Paddle Steamers on the River Orwell

After the development of the docks at Ipswich in 1842 the Eastern Counties Railway and its successor, the Great Eastern Railway, built several paddle steamers to sail up and down the River Orwell between Ipswich, Felixstowe and Harwich connecting with the railway and boats from London as well as providing some short excursions to sea in the summer.


The largest and final development of these were the Suffolk (pictured above) built in 1895, Essex built in 1896, and the Norfolk of 1900. Each was built ten feet longer than their predecessor with Suffolk coming in at 165 feet, Essex 175 feet and Norfolk 185 feet. All three had compound reciprocating steam engines.


Norfolk, (pictured above) which alone among the three had just one funnel instead of two, is seen here berthed in the river at Ipswich, outside and to the west of the main docks, with one of the others beyond. All three were double ended so that they didn't need to go through the bother of swinging in the narrow river at Ipswich and consequently were built with vertical rather than raked masts and funnels so that their profile remained the same whichever way they were going inward or outward bound.

The service was withdrawn during the First World War with Suffolk being called up for ferry services on the river for the Navy at Harwich and Essex sold in 1914 first to a man from Westcliff and then on to the Goole and Hull Steam Packet Company in 1916 before being sold overseas in 1918.

Suffolk and Norfolk returned to their old routes in 1919, under the ownerships of the LNER Railway from 1923, and continued to steam up and down the Orwell until 1931 by which time road transport was able to provide a quicker and cheaper alternative. Both were scrapped in Holland shortly after.

Some people describe these paddle steamers as hideously ugly but I like them a lot. For me there is something distinctly attractive about the pragmatism of the double ended hull enabling captains to sail straight into the berth in the  narrow river at Ipswich and then straight out again the other way. No need to worry through all the problems of turning in close quarters where something may ever be prone to work out differently from what had been planned - just as you are starting to turn you get sudden gusts of unhelpful wind or the otherwise helpful wind suddenly dies away completely and so on - with the potential ever present for damage and delay when the odds are against the manoeuvre. Straight in, straight out. No messing. That's my sort of boat.

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