The Dorset History Centre

The archives of Cosens of Weymouth, Paddle Steamer Company (ref: D/COS)

Following the announcement of our successful bid, a media release was issued through the Dorset County Council communications unit. This generated interest among local media, probably because of the accompanying image of a chimpanzee apparently piloting a paddle steamer!

BBC Dorset ran a web feature, as well as interviewing a member of staff as part of their morning show, and other local news websites also ran articles. Following this publicity, we were contacted by a gentleman who was able to identify two of the individuals in the photograph, one of whom was his father. Despite delays owing to a recruitment freeze across our parent authority, Sarah Downey took up post to catalogue the collection on a part-time basis.

Whilst Cosens is generally remembered for its iconic paddle steamers, the cataloguing process has highlighted the fact that the company had a very diverse business portfolio. Many of the operational and financial records relate to the ice-packing trade, and later documents show how the company moved in property management roles, taking on contracts for government agencies in 1980s and 1990s.

A number of historical connections have also been revealed; Cosens were involved in the evacuation of Dunkirk and the D-Day landings, the Premier collided with a naval submarine off Portland in 1932 (leading Cosens to take legal action against the Navy), and the Empress was used in a 1945 film production of Great Expectations. Company minutes also reflect the heightened concern for passenger safety in the wake of the Titanic disaster in 1912, with plans for a greater number of Life Saving Appliances. It even turned out that a member of staff at the History Centre was the great-grandson of a Cosens paddle steamer captain.

We are expecting the archive to prove particularly relevant to the 2012 Olympics sailing events in Weymouth (where Cosens was based). We hope to use the archive to publicise how the Dorset History Centre can support research into local maritime and leisure history.

The catalogue will be made available online via Without the Business Archives Council grant this unique collection would have remained inaccessible, and we are therefore extremely grateful for the opportunity this funding afforded us.

Stuart Tyler

Outreach and Communities Officer