© 2021 by Rutherglen Heritage Society. 

Thomas Seath's Pocket Watch

This article was prompted by correspondence which we were pleased to receive from Jimmy Chadwick in March 2021, about a gold pocket watch which he inherited.  

My name is James (Jimmy) Chadwick, and in 2015 my grandad (Dr. Gordon Seath McGregor-Robertson, great grandson of Thomas Bollen Seath) sadly passed away, leaving some family heirlooms with myself.


One of which I find particularly interesting is a pocket watch. I found this piece particularly interesting due to the inscription on the body of the watch underneath the cover.


The inscription on the inside reads:

"Presented by G.J.M Ridehalgh to T.B. Seath Esq. on the occasion of the launch of the handsome iron S.S Yacht Britannia built by him at Rutherglen and launched at Fell Foot Windermere on 24th June 1879 and named by Miss Ridehalgh."

The pocket watch was a gift to Thomas from Colonel George John Miller Ridehalgh, has been kept in excellent condition over the last 142 years, and I intend to keep it in such a condition for the years which I am lucky enough to own the piece.

This treasured family heirloom passed down to Jimmy, had been presented to Thomas B. Seath, owner of the shipyard at Rutherglen, by an appreciative client called George Ridehalgh, following the launch in 1879 of his new steam yacht, Britannia.

 

George Ridehalgh was one of a number of wealthy Victorians who commisoned steam-propelled yachts from the Rutherglen yard for their personal use in lakes and rivers all over the world. Seath developed an excellent reputation for building vessels of this type, his yard producing 40 of them between 1858 and 1900. The Steam Yacht Britannia was one of those.

The Pocket Watch
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Images courtesy of Jimmy Chadwick

The photos above show the presentation pocket watch given to Thomas Seath by Col. George Ridehalgh. The case is engraved with Seath's 'TBS' monogram. Inside, the watch bears the following inscription:

"Presented by G.J.M Ridehalgh to T.B. Seath Esq. on the occasion of the launch of the handsome iron S.S Yacht Britannia built by him at Rutherglen and launched at Fell Foot Windermere on 24th June 1879 and named by Miss Ridehalgh."

Col. George Ridehalgh
'the king of the lake'
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George John Miller Ridehalgh, was educated as a mechanical engineer but did not practice in his profession, concentrating instead on the management of his estate at Fell Foot on Windermere. The house was demolished in 1907 and the estate was later purchased by the National Trust in 1948.

He was a colonel in the 2nd.Volunteer Battalion Border Regiment and a founder member of the Royal Windermere Yacht Club. He was married to Frances Rose Read from 1856 until her death in 1870. She stimulated publicity in 2006 when the DailyTelegraph reported that 60 letters, written to her by Ridehalgh before their marriage, were found in a hidden compartment of her desk. 

His passion for luxury boats earned Ridehalgh the nickname 'the king of the lake.' He created a small harbour below Fell Foot Park comprising three piers and five boathouses designed in the Gothic style.

George Ridehalgh was a progressive thinker and installed a system of lighting throughout the Fell Foot estate, powered by coal gas.Twice married, he died in 1892 aged 57.

Left, portrait of George Ridehalgh. Unknown artist.

Image credit: National Trust Images

Windermere Railway Company and Windermere United Yacht Company

The Windermere Railway Company built a branch line from Ulverston, at the south end of Windermere to Newby Bridge in Furness to the lakeside of Windermere in 1869 and in 1872, its shareholders took control of the Windermere United Yacht Company. 

Steam vessels on Windermere were operated by the Windermere Yacht Company in 1859 and the Windermere Iron and Steam Vessel Company in 1869.  These were amalgamated as the Windermere United Yacht Company in 1872.

Three of the vessels purchased by the company were built by Seath at Rutherglen:

  • The Swan, an iron vessel which was 147 feet long and with a capacity for 488 passengers, built in 1869.

  • The Raven, a cargo steamer built in 1871 which survives as an exhibit at the Windermere Steam Vessel Museum.

  • The Britannia, a steam yacht purchased from Col Ridehalgh in 1907.

 

These were delivered to the Lake District as prefabricated components, and assembled at Windermere.

The Steam Yacht Britannia

Britannia was one of 46 vessels bearing that name built between 1801 and 1986 in Scotland alone. Built in 1879 by Seath at Rutherglen, it was described as an iron screw steamer, 96 feet long by 12 feet wide.

 

The vessel was taken in sections, firstly by train then by horse and cart, to Fell Foot at the southern end of Windermere for assembly. It was named there by 'Miss Ridehalgh' who may have been George Ridehalgh's daughter by his second wife as there were no children from his first marriage.

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Above, photo of the Steam Yacht Britannia. Image credit: Windermere Lake Cruises

The vessel was subsequently purchased by the Furness Railway.  It was modified to accommodate 122 passengers and carry them around Windermere until this service was closed at the start of World War I. Britannia was laid up in 1915 and broken up four years later. A skylight made of teak and painted glass is all that remains of Britannia. Used for a time as a greenhouse, it has been restored for display at the Windermere Jetty Museum at Bowness-on-Windermere.

Britannia was not the first vessel Col. Ridehalgh had built by Seath at Rutherglen, In 1860, Fairy Queen was built to his order, also to be sailed on Windermere. Later reregistered for use at sea, Fairy Queen passed through the ownership of several wealthy individuals for private use, ending up in Crete in 1908 where it was renamed Chrysalis. Ridehalgh purchased Britannia as a replacement for Fairy Queen.

Acknowledgements:

 

Many thank to Jimmy Chadwick for the information about and photographs of Thomas Seath's pocket watch. Thanks also to Bill Maclennan and Ian Young for their additional research and advice. 

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Sources and further reading:

Scottish Built Ships for detailed information about all vessels built in the shipyards of Scotland, including the SY Britannia.

click here

Windermere Lake Cruises for histories of steamers on that lake, including the SY Britannia and others built by Seath.

click here

Lakeland Arts for a description and further photographs of the SY Britannia. 

click here

Wikipedia for biographical information on George Ridehalgh.

click here

Britain Express for information about George Ridehalgh and Fell Foot Park.

click here

National Trust for information about Fell Foot Park including photographs of George Ridehalgh and the SY Britannia.

click here

Cumbria 24 for details of the National Trust's Fell Foot boat houses restoration project and the facilities now available there.

click here

Associated articles on this website:

Seath's Shipyard

A - Z of Rutherglen Then and Now