Romance, restoration and Ransome as museum launches

IT’S been much anticipated and now one of the first contemporary building projects on the shores of Windermere for more than 50 years is complete.
The £20m Windermere Jetty Museum of Boats, Steam and Stories celebrates 200 years of boating and boat-building in the Lake District, reflecting the strong connections between people, vessels and water.
As well as being by the lake, Windermere is brought into the museum itself in the vast boathouse where some of its prized exhibits are on show in a wet dock, including the boats used in the 2016 Swallows and Amazons movie and Osprey, built as a private pleasure boat in 1902 on which visitors can take a glamorous trip on the lake.

The boats, which range from the remains of a 19th century sheep ferry to Victorian steamers to a catamaran that set the world speed record of 144mph in 1983, will be enough to attract enthusiasts. For others, it may be the stories and social history behind the vessels that appeal even more, their interesting ownership and, in many cases, the romance of their recovery and restoration.
The once elegant steamboat Dolly, which was built in 1850 and is one of the oldest mechanically powered boats in the world, lay at the bottom of Ullswater for 60 years before being rescued. She is now stable and on display in the museum’s conservation store, where special exhibits are displayed pre-conservation and the first stop for visitors. It’s also home to Kittiwake and the stunning skylight roof of Britannia, a private steamboat that was the height of Victorian luxury on Windermere.

The main exhibition hall is a hangar-like space that is packed with exhibits spread across five themes. The first, Just Visiting, includes an original Turner watercolour of Windermere and Beatrix Potter’s tarn boat, from which the children’s writer and illustrator fished and sketched.
The Life of Luxury theme is epitomised by objects from Britannia and Branksome, the flagship of the collection and one of the finest surviving steam launches in the world. Both the Prince of Wales and Duke of Edinburgh sailed on it during visits to the Lakes.
The highlight of the Spirit of Adventure theme are Arthur Ramsome’s original sketches and draft pages of Swallows and Amazons. Treasured exhibits like these are kept in drawers for visitors to open, sitting alongside digital screens to scroll through. Speed and Windermere at War conclude the themed sections.

Exiting the exhibition spaces en route to the conservation workshop – the museum is best described as a “coats-on” experience for the numerous outdoor exhibits and open-air space – provides an opportunity to take in the architecture of the buildings, the work of Carmody Groarke and principally funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Seven and a half years have passed since the architects were first appointed, which perhaps reflects the challenge of designing a project for client Lakeland Arts that supports boats both on and off on the water, preserves exhibits of national importance and reflects the area’s social, industrial and cultural connections to the lake on which it stands.
Although charged by planners with designing vernacular buildings, architect Andy Groarke says they also found themselves influenced by the rich history of grand Lakeland houses. The huge roofs and broad overhangs of famous Arts and Crafts designers like Charles Voysey happily serve as ideal shelters from the Cumbrian weather.

The museum itself is built on a podium that stands one metre above the original museum that opened on the site in 1977. Having initially selected stainless steel as their main construction material, but this changed, admits Andy: “After spending four seasons in the Lakes, we realised nothing is stainless.” A rethink led them to copper, which will register the passage of time in its appearance, weathering from its current oxidised, black state to develop a verdigris patina.
Inside the building is characterised by timber, slate, white and blue-grey walls and, of course, enormous picture windows providing multiple views of the lake. From the café, diners can look to the east and north providing a stunning backdrop for their choice of freshly-made open sandwiches and salads, soups and stews, pizza and platters, and a Little Skippers menu. Which brings us to the vexed question of whether the museum is a place for young children. Kids’ catering and plenty to appeal in the shop ensure the museum is family-friendly, while a heritage trip aboard Osprey (£10 a head, pre-booking advised) and the Potter and Ransome exhibits should spark interest.

The museum has also linked up with Windermere Lake Cruises whose trips will stop at the brand new jetty, with enough dwell time to explore the attraction before the return trip.

  • The museum is open from 10am-5pm. Entry is £9 for adults, £7 for children under 16, under 4s free. Family tickets are £18 (1 adult, up to 3 children) and £27 (2 adults, up to 3 children). Entrance to only the café and shop is free. For more information, visit

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