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The Forgotten Highway

Woolwich Steam Packet Company and its successors (including the River Thames Steamboat Company,

Victoria Steamboat Association and New Palace Steamers Ltd).


Name                                Built

SYLPH                              1834

FAIRY                               1834

NAIAD                              1835

ARIEL                                1835

NYMPH                             1836

DRYAD                             1836

MEIS                                 1836

OREAD                             1836

DORIS                               1836

ELPHIN                             1836

WITCH                               1844

ARIEL                                1844

SIBYL                                1844

NYMPH                             1852

PETREL                             1853


SEA SWALLOW                1854

OREAD                              1854

METIS                                1857

CUPID                                1867

VESTA                                1867


PRINCE OF WALES          1875

Vessels purchased from The Thames and Channel Steamship Co

Vale of Clwyd

Glen Rosa

New Build for Victoria Steamboat


Royal Sovereign

La Marguerite


Lord of the Isles


The Woolwich Steam Package Company was established in 1834 to provide ser­vices from central London to Woolwich and these were later extended to the Kent and southern Essex coasts along the Thames Estuary. A London to Ipswich packet service was later operated and it was this service, which also called at Clacton from 1871.

The Company amalgamated with several smaller concerns, including the Water­men's Steam Packet Company, in 1876 to form the London Steamboat Company, and was the dominant force in the Thames estuary excursion business at that time. 1878 saw the greatest disaster in the history of British coastal cruising when PS Princess Alice sank after a collision near Woolwich with the loss of almost 700 lives. This accident severely undermined public confidence in steamboat travel.

The Thames and Channel Steamship Co are understood to have been a closely as­sociated company who sold their two steamers Vale of Clwyd and Glen Rosa to the London Steamboat Co in 1883.

Although the Thames excursion traffic was at its busiest at this time and profits should have been high, the company struggled financially and was put up for sale at the end of 1884. A new company, the River Thames Steamboat Company, took over the assets and operated for three years. It then was put up for sale but no buy­ers could be found.

Victoria Steamboat Association / Palace Steamers Ltd

Established in February 1888 to take over the assets of the failed River Thames Steamboat Company they had a loose association of business interests, operating its vessels as separate subsidiaries, most likely in an attempt to avoid the financial problems of its predecessors. Palace Steamers Ltd was the best known of these subsidiaries.

The Association set about modernising the fleet and scrapped a number of older vessels.

The cost of these new vessels and their enormous appetite for coal, especially in the case of La Marguerite, led inevitably to financial problems and the three newer vessels which had been supplied by the Govan shipbuilders, Fairfield, under mort­gage reverted back to Fairfields after the 1894 season. The Victoria Steamboat As­sociation was left with a small fleet of small vessels used on up-river services in London and struggled on with a limited service undertaken by its three remaining older vessels until they were sold at the end of 1896

Three ships were operated by Fairfields as New Palace Steamers Ltd. They ran ser­vices to Clacton / Harwich, Kent and Boulogne in France.

London, Woolwich and Clacton-on-Sea Steamboat Company.

PS Clacton (1888)

Belle Steamers

Clacton Belle (1890-1915)

Woolwich Belle (1891-1924)

London Belle (1893-1929)

Southend Belle (1896-1929)

Walton Belle (1897-1925)

Yarmouth Belle (1898-1929)

Southwold Belle (1900-1913)

The Company was established to serve the growing resort of Clacton from the 1888 season, and became better known as Belle Steamers Ltd in 1897. They came to dominate trade on the East Anglia coast for thirty years. Their history is complicated.

The company was originally formed in July 1887 by shareholders in Clacton Pier, several of whom were shareholders in the Woolwich Steam Packet Company whose steamers called at Clacton when the pier was first opened in 1871. But the successors of the Woolwich Company, the River Thames Steamboat Com­pany, ran into financial trouble and stopped its boat service to Clacton.

This had left the young ambitious Clacton resort without a regular service. The ves­sels of the General Steam Navigation Company passed Clacton but did not call on their way to Great Yarmouth.

Operations were extended to provide services to the Kent coast from Essex and cruises along the southern bank of the Thames Estuary. This area was well served by the General Steam Navigation Company and New Palace Steamers, so would never provide the financial benefit the company sorely needed.

The Company was wound up at the end of 1897 and a new company, The Coast Development Company was formed. Their main interest concerned the further speculative development of the coastal resorts of East Anglia. It incorporated Belle Steamers, pier and land interests in Clacton and also Walton-on-the-Naze.

In March 1905 the company was in financial difficulty and wound up, with its assets taken over by the Coast Development Corporation, but retaining its original board of Directors.

At the end of the 1911 season, the newest vessel, Southwold Belle was sold to pay off mounting debts

In May 1915, with World War I in progress and excursion traffic all but disappeared, the Corporation went into voluntary liquidation. The assets of the company remained with liquidators until much of the fleet were purchased by Mr E Kingsman of Clacton in 1921 and then were transferred to the PSM Syndicate in 1922. The boats were gradually scrapped or sold off as trade diminished until the early 1930s.

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