Restoring the Liddesdale Canoe

The Liddesdale Canoe

Cliveden has always made the most of its position on the Thames.  This was never more so than during the early part of the twentieth century when the Astor’s and their guests enjoyed pleasure cruising along ‘Cliveden Reach’, a beautiful stretch of the river running directly below the house.  One of the Astor’s boats was a specially commissioned electric canoe named ‘Liddesdale’, beautifully constructed from mahogany.  James Hatch, who grew up across the river from Cliveden, recalled “the canoe was Lady Nancy's favourite, as she could handle it on her own, and could travel back and forth along her part of the reach.”  Electric canoes were very popular at the time, running silently and elegantly on battery power. 

When the Astor family left Cliveden the electric canoe was sold away, and we are grateful that Cliveden House hotel brought the Liddesdale back to Cliveden twenty-five years ago.  However by 2016 the canoe had fallen out of favour and into disrepair.  Thanks to the generosity of donors, the National Trust acquired this once cherished vessel and we initiated a fundraising appeal to ‘save the Liddesdale’.  We have been collecting donations from our visitors and local Centres and Associations ever since, and the £25,000 raised to date enabled us to embark on the Liddesdale Restoration project last autumn. 

Our boat builders are working on this exciting conservation project inside Cliveden’s Boat House, and visitors are welcome to come and see what’s happening on weekdays from March through June 2019.  Not only is this extraordinary endeavour going to ensure the survival of one of the UK’s few remaining historic electric canoes, but moreover it will enable our visitors to enjoy canoe trips just like the Astor’s did along Cliveden Reach, on the very same stretch of the Thames that entertained guests at Cliveden for centuries.

Latest updates

08 Aug 19

Liddesdale canoe paint analysis results

Liddesdale’s name has been proudly reinstated on the bow of Nancy Astor’s electric canoe by Dan Hanrahan from Tankerdale Workshop Ltd., this time matching the original scheme. The appealing aquamarine colour is based on Catherine Hassall’s paint analysis. The team of Boat Builders Seb vanden Bogaerde, Laura Wragg, Becci Haigh and Justin Miller have done an astonishing amount of work over the last five months re-building the boat. The re-painting and varnishing is nearly completed and the canoe is looking gorgeous. The Thames Electric Launch Company will fit the electrics next. Later we will let the varnish cure while some administration takes place, and then we anticipate launching Liddesdale back into the Thames in the autumn for test driving. The aim is to be ready to offer trips in 2020!

Liddesdale Canoe paint analysis result

16 Jul 19

Applying varnish layers to Liddesdale Canoe

Work has quietened down in the Boat House for two weeks while the Boat Builders are focussing on applying the varnish layers. Using a traditional oil based varnish, at least 12 coats are carefully built-up with rubbing back after every third layer to create a smooth, glossy and reflective surface for protection, as well as make the wood grain and colour look their best.

Varnish is applied to the Liddesdale Canoe

05 Jun 19

Liddesdale canoe roll over

Seb, Laura and Becci rolled over the canoe at the beginning of May 2019 to work on the keel and planking beneath the waterline. The original pitch pine keel is largely intact, but needed some scarf repairs. Stem repairs were carried out in oak and ash to match the original materials. The planks that needed to be replaced were fitted using iroko timber. The hull timber repairs are now completed and soon the canoe will be turned upright again for fitting out the interior.

The Liddesdale Canoe rolled over, ready for restoration work under the water line