My First Channel Crossing

By Derek Longly

Many of my ship memories date from about 1950.  At that time my parents had moved their home from Eastbourne to Seaford with the port of Newhaven, to which I had first been introduced by my Grandfather, only a short distance from my Father's workplace.  Whenever I had the chance I used to climb on a bus or train and travel to Newhaven, ostensibly to see my Father but in reality to be able to wander around the harbour there.  At just 11 years of age it was a completely new world to me and I used to be full of awe watching the Channel ships arrive and depart - for in those days France seemed a very long way away and I could never visualise myself actually being a passenger on one of those, to my young eyes, huge ships, which carried as I imagined, the rich and famous across the water.  The excitement of seeing the boat train arrive - at that time with a massive steam engine at its head and a Pullman car or two amongst it's long line of carriages, was something that always gave me great pleasure.

That was in the days before the regulations preventing smoke pollution and many of the ship's funnels belched great black sooty clouds into the air. The Channel ships were run at almost their full speed of 25 knots into and out of the harbour and would create huge waves with their wakes on the beach near the West Pier at each arrival and departure. The sonorous steam whistles sounding on the air from these ships as they sailed added to the magic and excitement of their comings and goings.

Then at Easter 1952, just after my 13th birthday, came a moment when what had previously seemed the impossible happened and which event was to confirm my passion for ships for life.  I was to be sent to France to stay for a holiday with a French family in Paris.  I remember the event as though it were yesterday. The day before I was due to leave I remember I was so excited I could hardly eat and on the preceding night sleep was out of the question.

The appointed morning dawned bright and sunny and the entire family took the train to Newhaven to see me off. At the quayside the steamer Worthing, a veteran from 1928, lay with smoke trickling from her great buff, black topped funnel.  All was noise and confusion, falling over cases, getting in everyone's way, the thrill of having my passport inspected and stamped, the steep climb up the wooden gangway to the ship's deck. Then finally to be installed in a big blue leather seat beside a blue curtained window high above the quayside, where my family seemed to have become like marionettes as they waved me farewell.

Came a blast on the ship's whistle that seemed to reverberate through the entire vessel, much banging and clattering as the gangways were pulled clear then very slowly a gap appeared between ship and quay. I waved wildly, my family did likewise, there came another blast on the whistle then we were moving and the little group on the dockside steadily grew smaller, became a distant blur. The deck beneath my feet throbbed urgently as power built up and order was restored after the chaos of departure.  The sea proved to be calm and blue and the Worthing's bow sliced through the waves with nonchalant ease as she left a creamy white wake behind her.  Soon I wanted to explore this wondrous transport and with boyish curiosity wandered off to see what I could find. The decks were full of people all jolly and windblown, there was saltspray in the air clinging to one's lips to give a tang of the sea and the lovely big funnel pumped a long streamer of smoke skyward that stretched back to the horizon.

After departure one of my older companions became uncomfortable owing to the crowded conditions in the 3rd Class part of the ship and we moved into 1st Class, which was almost empty.  Below decks I wandered around dumbstruck as I inspected the 1st Class accommodation - deep buttoned plush moquette seating in autumnal colours in the saloon, leather in the smoke room, which was redolent of cigars and whisky and soda.  The dining room was a picture of polished, fluted, wood columns, acres of immaculate table linen and gleaming silver ware set on the tables, with pretty chintz curtains swaying at the portholes, through which the sun glittered.  The galley into which I was able to glimpse was preparing for lunch, an old range with pots and casseroles bubbling on top of it and a gorgeous smell permeating the area.  Below still further and being extra venturesome now, I found the wood panelled sleeping lounges under the 1st Class accommodation, more plush and buttoned moquette in serried rows, whilst aft, racks of neat blue and white draped bunks served for 3rd Class sleeping quarters.

Everywhere there was polished woodwork, companionways leading to one knew not what and staircases wide and narrow covered in polished linoleum to take one between the various decks.  If I had been fascinated by the harbour before now I was utterly captivated by this beautiful, powerful, living piece of luxurious machinery. 

The wonder remained with me throughout that journey, the incredible excitement of arriving in France, the huge steam trains in the streets of Dieppe, puffing clouds of oil scented steam, panting like thoroughbreds ready for the off; the foreign tongues, the exotic smells, the unusual clothes, the gesticulations and racing voices, the long sticks of bread.  Everything sank into my brain and has remained there as a vivid picture of an era now sadly long gone.

