Sunday, 1 January 2012

Prince Frederick's barge

If you want an elaborate showstopper of a ceremonial barge, you want the right designer. Thus, when Frederick Prince of Wales had his built in 1732 he didn't put a boat-builder in charge. Instead, he engaged William Kent: the architect and painter had recently designed the interior of Chiswick House. Kent would use similar motifs on the barge, carved by James Richards, Master Carver to the Crown.  

 Presumably John Hall, who actually built the barge, managed to guide the design in the direction of river-worthiness despite the elaborate gilding and decoration. 22 oarsmen rowed it, in costumes designed by Kent, and even their oars were decorated with painted designs. They conveyed Prince Frederick and his family on both official engagements and pleasure trips. 

Frederick died in 1751 without ever becoming King, but his barge did reach the highest level: it was used as principal royal barge until 1849. The barge is now on display in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich; alongside rather than upon the Thames, it still attracts admiring attention. 


Anonymous said...

I saw the Prince's barge on a recent visit to the NMM and it is certainly a splendid piece of work. I would have liked to visit the interior to imagine what it would have been like to travel in the barge but that, for obvious reasons, is not allowed.

Compared with past centuries, the Thames today is a fairly quiet highway and only old pictures or photos give us some idea of what it was like when it was used as a main thoroughfare. Even then, of course, the passing by of a Royal barge would still have caused a stir.

CarolineLD said...

Yes, there's a lovely (but very long) account in a contemporary newspaper of huge crowds on the bridges watching the barge go past on that last journey. Presumably they were hoping for a glimpse of Prince Albert and his children as well as the barge itself.