Type: Thames Passenger Vessel
Beam: 16ft 6ins
Draft: 4ft 6ins
Displacement: 74.98 tons
Engine: Gardner 8LX
Builder: Salter Bros., Oxford
There are some half-dozen firms which have been associated with the passenger service on the River Thames since the turn of the century. Joseph T. Mears began in 1907 and he was 37 years old when, the following year, the Port of London Authority was formed and the steel--hulled Viscount was built for him by another famous River Thames name, Salter's of Oxford. The Viscount, now owned by Thompsons, is the oldest passenger boat still in service among the Dunkirk Ships. Roland Hastings has been her skipper, on and off for thirty years. His father Harry went to Dunkirk in Tigris I.
Until the great drought of 1976, which lowered the water level of the Thames, Viscount used to go up to Hampton Court, but her 4ft 6in draft put her in danger of running aground and she now operates from Westminster to Greenwich. All the Thames launches were called up for Dunkirk and went down the river in 1940, but some would have it that the steamers could not have survived on sea-water. After 50 years it's hard to tell!
In 1956 Thames Launches converted Viscount to diesel and they re-built her in 1964. They removed the wooden deck, undulating like waves from years of footfalls, planed it off and replaced it on top of a steel one. They gutted her aft of the engine room and added a steel saloon and a new funnel. In 1965 the wheelhouse was moved forward to about 15ft from the bows, a steel foredeck was laid, and two entrances now lead to the saloon. A corrugate plastic awning over the foredeck and a canvas one on the top deck protect passengers from the elements.
Today, Viscount bears little resemblance to the original ship, but she has had to move with the times to make sure of earning her living in a competitive world. In 1977, Thompsons put the wheelhouse back amidships and fitted a new Gardner 8LX engine.
In 1996 the Campion family took ownership and Viscount, based at Greenwich still operates on the River Thames.