The passage of the years found me travelling more and more by sea.  I came to know all the Channel ships running from Newhaven, the sumptuous Brighton, the rather more utilitarian Arromanches and Londres and the elegantly swish Lisieux.  None of them, however, ever surpassed my love for the wonderful old Worthing.

Photo:Worthing ready to embark passengers at Newhaven

Worthing ready to embark passengers at Newhaven

Derek Longly collection

Photo:Worthing at speed

Worthing at speed

British Railways postcard in my collection

Photo:Worthing arriving at Dieppe

Worthing arriving at Dieppe

Hand Tinted 'Cap' French Postcard in my collection

Photo:Worthing alongside at Dieppe

Worthing alongside at Dieppe

Hand tinted French Postcard in my collection

Photo:The first time I saw the SS Worthing in about 1950

The first time I saw the SS Worthing in about 1950

Derek Longly

Photo:The Worthing steaming across Seaford Bay

The Worthing steaming across Seaford Bay

Derek Longly collection

Photo:Worthing's Clock

Worthing's Clock

Fran Hollingdale

This page was added by Derek Longly on 26/10/2011.
Comments about this page

I lived in Dieppe from 1951 to 1960 in Grand'rue, 100 yards from the harbour. As my parents were renting a café, all the crews of these four ships, Arromanche, Londres, Brighton and Worthing used to come and have a rest. I would cross the channel a few times a year, invited by friends working on the English boats, especially the Brighton. Lots of sailors from all over the world would come to Dieppe. Banana boats, cattle boats... Sometimes cows were running through Dieppe, escaping from the harbour, climbing on the cliff and jumping down to the beach !!! I kept on going to England to see our friend Tom Saunders, the barman of the Brighton  and his children. The boats have gone, I wonder where. Maybe to scrapyards... But I still remember quiet a lot of rough crossings and bad seasickness on the channel ! That was sixty years ago. Things have changed a lot. It was fun to see these postcards.. Patrick Divaret

By Patrick Divaret
On 07/02/2013

Did I see our SS Worthing on the antiques roadshow WW2 episode tonight?

By Terry Howard
On 09/09/2019


Yes you did see the Worthing and she was an ambulance ship with large red cross on the sides. Never knew she was at Dunkirk in that role.

By Neill Jupp
On 10/09/2019

My uncle Fredrick Lower was chief steward on the SS Worthing for many years and when the ship was decommissioned he kept a ships clock from the Worthing which we have to this day its going on one hundred years old and works like a charm!

I've now added the photo of the clock. Andy-Editor

By Keith Hollingdale
On 05/10/2019

I too enjoyed my first crossing Dieppe to Newhaven but on SS Brighton which, I believe was sister ship to SS Worthing. She was quite crowded in 3rd class and we had to sit on our suite cases most of the time.  This was approx 1951.  We had to await arrival and unloading by crane of (MV) Brest which carried our family car.

Our outward crossing was Folkestone to Calais on SS Autocarrier.  Quite an experience on a choppy day.  (No stabilisers). 


By David Barham
On 02/08/2021

That would have been Brighton (VI), almost new when you made that crossing. Brighton (V), lost in WWII, was Worthing's almost identical sister ship.

There's a page celebrating the 50th anniversary of the car ferry service -  HERE - which shows a car being craned on and off Brest' in the 1950s or very early 1960s. The cargo boat would usually leave before the passenger steamer and if all had gone to plan, the car would be waiting on the quayside. It didn't always go to plan, it seems! 

By Andy Gilbert
On 04/08/2021

Thank you, Andy Gilbert, for putting me right re: Brighton and directing me to your most interesting pages.

I have seen pictures of the earlier Brighton sunk at Dieppe, but did know the relationship to Worthing.

Your pages remind me of other memories from Newhaven.

Our car happened to be a Vauxhall Velox.

Some of the later ferries had a small wheelhouse or lookout near the stern, presumably to aid reversing into the port.

I have seen on occasions ships swinging with the aid of a cable taken across to the western side and then winching.  Perhaps due to weather or tidal conditions.

On one occasion I saw PS Ryde on the grid iron, possibly for survey as it would have been well after her retirement.  I know Ryde well as I went to school on the IOW from 1945.  I loved to watch the engines, especially approaching Ryde pier, waiting for the telegraph to ring half, slow, stop, and then astern when I would watch the engineer engage the Stephenson reversing mechanism.  Ryde had a second rudder at the bow which I could see when she was on the grid.  Paddlers do not steer well when passengers gather on one side ready to disembark and the bow rudder was to help overcome this.


By David Barham
On 07/08/2021

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