Southwold Belle was the last of seven “Belle” steamers built by Denny of Dumbarton in the decade between 1890 and 1900 for parties seeking to develop, and provide transport linking, the resorts along the east coast with London. Originating as the London, Woolwich & Clacton-on-Sea Steamship Company they reconstituted themselves as the Coast Development Corporation which also owned the piers at Clacton, Walton, Felixstowe, Southwold and Lowestoft.
All the steamers were of a broadly similar design but differed in size and minor points of detail. Largest was the London Belle which came in at 280ft LOA with a passenger capacity on Class V for “Smooth Waters” of 2,184. Smallest was Woolwich Belle which at 200ft LOA could accommodate up to 1,155. The little differences between them all must have given ample delight to keen ship spotters with perhaps the easiest to identify being Southwold Belle which, as the last to be built, uniquely had her second class saloon on the foredeck extending the full width of the ship to provide extra covered accommodation for her passengers. These were all fine steamers built by one of Britain’s premier shipbuilders so it is not surprising that the Coast Development Corporation’s marketing claimed that they were “unsurpassed by any excursion steamers in the kingdom for comfort, speed and safety”
From 1897 they expanded their operations to include day trips from London to Margate and Ramsgate as well as their usual routes linking London with Yarmouth with calls at all the twelve or so piers along the way as shown in the steamer notice above.
Southwold Belle made her first voyage on 14th July 1900 on the east coast route with around 400 passengers aboard arriving in Yarmouth around 8pm from London with guns being fired as a welcome according to the local press. However, despite being the newest and most modern in the fleet, she had only a relatively short career as a Thames steamer. Competition between operators in the Edwardian era was fierce and by 1912 there was a need for a certain amount of financial retrenchment. Southwold Belle was therefore withdrawn and sold abroad first for service as a tender at Hamburg under the name Westerland and from the following year at Cherbourg where she was renamed Bon Voyage. In 1922 she is recorded as being in Genoa owned by the Societa Anonima Pragma. She was broken up in Genoa in 1925.
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.