On Tuesday 28th August 2018 we were absolutely delighted to restore Edwardian elegance to our Pear Pond by launching a traditional punt in front of a small, invited crowd of trustees, staff, volunteers, local businesses – and some lucky visitors!
The punt’s design was based on photographs dating back over one hundred years and was hand-crafted by The Beautiful Boat Company in Lyme Regis.
As part of the launch, and complete with period costumes and canine actor, an attempt was made to recreate a number of photos found in Hestercombe’s archives which show Mrs Portman (Hestercombe’s last private owner) using the punt along with friends and a dog.
The punt was also named ‘Constance’ in honour of Mrs Portman.
ITV attended the event to capture interviews and the launch; and Hestercombe was featured on that evening’s 6pm Regional ITV News with a live broadcast - you can watch it in full below.
Speaking at the punt launch were Sir Andrew Burns KCMG, Chairman of the Hestercombe Gardens Trust; Philip White MBE, Chief Executive of the Hestercombe Gardens Trust; and launching and naming the punt was the Deputy Lord Lieutenant Colonel David Eliot MBE DL.
Restoring a Punt at Hestercombe: how it all began
The painstaking process of returning a punt to the Pear Pond began when Philip White MBE, Chief Executive of the Hestercombe Gardens Trust, discovered six photographs of a punt from about 1904.
As he explains: “I asked a boatbuilder about these photographs some years ago who said it was an unusual punt; shorter and deeper than most estate or lake punts and finely built in the Thames tradition. Ever since I have wanted to see a punt back on the Pear Pond as we suspect the one in the photographs was sold at the estate sale in 1951.”
Few visitors will know that Hestercombe has the remains of a boathouse on another, currently unrestored, lake, which suggests there may originally have been two punts on the estate. The boat house provided crucial evidence about the length of the punt and suggested that it had a maximum length of about 18 feet. Armed with this information and his passion to see a boat afloat again at Hestercombe, a chance meeting between Philip and Simon Olszowski, a founding Director of The Beautiful Boat Company, established by graduates of Lyme Regis’ world-renowned Boat Building Academy, led to the punt commission.
As Sam Smith, another Beautiful Boat Company Director explains “We were thrilled to be shown these intriguing photographs, and be asked if we could start from scratch, piecing together as much information as possible about design from historic plans, drawings and photographs. We then worked with Philip to agree specification and hull colour and set to work sourcing beautiful wood for the boat’s interior and trim. We used a mix of modern and traditional skills to create a punt in keeping with its heritage and with a traditional look and feel.”
The wood used includes iroko, sapele and teak with an interesting history, in that it was reclaimed by Philip White from East Reach Hospital in Taunton, where the Portman ward was sponsored by Hestercombe’s last private owners.
As Sam said “We thought it was lovely to bring back some wood with a historic link to Hestercombe, and we have also enjoyed replicating the pole, oars and a paddle, all of which are clearly visible in the original photographs. The whole process has been a joy.” The team also worked with a foundry to recreate the very unusual square rowlocks visible in the original pictures.
Yvonne Green, Principal of the Boat Building Academy when all four members of The Beautiful Boat Company studied there said “She’s a beautiful and interesting boat. The talented team of builders have produced a boat faithful to the original design with photographs as their primary reference. It is marvellous that the boat is for Hestercombe, only 35 miles from where the members of The Beautiful Boat Company trained.”
Philip added “We’re delighted to be bringing back the Hestercombe punt, after 110 years. We hope it will allow the gardens to be seen from a different perspective, as those in the 18th century would have been able to enjoy it. This offers a new and exciting way to view Hestercombe’s unique landscape.”