25th October 1895:
Southend Belle

25th October 1895:
Southend Belle
Southend Belle renamed Laguna Belle and pictured in the 1930s.

On 25th October 1895 Belle Steamers Ltd placed an order with Denny of Dumbarton to build a new paddle steamer to be called Southend Belle to be ready for the 1896 summer season.

She was to be 249ft in length overall, powered by a triple expansion engine with steam produced in two Admiralty style coal-fired boilers and to be capable of a speed of 17.75knots on a 6ft draught whilst carrying a payload of 60 tons deadweight. There should be coal bunker capacity of 27.5 tons.

The new ship should have eight watertight bulkheads and be fully compliant with Board of Trade requirements for a Class III Passenger Certificate from London to Harwich from April to October and if possible on to Great Yarmouth as well.

There should be dining and deck saloons for first class passengers aft and second class forward and the dining saloon should be capable of accommodating 120 diners at any one time. In addition there should be one private deck cabin and two staterooms on the main deck.

For LSA she was to be fitted with two clinker built boats each 18ft in length.

She was launched on 11th March 1896 and sailed south from the Clyde in early May to take up her new duties. The final cost came in at £28,617 (just under £4 million today).

Southend Belle was one of the great survivors of the Belle fleet running on their services from London to the east coast piers of Clacton and beyond up to 1928. She was then bought by a Mr H E Kingsman, who was a director of the Clacton Pier Company, who gave her a refit, renamed her Laguna Belle and put her back on the same service providing passengers from London to go ashore at his Clacton Pier.

Laguna Belle’s schedule for 1937 when working for the GSN.

In 1936 she passed to the General Steam Navigation Company which maintained her on the same route running from Tower Pier (8.30am), Greenwich (9am) and North Woolwich (9.30am) direct to Clacton (1.45pm) and Walton (2.50pm) (with no stop at Southend) where she connected with Essex Queen bringing passengers down from Great Yarmouth.

For 1939, her last year in commercial service, Laguna Belle continued to run from London to Clacton on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesday but spent the rest of the week running river and dock cruises from Tower Pier.

Laguna Belle as an Auxiliary Anti-aircraft Vessel in the Second World War.

During the Second World War she served as an Auxiliary Anti-aircraft Vessel until 1943 when her deteriorating hull condition relegated her to become an accommodation ship.

She left the UK to be scrapped in Holland in 1946 fifty years after she had made her first appearance on the Thames in 1896. That’s like scrapping a paddle steamer today built in 1970.

Kingswear Castle returned to service in 2023 after the first part of a major rebuild which is designed to set her up for the next 25 years running on the River Dart. The Paddle Steamer Kingswear Castle Trust is now fund raising for the second phase of the rebuild. You can read more about the rebuilds and how you can help if you can here.

John Megoran

John Megoran

This article was first published on 25th October 2020.