Belle operated paddle steamers from the Thames at London Bridge up the East Anglian coast to Great Yarmouth. The journey time was eleven hours and, in both first and second class cabins, food and drink were served.
For a while Southwold presented a problem to passenger ships since there were no pier facilities. Until 1900 when a pier was specially built the steamers hove to offshore and passengers were transferred to rowing boat . By that time Belle Steamers had become part of the East Coast Development Co. The company had big plans for the north of the town including a grand entrance (Pier Avenue) a grand hotel at the sea end (The Grand Hotel) and, reaching out beyond it, a splendid pier where passengers could embark and disembark from the company's steamers in comfort and style.
One of these steamers was the ‘Southwold Belle’, built in 1900 and the biggest in the fleet of seven vessels. Sadly, by 1910, financial difficulties forced the company to sell her to French owners who renamed her, perhaps not surprisingly, ‘Bon Voyage’ operating out of Cherbourg. It is believed that she was used in World War I in 1915 at the Gallipoli landings.
steamer about to berth at Southwold Pier in the early years of the 20th
Century. Note the row of bathing machines drawn up to the water's edge.
P057 above and P3103 below
The outbreak of the war meant that the whole steamer service was terminated. The vessels were requisitioned and put into service as minesweepers. Two of them went to Russia as hospital tenders.
With peace came a decline, almost inevitable in the light of competition from motor coaches and changing ideas about excursions by sea. The steamers were gradually disposed of and the last call to Southwold was made in 1928.
In 1934 a severe storm washed away the pier's ‘hammer-head’ and any chance of steamers being able to call was lost.
Until now !