The Swinging Cabin of SS Bessemer

 English inventor Sir Henry Bessemer, famous for his groundbreaking steelmaking process, which still bears his name, once lamented, "Few men suffer more seriously from seasickness than I do." Have suffered." Despite being one of the leading inventors of the Second Industrial Revolution, Bessemer's genius was not immune to personal trials. With over a hundred inventions in iron, steel and glass, most of which saw success, his attempt to build a ship to alleviate his chronic seasickness, however, ended in failure.

After a particularly harrowing voyage from Calais to Dover in 1868, during which Bessemer was nearly incapacitated by sea sickness, the inventor resolved to build a ship where the passenger cabins would be unaffected by the rolling and pitching of the ship at sea. Will remain. To achieve this, Bessemer devised a pioneering solution: suspending the cabin, called a salon, on gimbals and mechanically maintaining its horizontal position using a complex system of hydraulic cylinders. However, unlike modern stabilization systems equipped with automatic feedback mechanisms, Bessemer's design relied on a steersman to manually control the hydraulics while monitoring the spirit level.

After conducting successful tests with a scale model at Denmark Hill, Bessemer established the Bessemer Salon Ship Company, a limited joint stock company tasked with operating steamships between England and France. Securing capital of £250,000, the company financed the construction of the SS Bessemer, and appointed renowned naval builder Edward James Reid as its chief designer.

The steamship Bessemer was 350 feet long and 40 feet wide on deck, with propulsion provided by two pairs of paddle wheels. Its interior salon, a vast chamber 70 feet long, 30 feet wide and with a ceiling 20 feet high from the floor, was a testament to opulence. Equipped with Moroccan-covered seats, ornate divisions, carved oak spiral columns and gilt-moulded panels with hand-painted frescoes, the salon exudes luxury, offering passengers a taste of elegance for their Channel passage . Sadly, Bessemer's ambitious vision remained unfulfilled.

The ship was plagued with bad luck from the beginning. Shortly after its launch, a severe storm drove the ship onto the coast of Hull, making refloating a challenging attempt. In April 1875, while on a private trial voyage from Dover to Calais, the ship collided with the pier on arrival, resulting in damage to one of her paddle wheels. Despite these setbacks, the ship set out on her first and only public voyage in May 1875. However, a major feature of the ship, the famous swinging salon, remained closed due to incomplete machinery. On reaching Calais the ship once again hit the pier, adding to its troubles.

The second disaster at Calais was the final blow to the Bessemer Salon Steamboat Company, breaking its credibility beyond repair. Disappointed investors withdrew their support, leading to the company's demise and its eventual liquidation in 1876.

Following another grounding incident on the Burcombe Sand in the Humber, upstream of Grimsby, Lincolnshire, SS Bessemer was sold for scrap, but not before its designer Reed had planned to remove the salon cabin. This magnificent space found a new home at Reid's residence in Swanley, where it was converted into a billiard room. Later, when Reid's home became Swanley Horticultural College, the salon found a new purpose as a lecture hall. However, tragedy struck during the turmoil of the Second World War when the college suffered a direct hit during bombing, resulting in the complete destruction of the once grand salon cabin.

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