Ullswater Steamers

by Emma Bray

Banner Image © Ullswater Steamers

The Ullswater Steamers have been transporting tourists on the lake for 160 years. At the start, they also transported goods, lead and the Royal Mail.

The Ullswater Steam Navigation Company was formed around 1855, not only to cater for the burgeoning tourist industry, but also to transport lead from Greenside Mine in Glenridding and the Royal Mail and other provisions. This would have been before the road was blasted around Stybarrow Crag, so road transport out of Glenridding was problematic.

The first boat, a paddle steamer, Enterprise, was launched on 13 August 1859, but her paddle struggled from being choked with weeds and her service was not long-lived. On 26th June 1877, Lady of the Lake was launched. She was designed by Mr Douglas Hebson of Penrith and built in Glasgow by Joseph Seath & Company. She was transported in three sections by rail to Penrith, then by horse drays to Waterside where she was constructed at Elder Beck. Lady is 29.8 metres long and weighs in at 42.7 tonnes. In 1881, Lady sank at her moorings and was re-floated by a team of divers from Liverpool. She sank again in 1958 in a severe storm then in 1965 she was badly damaged by fire and was out of service for 14 years. She was re-launched on 19th May 1979 by the local MP, William Whitelaw.

Lady of the Lake at Ullswater Hotel (now Inn on the Lake) © Ullswater Steamers

Raven was launched on 16th July, 1889. She was named after Ravencragg, the home of company director W H Parkin and built by the same company as Lady of the Lake. Winifred Parkin, aged 6 broke the bottle of champagne across Raven's bows, it being said that the younger the person that names a vessel, the longer she will live. Raven is now over 130 years old. One of the shareholders, Thomas Cook, had voiced his concerns to the Directors when Lady of the Lake had broken down at the height of the season, so the second vessel alleviated this problem.

Raven cira 1900 © Ullswater Steamers

In 1912, Raven was made a temporary royal yacht and her decks painted yellow to mark the visit of the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II to Lowther Castle, home to the "Yellow Earl". Then in 1934 she was converted from steam and fitted with twin diesel engines, cruising at around 1400 rpm, approximately 12mph. Raven had Thornycroft AEC engines fitted. Lady had Kelvins fitted in 1936, providing 115 bhp. Today, Raven and Lady both have Cummings Engines; Raven has a bph of 155 and Lady 180 bhp.

Raven turns into Howtown pier © Janet Wedgwood

In 1953, Sir Wavell Wakefield discovered that the controlling shareholder, Dixon, was going to wind up the Company so he bought up all but three percent of the shares to ensure the future of the "Steamers". The following year, he became the new chairman of the Company. He was a three times Grand Slam winning England rugby captain, WW1 Fighter pilot and Member of Parliament.

In 2001 – Lady Dorothy joined the fleet, she was a sea-going vessel from Guernsey and her arrival meant for the first time winter sailings were introduced into the timetable. In 2007, she was joined by Lady Wakefield who was renamed in a recommissioning ceremony by HRH Princess Alexandra. Built in 1949 in Dartmouth, she had worked on the River Dart and Plymouth Sound before her arrival at Ullswater.

Lady Wakefield at Glenridding pier © Jane Firth

The latest addition to the fleet was Western Belle in 2011. Built in 1935, for the Millbrook Steamboat & Trading Co. Ltd., she entered service on the River Tamar in 1936. After a complete refurbishment at the Heritage Shipyard on the Wirral she was re-launched onto her new home in early June 2011.

by Emma Bray



Western Belle at Pooley pier © Jane Firth

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