Sunday 5 February 2012

Maritime heritage in the spotlight

Interest in ships and Britain's maritime history is booming at the moment, with the Thames Diamond Jubilee River Pageant higher on most people's summer plans than the 2012 Olympics.

Image: Josh Knowles

At high water in the afternoon of Sunday 3 June 2012, up to a thousand boats muster on the River Thames in preparation for Her Majesty The Queen to lead the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant. It will be one of the largest flotillas ever assembled on the river. Rowed boats and working boats and pleasure vessels of all shapes and sizes will be beautifully dressed with streamers and Union Jacks, their crews and passengers turned out in their finest rigs. The armed forces, fire, police, rescue and other services are all afloat and there are an exuberance of historic boats, wooden launches, steam vessels and other boats of note.  

Meanwhile those looking for a quirky hotel room in London can stay in this 'beautifully crafted timber object' – a boat-shaped hideaway perched on the roof of the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank, overlooking the Thames.

Closer to home, the National Maritime Museum is campaigning to raise the funds to have Yinka Shonibare's sculpture Nelson's ship in a bottle brought to Greenwich for permanent display. 

With interest in maritime heritage so high, it's a shame that the Queen's pageant route does not include a nod to the country's original Royal Dockyard at Deptford, but in 2012 there is little to see on the site. In future years, however, we very much intend that this will not be the case and believe that a restored dockyard could contribute to celebrating our heritage in a much wider context than just the construction of the Lenox.

Around the country, numerous boat restoration and rebuilding projects are springing up and many of the ships around which these projects are based have links to, or could be constructed at, the King's Yard.

The HMS Beagle Project includes a proposal to build a replica of the HMS Beagle, the ship on which Charles Darwin sailed in 1831 on the voyage of discovery which led to him developing his theory of natural selection. The project is 'A global initiative launching a modern rebuild of HMS Beagle to inspire and motivate global audiences through unique public engagement and learning programmes and original scientific research.'

Ship and land-based science and learning programmes are planned to link students and scientists with peers around the world – and even in space. Once rebuilt, the boat will follow the route of the original voyage around the world, this time in company with a modern research vessel designed and built in Chile.

Finally we have recent news that responsibility for the wreck of the first HMS Victory has been handed over to the Maritime Heritage Foundation, and they plan to raise it. The ship's connection to Deptford is that it was built by Joseph Allin Jr in his role as surveyor of the Navy. He was the son of the Master Shipwright of the King's Yard, who was also called Joseph Allin.

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