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Gondola ‘family’ reunion to mark ruby rebuild anniversary

Guests aboard Gondola who have personal connections to Gondola credit NT/Paul Stearne

Crew members of the elegant Steam Yacht Gondola which sails on Coniston Water welcomed some very special guests aboard on Wednesday, when they were re-united with former staff, volunteers and families with historic connections to the original Victorian Gondola and the rebuilding of her 40 years ago.

In Vicker’s ship hall, credit National Trust

Tales were swapped about the trials and tribulations of getting this historic yacht ship-shape after languishing on the bed of Coniston Water. Guests included steam engineers, carpenters, shipwrights and past skippers.

Among them was Mike Weir, the rebuild project manager at Vickers Shipbuilding and Sheila Howell, the Great Granddaughter of Felix Hamill, who was Captain of the original vessel in Edwardian times. Mrs Howell also re-launched Gondola in 1980 from the slipway at Coniston Old Hall.

Sheila Howell, great granddaughter of Captain Felix Hamill, at the helm, credit NT/Jo Haughton

Many of the guests have sent stories and images which help to document the rebuild period which were displayed for guests during the evening. The National Trust will be using this material to help the Gondola team develop a programme to celebrate the 40th anniversary of her relaunch in 2020.

Lynn Holmes whose father worked on the rebuild, standing in front of the image she supplied of her grandmother on board Gondola circa 1910, credit NT/Jo Haughton

Lynn Holmes whose dad, Ken Hyslop worked on the rebuild, explained: “Gondola has a special place in our family as my grandmother, my dad’s mum, used to go and stay with Captain Hamill and his family during the summer holidays – between 1910 and 1915.

“I have a lovely photograph of her stood at the helm of the ship with the big steering wheel and a number of postcards which were sent to her during her visits to Gondola addressed to her via Captain Hamill, The Boat Yard, Coniston.  What a lovely way to spend your summers, sailing up and down Coniston Water on Gondola!  It must have been a wonderful era.”

Bill King, Gondola’s Operations Manager said: “We were thrilled to meet so many people with these personal connections to the boat. It was moving to see how much this yacht means to so many local families. We’re really looking forward to staying in touch in preparation for our celebratory year in 2020.”

The National Trust will be searching for a volunteer this Autumn to organise and deliver a celebratory programme of events. If anyone is interested or has a Gondola story to share, they should contact Suzi Bunting at [email protected]

Gondola sails until 31 October. Full details of Gondola’s timetable, special events and details about the Grand Victorian Tour can all be found on the website www.nationaltrust.org.uk/steam-yacht-gondola

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