On the 22 October 2020, Bristol Packet Boat Trips' famous Tower Belle will be 100 years old. They will be celebrating this centenary with a day of free 45-minute trips around the harbour aboard the Tower Belle, with birthday cake and tea!  After all, the ship owes its longevity to all the paying passengers that have sailed on her over the years. This has enabled restoration work to continue every winter. Thanks to the skilled fabricators, welders, engineers, and shipwrights who have worked on her restoration - her hull is now as good as new!

Thousands of Bristolians have grown up marking different stages of their lives on the Tower Belle - from children's birthdays and family outings to evening boat parties, weddings, anniversaries and retirement celebrations. But just how did this special vessel start out in life?

Life as the Wincomblee

In 1920, Sir W G Armstrong Whitworth & Co, shipbuilders in Newcastle, built Tower Belle. This shipbuilder was experiencing a boom period, with orders for ships to replace those lost in the Great War. Between the huge Battleships and Cargo vessels, this small passenger ship was completed and launched into the Tyne. She was named Wincomblee after the area around the shipyard and would only later be named Tower Belle after a stint at Tower Bridge.

Wincomblee (Tower Belle) launch 1920 credit Bristol Packet Boat Trips
Image: Wincomblee (Tower Belle) launch 1920.

Sir W G Armstrong Whitworth owned the Wincomblee until 1939. The registration then transferred to the Lord Mayor of Newcastle; she became the property of the City and used as a ferry. In 1946 she was taken to London. She first operated on the upper reaches of the Thames before being taken downstream, where she then ran the 'golden mile' between Westminster and Tower Bridge.

Tower Belle at Richmond Thames circa 1950 credit Bristol Packet Boat Trips
Image: Tower Belle on Richmond Thames circa 1950.

The Belle of Bristol

In 1976, Tower Belle was up for sale again and was purchased by Nick Grey - of the newly established Bristol Packet Boat Trips. She was then brought by road to Bristol.

Tower Belle arrives in Bristol credit Bristol Packet Boat Trips
Image: Tower Belle arrives in Bristol.

Tower Belle quickly gained enthusiastic friends. Not only did she offer an Avon Gorge Cruise, a voyage not available to the general public since Campbell’s Paddle steamers had stopped trading in the early 1960s, she also ran river trips to Beese’s Tea Gardens, Hanham and Bath. These were for both timetabled trips and private parties - often with jazz bands on board to entertain the passengers.

Jazz on Tower Belle credit Bristol Packet Boat Trips
Image: Jazz on Tower Belle.

Tower Belle Today

Today, she is the most popular and iconic passenger boat in Bristol. A typical day can start with a school party of 80 children screaming under the bridges, followed by a leisurely afternoon cream tea cruise, then an evening party with music and dancing on the aft deck.

Tower Belle, Avon Gorge Cruise credit Bristol Packet Boat Trips
Image: Tower Belle, Avon Gorge Cruise.

Next time you're strolling along the harbour, do look out for the much loved Tower Belle and give her a wave!

Bristol Packet Boat Trips offer harbour tours and river cruises with award winning commentaries. Visit this page for further information.

All images (c)Bristol Packet Boat Trips, reproduced here with permission.


Tower Belle's 100th Birthday with Bristol Packet Boat Trips
Free Event
Tower Belle's 100th Birthday with Bristol Packet Boat Trips

To mark the occasion and to thank the people of Bristol for their support, Tower Belle will carry passengers on 45-minute trips around the harbour all day free of charge with birthday cake and tea. (Booking advised, with distancing only about 25 passengers onboard per trip).

Bristol Packet Boat Trips
Boat Trip
Bristol Packet Boat Trips

Enjoy harbour tours and river trips with Bristol Packet Boat Trips with public timetabled trips and private hire available.