25th August 1928 Royal Sovereign & London Belle

On Saturday 25th August 1928 the paddle steamer Royal Sovereign was scheduled to sail from Old Swan Pier at London Bridge to Ramsgate with London Belle shadowing her from Greenwich to provide extra capacity on the route.

Departure was from Old Swan Pier London Bridge at 8.30am with calls at Greenwich (9am), North Woolwich (9.35am), Southend (11.20am), Margate (1.20pm) for arrival at Ramsgate at 2pm. Departure was just five minutes later with the ships retracing their route for arrival back at Greenwich at 7.20pm and London at 7.40pm. Because of manoeuvring difficulties in the Upper Pool, they turned off Woolwich and backed all the way up to Greenwich and Old Swan Pier from there.

On Mondays through to Thursdays London Belle had a different roster due away from Greenwich at 8.15am ("The Early Boat") with calls at North Woolwich (8.35am) and Southend (10.25am) for arrival at Margate at 12.25pm from which resort she was rostered to run an afternoon sea cruise. Departure was at 4.45pm with arrival back at Greenwich scheduled for 8.40pm.

Royal Sovereign was built in 1893 for the London and East Coast Express Steamship Company service from London Bridge to Ramsgate on the back of the late Victorian surge in the market for leaving the hustle and bustle of London for the pleasures of a day on the briny at the seaside. At 891GRT and with a length of 300ft she was a big ship and was fitted with telescopic funnels to enable her to pass under London Bridge to reach Old Swan Pier. She was equipped to a high standard and, as the steamer notice above reveals, had State Rooms which could be hired on application to the purser for those wishing to avoid the crowds.

Apart from the First World War, which she spent laid up at Tilbury, Royal Sovereign continued on the route for which she was built in the hands of various different owners over the years right up to 1929 when she was withdrawn and finally scrapped in Holland.

London Belle was built in 1893 for the London, Woolwich & Clacton-on-Sea Steamboat Company as one of the expanding fleet of Belle paddle steamers designed and ordered for the steamer routes connecting London and the then developing Essex and Suffolk resorts. She passed to the Royal Sovereign  Company in 1925 with this 1928 season being her last in service. She passed to T W Ward at Grays in Essex for scrapping in March 1929.

The original Belle steamer route, using some of the remaining Belle steamer fleet, was still operating in 1928, albeit under different management, as this steamer notice shows with a single trip taking the whole day leaving London at 8.30am and getting to Great Yarmouth at 7.35pm with return the following day. Of course it was possible to change boats along the way as far as Clacton and return to London the same day. Indeed the roster sometimes had one boat running from London to Clacton or Walton and coming back to London with passengers having to change to the boat which had come down from Great Yarmouth if they wanted to go all the way.

1928/29 seems to have been a seminal year for the London fleets with both the East Anglia Steamship Company, with its remaining Belle fleet, and the Royal Sovereign steamers going out of business. Some found other work for a time and Royal Sovereign survived for one season more in 1929 in the ownership of the General Steam Navigation Co. 1929 also saw the opening of the new Tower Pier and the closure of Old Swan Pier thereby doing away with the need for any of the steamers to have telescopic funnels to get under London Bridge.

John Megoran

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