The Forgotten Highway
Woolwich Steam Packet Company and its successors (including the River Thames Steamboat Company,
Victoria Steamboat Association and New Palace Steamers Ltd).
WOOLWICH STEAM PACKAGE FLEET
QUEEN OF THE ISLES 1853
SEA SWALLOW 1854
DUKE OF EDINBURGH 1870
PRINCE OF WALES 1875
Vessels purchased from The Thames and Channel Steamship Co
Vale of Clwyd
New Build for Victoria Steamboat
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-
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-
PS Clacton (1888)
Clacton Belle (1890-
Woolwich Belle (1891-
London Belle (1893-
Southend Belle (1896-
Walton Belle (1897-
Yarmouth Belle (1898-
Southwold Belle (1900-
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-
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.