This summer will see many celebrations in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth to mark 60 years since Elizabeth II became Queen. The only other British sovereign to celebrate a 60-year reign (a ‘Diamond Jubilee’) was Queen Victoria in 1897. Both boats and the River Thames will play a big part in marking the event.
Between April and September, the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, London, will hold an exhibition called ‘Royal River: Power, Pageantry and the Thames’ which ‘explores the relationship between the monarch, the City and the people, as it was brought to life on the Thames – London’s greatest thoroughfare’. I particularly like the Canaletto painting that they show on their website entitled The Thames on Lord Mayor’s Day… It is a pointer towards the other river related event of the Jubilee.
On Sunday 3 June, up to a thousand boats will take part in the ‘Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant’, which is said to be ‘the biggest maritime celebration seen in Britain for nearly four centuries’. Including marshalling and dispersal areas the route runs from Hammersmith to Greenwich (14 miles / 22 kms). The organisers expect one million people to line the route and take part in other Jubilee celebrations on the day. The Daily Telegraph reports:
“Music will also be an integral part of the celebrations and pieces commissioned for the event will receive their world premiere on special barges… Downton Abbey composer John Lunn was commissioned with nine other film composers to create a new movement using the original titles of Handel’s Water Music for inspiration.”
The flotilla will be in ten sections of various types of craft but it is the first group, the ‘manpowered section’, that will be of most interest to HTBS readers. It will be led by Gloriana, the new royal rowbarge. It will be followed by shallops, Thames watermen’s cutters, gigs, skiffs, Dragon Boats, kayaks and many more rowed, sculled and paddled craft. Follow the link on the website’s FAQ section to a pdf of all the boats taking part (‘vessel factsheet’).
An artist’s impression of the Gloriana, an 88-foot / 27-metre ‘rowbarge’ decorated in gold leaf and propelled by eighteen oarsmen, was released a few days ago.
It is half way through a twenty week build ‘at a secret location in West London’ and it is said to be ‘the largest rowed vessel in the UK today’. The London Evening Standard newspaper claimed first sight of the work in progress. Unfortunately, it would be unsafe for ‘fine boats’ to take part in the event. It will be held at the top of the tide with hundreds of powered craft churning up the water so there would be a real danger that racing boats with low saxboards would be ‘swamped’.
While the River Pageant will undoubtedly be a splendid occasion, it will have slightly unfortunate consequences for Putney based rowing clubs. The details are not yet finalised but temporary moorings to accommodate many of the participants will have to be put in between Hammersmith and Putney. They will take some time to be installed and removed and they will not leave room for safe rowing on a considerably narrowed river. Work will start after the University Boat Race (on 7 April) and rowing boats may not be allowed to pass perhaps for most of May and some of June. This means that big clubs such as London, Thames, and Imperial College will have to row downstream of Putney Bridge (towards Wandsworth) where the embankments mean that water is often rough when the tide is higher. Of course, those based upstream of Hammersmith Bridge will have the river to themselves. Reports of schadenfreude by the smaller clubs of Hammersmith, Chiswick, and Mortlake will, I am sure, be denied.