In 1949, the Windermere ‘steamer’ Tern of canoe bow fame was not yet half way through her career so far.
She celebrated her 125th birthday in June this year having been delivered in 1891 by Forrestt of Wivenhoe and entrained in sections for reassembly at Lakeside at the south end of England’s largest lake. Her twin steam engines were built locally at Barrow by Westray Copeland. Perhaps it is that lovely bow (if odd and unseamanlike to the nautical eye) that has made her such a favourite over the years. When just two years old she was briefly on the bottom at her Lakeside moorings after a severe gale. She has a quite low freeboard and a fierce northerly or even easterly gale could have sent quite a chop against and over her bulwarks, but she was apparently refloated overnight which is fast work indeed.
I hadn’t appreciated that in WW2 she was requisitioned as a sea cadet training ship temporarily named HMS Undine in honour of the Barrow built U Class submarine that local towns had adopted. She must have been a wise and practical way to progress Sea Cadet training, but in safety away from the dangers of all coastal waters in war time.
Tern’s 125 years encapsulates in a nutshell the ebbs, flows and upheavals of what passes, for good or ill, for the economic life of the UK. She was built for the Furness Railway, a driver of ‘Railway Mania’ and one of the dynamo innovators of the Victorian era involved with burgeoning heavy industry and enterprise. Then the railways regrouped in 1923, bringing her into the ownership of the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS). In 1948, with the country exhausted and impoverished by war, railway nationalisation led to Tern’s ownership passing to the British Transport Commission and ultimately to be part of Sealink.
With privatisation once more in 1984, she came under Sea Containers Ltd, who rebranded her operation ‘The Windermere Iron Steamboat Company’ and she was altered in winter 1990-1 to more closely resemble her original appearance with a tall ‘woodbine’ funnel and given an enclosed wooden wheelhouse with extra awnings over the upper deck. In 1993, Tern and the rest of the Windermere ex Sealink fleet, then being the sisters Swan and Teal and the by now hulked Swift (since sadly scrapped), were sold to local private operators, the Bowness Bay Boating Company, which has since become Windermere Lake Cruises Ltd.
Tern may have been motorised and she has seen many changes over the years, the most obvious being the antique looking funnel and enhanced weather protection for crew and passengers alike. But I would say she has a more attractive appearance now than she has ever done. And as for her enclosed bridge and canopied passenger decks? The idea of operating Tern in the famously damp rainy English Lake District without such weather protection is, well, unthinkable.