Why Gondola looks like a Venetian 'gondola'

Burchiello Venetian Gondola

Gondola – A little piece of Venice on Coniston Water. A boat trip in the Lake District is a highlight of every tourist’s itinerary. There is certainly no better way to just sit back, relax and enjoy the dramatic scenery of the UK’s most recently designated World Heritage Site - whichever lake a visitor decides to sail on.

The original Lake District pleasure boat

Steam Yacht Gondola however, is not merely a pleasant boat trip. To sail aboard Gondola is to take part in a long heritage of tourism, an activity which is part and parcel of the fabric and culture of Coniston. This is a sailing experience which takes you back as far as the late 18th century when the first Picturesque travellers were arriving in the Lake District. Gondola is quite literally a moving part of the Lake District’s cultural landscape with her story rooted on Coniston Water.

Gondola – a reflection of wider social and cultural events

The Venetian form of Gondola is a reflection of wider social and cultural events which were occurring at the time of her conception. Sir James Ramsden, Director of the Furness Railway Company, had been to Venice in 1850, like many wealthy tourists of that era, and recognised an opportunity to link a pleasure cruise to the Coniston railway line. The design of Gondola was intended to take advantage of the growing mass of relatively wealthy working class tourists born of the industrial revolution, who could sail on Coniston Water and experience the elegance of European travel, previously a preserve of the aristocracy. Sir James’s  foresight proved to be accurate and these tourists came in their droves on the first packaged tours involving epic journeys combining steam train, boat and carriage around the Lakes.

Gondola, Ruskin and the National Trust – a virtuous circle

John Ruskin, the eminent Victorian who lived at Brantwood on the east shore of Coniston was an artist, writer and social reformer. He wrote the ‘Stones of Venice’ in which he compares the Lake District and Venice as landscapes under threat from mass tourism. His ideas inspired his friends Canon Rawnsley and Octavia Hill about the idea of landscape and nature conservation which eventually brought about the birth of the National Trust.

There is anecdotal evidence from local families that he did sail on Gondola in Victorian times. If so, he would have detested the black smelly smoke emitting from Gondola’s funnel (which no longer runs on coal but environmentally-friendly blazer logs). He would have viewed it as a threat to the clean air and natural beauty of his beloved Coniston.

In a slightly ironic twist, Gondola ended up being saved by the organisation he inspired. Today the National Trust looks after this moving piece of the cultural landscape of Coniston so that everyone can enjoy an authentic re-creation of the Victorian tourism experience.