On the waterfront: The Wear’s passenger steamers

The City of Norwich upriver in 1895.
The City of Norwich upriver in 1895.
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This week, we focus on the Wear’s passenger steamers of the 1890s.

One of the best known was the saloon paddle steamer City of Norwich, which arrived from Great Yarmouth on March 15, 1894.

Built by Beeching Bros of Great Yarmouth for Fitt and Sabbertons of Norwich in 1885, she had been acquired by Mr William Fry of Sunderland to meet demand for an excursion vessel at Sunderland.

Licensed to carry 200 passengers, the 72ft-long boat could navigate the upper reaches of the river when the tide permitted on account of her shallow draught.

Fares cost one shilling return between Wearmouth Bridge Landing and Cox Green or Biddick, with an intermediate call at Hylton.

Occasional trips were also made to the new Roker Pier, which was then under construction.

North Biddick was a favourite destination, with dozens of passengers disembarking to enjoy the delights of Mrs Batey’s quaintly-named Girdle Cake Cottage and Tea Rooms.

City of Norwich was renamed River King in 1900 and moved to the River Ouse at York not long afterwards.

Truro Belle, a 64ft 6in-long screw steamer, arrived in South Docks from Falmouth on March 14, 1898.

Belonging to Captain Coulson Douglas of Harold Street, Sunderland, and built by Charles Rushden of Falmouth in 1895, the vessel could also carry 200 passengers.

Running between Bottleworks Quay near Wearmouth Bridge, Truro Belle made regular trips to Biddick and Roker, her first outing being on Good Friday 1898.

Later that year, she was sold to Tyne owners, and served with Elswick and Dunston Ferry Co Ltd. Her registry was closed in 1907.

A third excursion steamer that sailed on the Wear in the 1890s was the 98ft paddler Larmont, which had been launched in 1875 by Robert Napier and Sons of Govan as Mary Ellen for Lancaster owners.

She was renamed Larmont in 1896 after moving to West Hartlepool ownership.

She sailed regularly on sea excursions, carrying up to 175 passengers from Hartlepool, the Tyne and Sunderland.

She also acted as tender to the steamer General Havelock, transferring passengers between Scarborough and the ship while on the Sunderland - London run.

By 1900, she was making regular trips from Sunderland’s Custom House Quay.

It was here she met with a serious accident on August 30, 1900, which cost the life of her master, Captain Richard Robinson.

While being towed downriver by the tug Leonard Brown, the steamship Universal crashed into Larmont after breaking her tow-line. 70-year-old Captain Robinson attempted to jump onto the quay, but fell into the river.

Although rescued by the river police, he died soon afterwards.

Larmont was refloated and towed to the Tyne for repairs, after which she became owned by Tyne Coal Hulk Co Ltd of North Shields, later ending her career at Middlesbrough around 1947.