Medway Queen Club
Saturday 14th May 1966, 3 years since her last voyage, 26 since her heroics during the Dunkirk evacuation and 42 since her maiden voyage. The Medway Queen was just about to embark on the next chapter of her incredible and storied journey.
The 14th of May 1966 marked the official opening ceremony of the Medway Queen Club. The Queen was sporting a fresh lick of paint and had been specially dressed for the occasion. The Mayor and Mayoress of Newport, members of the Dunkirk Veterans association, representatives of the Paddle Steamer Preservation and the Medway Queen Trust were all in attendance. All the guests were welcomed by Mr Alan Riddet, who headed the consortium that raised the £6000 (about £110,000 in todays money) needed in order to save her from ship breakers.
Mr John Graves who served on her with distinction during the whole of the Second World War performed the opening ceremony in the Engine Room. Over the next 8 years she would become a mainstay of the nightlife on the Isle of Wight.
John Graves’s daughter, Sue Murray, was at the ceremony that day.
“I have many proud memories of Dad, especially the day when he was given the honour of declaring the Medway Queen Club open. We went as a family to the Isle of Wight for the ceremony” She recalled for the Medway Queen Club in 2016.
Furthermore, she was impressed with the refit of the Queen, who whilst being dressed to the nines, retained her original charm. “I remember as a very young girl being very impressed with the plush interior of Medway Queen, which was totally different to how she would have looked as she prepared for war. After the ceremony we had a delicious buffet with lots of champagne- although I was too young to drink any!”
Sue wasn’t the only one charmed by the Queens new look. Thomas Russell was the ships cook during the heroic Dunkirk evacuation and visited the club in its opening year. “We celebrated my retirement after 40 years of seafaring, once more on the Medway Queen. She was now a very beautiful lady indeed, with first class amenities for wining, dining and dancing.”
However gone was the stew, bully beef sandwiches, and navy coca on offer during the miraculous Dunkirk evacuation. “This time I enjoyed a superb meal in leisurely, luxurious style”. Thomas added.
The Medway Queen Club’s restaurant was located in the lower forward saloon, which would have made for a cosy atmosphere and the restaurant enjoyed a good reputation. The dining saloon offered everything from scampi and chips to spaghetti and meatballs before it was moved to the Ryde Queen.
Although the restaurant was a hit, the swinging sixties were in full effect and people wanted a venue were they could dance the night away. Men in their sharpest suit’s and best suede shoes and women in their most dazzling mini dresses would all flock to the Medway Queen Club for drinks, dancing and live entertainment.
The club made full use of the ships four saloons with bars, cocktails, dancing, live music and at one point the Joker 7 Table for those who fancied their luck at cards, the Medway Queen Club had something for everyone.
In their heyday over 1000 people would pour out of Newports pubs every Friday and Saturday night and head down to the Medway Queen Club and The Ryde Queen. Chris Bancroft was away with the Merchant Navy for most of the 60’s, but when he was home on leave he’d be sure to be there “When I was home on leave, I would be down the ‘boat’ (as us locals referred to her)”.
Chris also remembers the great atmosphere of ‘The Boat’ that made her such a focal point of the nightlife on the island. “She had a lovely atmosphere about her, a good place to meet your friends and possibly girlfriends (I met my wife on the Ryde Queen in 1972). With areas on her being on the small side, it made it very intimate, especially in the lower deck dance floor where the resident band of the ‘Dougie Watson Trio’ would be performing. So for those people upstairs in the Forward Bar, the sound below would drift up from the lower deck giving the evening a really good feel factor”.
With such a great atmosphere, live music, drinks and dancing its no wonder the place was such a draw. Many a happy night was spent on the Queen sipping cocktails to the sound of smooth live jazz. However while thousands of people enjoyed countless happy nights at the club, some lucky couples on the island were even able to spend the happiest day of their lives aboard the Medway Queen Club.
Peter Steele and Patricia Evans held their wedding reception aboard the Medway Queen Club on 31st August 1968 before jetting off to America to start a new life.
Avril and Malcolm Turner were another couple lucky enough to spend their big day aboard the Queen, their favourite nightclub, on 3rd of May 1969. They said it was a magical occasion with weather to match, The Medway Queens brass gleaming in the late spring sun. Almost twenty years later they would join the Medway Queen Preservation Society in 1987.
The Medway Queen club was many different things to many different people where many treasured memories were made and was just one chapter of the Medway Queens incredible history.