The steam launch Britannia, built on the Clyde in 1879 for local landowner Col. Ridehalgh, was the largest private steam yacht on Windermere. Ridehalgh’s previous steam yacht Fairy Queen had been the largest until he had Britannia built to replace it. This passion for ostentatious boats earned him the nickname ‘the king of the lake’.
Britannia’s interior was as luxurious as the finest private houses. Descriptions in the press at the time of her launch give us an idea of what she must have looked like; ‘overhead lights of stained glass, one of Windsor Castle, the other of Her Majesty’s Highland residence…woodcarving in which the rose is intertwined with the thistle to form a suitable setting for the windows…panelling in polished Hungarian oak and walnut surmounted by a rich gilt cornice…crimson velvet cushioned couches round the apartment.’
The single surviving skylight, which is now in our collection, gives an idea of the quality of craftsmanship on board.
When Britannia was broken up in 1919 the skylight was rescued and used in a greenhouse, before being installed into the ceiling of the old museum building.
The skylight is made of teak and glass. Many of the panes of painted glass were missing or broken. The surviving original painted glass is being restored by Lancashire Conservation Studios, and the missing panes will be replaced with replicas. Old joints and repairs to the timber frame are being replaced with teak in keeping with the original.
The entire structure will be supported on a steel frame to be suspended from the ceiling in the new museum building so that once again visitors to Windermere can be impressed by Col. Ridehalgh’s taste for luxury.
 Westmorland Gazette, 28th June, 1879
On the deck of Col. Ridehalgh’s luxury steam yacht Britannia
The skylight being used as a greenhouse
The skylight undergoing careful conservation cleaning
Some of the painted glass panes being prepared for conservation
One of the carved armrests being sized up for reattaching
Watching the site transform into the new Windermere Jetty museum over the next 18 months is going to be an amazing spectacle and the changes that have already happened over recent months have been fantastic to see.
The original museum buildings housed the collection of boats for nearly 30 years so demolishing them in 2014 was a major milestone. When the buildings came down it opened up the shoreline revealing the incredible views across Windermere to every passer by and is a good reminder of how special this location is.
Thomas Armstrong Construction, who have been appointed as the main contractor, began work in November 2015 spending their first weeks preparing the site and setting up their team. The first job was then to start preparing the ground including a crucial part of the flood defence strategy – building up the levels of the new museum. Alongside this we’re also digging down to create the conservation workshop and boatyard area and can see this taking shape now. This will lead to the slipway, a key part of the new museum that will enable us to bring boats in and out of the water for regular maintenance.
Construction site set-up
Ground preparations for the new conservation workshop
Groundworks continue for all the museum buildings
We’ll be posting regular updates as the project continues so keep coming back to see progress over the coming weeks and find out more about what’s going on behind the scenes. You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram.