The £20 million Windermere Jetty Museum of Boats, Steam and Stories
PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 April 2019 | UPDATED: 08:57 08 April 2019
It has taken decades to achieve, but it's now full steam ahead for a major new Lakes attraction. Mike Glover reports.
THE Lake District’s latest blockbuster attraction is expected to attract tens of thousands of visitors but it would never have happened without Diana Matthews, her family and friends.
Visitors will be able to book a trips on board Osprey, a steam launch built in Bowness in 1902, and wander through interactive galleries of boats while discovering the story of steam power on Windermere. An entire wall covered floor to ceiling with boating paraphernalia, equipment and curiosities will be one of the highpoints.
But the story behind the £20 million Windermere Jetty Museum of Boats, Steam and Stories spans decades and it has not always been plain sailing.
The project is four years late, £7 million over initial estimates, it has been re-designed at least once and key staff have left at critical stages.
No one is more pleased to see it now opened than Mrs Matthews, Deputy Lieutenant and former High Sheriff of Cumbria. It has often required her skills of diplomacy to see her family’s unique collection go on display in a striking, purpose built complex in Rayrigg Road, Bowness.
As a toddler, she helped polish the brass on the flotilla of steamboats collected by her forebears. By the age of 14 she had learned to steam up luxury launches and she even stoked up an iconic boat’s engines on her wedding day as she steamed off on honeymoon.
It was her great grand-father George Henry Pattinson who acquired the first luxury steam-boat, the Jubilee, built in 1887. For two centuries before that the Pattinsons, the most famous builders in South Lakeland, had used barges to ferry men and materials from site to site across Windermere. Throughout the last century people donated their steam-boats and other craft which fell out of fashion, first to Mrs Matthews’s grand-father Cooper Pattinson, then to her father George Harry Pattinson. Both lovingly conserved them.
By the 1960s they had half a dozen and when the Duke of Edinburgh was invited by the Royal Windermere Yacht Club he asked to be taken down the Lake on SL Branksome, built in 1896, and because of its antiquity still the only boat allowed a flushing loo on Windermere. With its original carpets, fittings and tea service, it has the same status as a listed building so rules that prohibited such plumbing on other boats don’t apply.
The Duke recommended a private trust be set up to keep the collection for future generations to enjoy and he arranged for the 5th Duke of Westminster to establish the Maritime Trust to do for boats what the National Trust does for old buildings. Its flagship project was Windermere Steam Boat Museum opened by the Prince of Wales in 1977.
‘We were extremely fortunate to have a load of people with the right credentials to speak to the right people in the right places,’ said Mrs Matthews.
The museum attracted 85,000 visitors a year. More people offered up their vessels and by 1981 it doubled in size with a collection of 40, a lecture theatre and new docks.
Both the 1977 and 1981 buildings were designed by Mrs Matthews’s husband David, an architect, who also oversaw the conservation work on the boats as technical director. Then in 1997 George Pattinson died. He had asked his daughter to explore whether the boats and steam boat museum could be used in lieu of inheritance tax.
‘He didn’t want my two sisters and I to have to pay tax on inanimate objects and we didn’t want the collection dispersed or sold to America,’ she said.
Eventually it was handed over to Lakeland Arts, a charity which runs Abbot Hall Art Gallery and the Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry, in Kendal, and Blackwell Arts and Crafts House in Windermere.
The old Steamboat Museum closed for the winter of 2007 and it has taken 12 years for the new complex to open.
They had hoped to raise between £5 million and £10 million to match a grant from the Lottery but the recession scuppered that despite the project being backed by The Lake District National Park Authority to make Windermere a world-class attraction.
The boats had to be put in storage while the fundraising continued. Fears were expressed by steamboat experts that the collection, which includes the world’s oldest mechanically-powered boat, the UK’s first twin screw steam yacht, the oldest boat on the Lloyds register and one of the first motorboats ever made, would warp as it dried out. Happily, they’ve all survive being out of the water.
Mrs Matthews wasn’t involved in the management of the project although she has popped over from her house next door to monitor progress and has been debriefed for story lines in displays.
‘I was delighted that the collection had been kept together and we eventually got funding. It is of national and international importance, although it was difficult to lose control of the boats. It was like losing adopted children,’ she added.
With the museum having weathered such choppy waters, Mrs Matthews won’t be the only one who hopes it fulfils its promise.
NEED TO KNOW
LOCATION: Bowness-on-Windermere, two miles from Windermere railway station, also accessible via train, bus, bike or car. Windermere Lake Cruises’ ‘Red Cruise’ will stop at the museum
OPEN: Museum open all year except Christmas Day and Boxing Day
TICKETS: £9 for adults, £7 for children, Under-4s are free. Family tickets available
PARKING CHARGES: Standard parking: £10; Museum visitors: £4
For full details go to windermerejetty.org
DID YOU KNOW?
Windermere Jetty is one of the first contemporary buildings constructed on the shores of Windermere in over 50 years and its collection of over 40 vessels is the only one in the world.
A cluster of seven buildings, the new museum tells the story of 200 years of boats, boating and boat building in the Lake District. For the first time more than half of the collection, which ranges from Victorian steam launches to record-breaking speedboats, will be on display.
The collection includes SL Dolly, thought to be the oldest mechanically powered boat in the world, Beatrix Potter’s tarn boat which she used to sketch in, and the 50-foot luxuriously-designed Victorian steam launch Branksome.
All walls and roofs are covered with oxidised copper that will gradually weather and blend into the natural environment. It also features a workshop where visitors will see the team of skilled conservation boat builders maintain vessels that would otherwise be lost to history.
Oh, and there is a cafe, of course!