Heritage punt restores Edwardian elegance to Hestercombe’s Pear Pond

Mrs Portman, Thomas Vesey & WD Miller. Image: Hestercombe Gardens Trust

A traditional punt, based on photographs dating back over one hundred years and hand-crafted by The Beautiful Boat Company in Lyme Regis, launches on August 28 at Hestercombe, near Taunton, in Somerset.

The painstaking process of returning a punt to the Pear Pond began when Philip White MBE, CEO 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’ 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 is 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 are 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.”