LOOKING the other day for things they did in the summer way back when, I happened across the very popular pastime of river steamer day trips up and down the Severn. They were all the rage in Victorian and Edwardian times and even continue today in a much reduced form.

But in Berrow’s Worcester Journal of June 23, 1900 there was a wonderful account of one that went wrong. It offers a lovely insight into the prevailing attitudes, language and society of the era and was written by someone with a wry sense of humour and a warm way with words.  I would be very foolish to mess with the original, so here it is in its entirety under its heading “The River Steamer that Ran Out of Coal”. Enjoy.

“A river picnic party made a journey from Tewkesbury last Saturday in record time. Not a record of haste by any means, but one of calm, slow deliberation. A pleasant trip downstream and the enjoyment of several hours sunshine raised the spirits of the merry party to a high pitch

“But coming home the machinery aboard became lazy, for the engineer could not light an effective fire. Coal had run short. By scraping the coal box, by using spent matches and trifles of that sort, a little blaze was produced and a pressure of about 20lbs was obtained when 60lbs was wanted. Bye and bye the engine stirred the screw and the boat moved, but oh so slowly. Soon the pressure went down to 10lbs  and the boat’s pace was reduced to the rate of a snail’s crawl.

“Now came the urgent demand for paper and other combustibles. The picnic party provided an abundance of these and enough energy was raised to take the steamer a little farther. Between Tewkesbury and Upton all the rubbish on board was consumed.

The engineer consulted everybody and the advice of every amateur on board was exhausted.

“Nearly every man (and woman) had a turn at stoking and now, when the machinery came to a full stop, they were sent spying out the land for bits of stick and coal. There was a terrible famine of both. Money would not command much either, but when the whole countryside had been ravaged, another start was made.

“There was no likelihood of hurry  and some of the party suggested that they should wait a bit, then follow on foot and catch up the steamer. On the second and longer stage of the journey the engineer had plenty of amateur advice and lots of rubbish to eek out his scraps of coal. He used it sparingly lest it should be spent before the journey was complete, but he prodigally retailed instructions on engine driving to beguile the time of the party and they in exchange sang glees to him. When they were tired of his departures they went to the man at the wheel and took lessons in steering. This occupied more time and there was a lot of it on hand.

“From Upton to Worcester took a matter of three hours and the leisurely disposition of the engine allowed calls to be made here and there and more searches for fuel. Everybody saw the humour of the situation and even if the journey had lasted far into the Sabbath, they would have been tempted to make mirth. Happily for them, they landed at midnight.”