames by Westminster Bridge is Fuel Barge Freddy and it was in 1985 that her owner, Gary Beckwith, purchased The King from Thames waterman C.H. Wyatt, with the intention of returning her once more to the former splendour of Edwardian days.
When the 1986 season was over, The King was taken to Len Bowman's Eel Pie Island Boatyard and dry-docked. Here, during the winter months, Gary Beckwith's marine engineer/ship-wright, Ron Oemering, carried out her face-lift.
Externally, two of her teak planks were replaced, her 3ft bronze propeller was sent away to Streamline Props of Hampshire for reconditioning, whilst new bearings were found for her shaft. Her oak decking was re planked where necessary, then re caulked and re-tingled and Len Bowman's Eel Pie Island team gave her a new coat of gloss blue and white. Perhaps more elegant was the transformation of The King's interior. The ceiling was rebuilt using 22 panels covered in washable suede-style material. When 80 years of variegated paintwork was stripped from the rafters, they were found to be solid mahogany. The King, the oldest timber-hulled passenger ship working the tidal Thames can, in 1989, still be privately chartered for special occasions, or boarded by fare-paying customers at Westminster Pier on her daily excursions to Kew and back. With two spacious decks, one open and one covered, together with her magnificently carved dining saloon seating thirty-two guests, The King is an ideal ship for wedding receptions and private parties. Guests can board her at any of the Thames piers between Putney and Greenwich and there will be few places for a party that can boast such facilities for guests!
Those who crossed the channel in The King in 1940 would smile to see her now and surely their spirits must still hover around her ornate and durable timbers. (1999 content).
As of April 2018, she is in private ownership and lying at Beacon Boatyard on the Medway in Kent.
Updated April 2018
Please SAVE the King
Laid up in a sorry state in Drydock at the Beacon Boatyard, Kent. For sale and in urgent need of saving. Please help save and restore this unique Thames passenger launch to her former glory.
Contact Morris Tolhurst at the Beacon Boat Yard.