In 1717, a musical pageant was held on the River Thames for King George I and was captured on the famous canvas by Canaletto. This was not the first time that there had been royal river pageants but it was this painting that was the inspiration for the Diamond Jubilee River Pageant for Queen Elizabeth.
A major feature of the pageant was again music but the number of boats on the river was to outrival all the previous pageants of the past. Over 1000 boats took part, breaking not just the record for London but becoming the largest ever in the world. The oldest boat dated back to 1740 and one, the Amazon, had taken part in the celebrations to mark Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee(the present Queen’s great-great grandmother) in 1897.
Central to the parade was the Royal Barge that carried the royal party.
The barge sailed past many of the iconic images of London – The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, St Paul’s Cathedral which can also be seen in the Canaletto painting. Crowds lined the banks of the river and also the bridges – they can just about be seen through the torrential rain that fell for most of the day. Despite that nearly one and a quarter million people came to see the pageant and wish the Queen well. The boats sailing in front of St Paul’s are bearing all the flags of the Commonwealth countries.
All along the banks, tributes were made to the Queen ranging from military salutes to one from War Horse on the roof of the National Theatre.
Every church bell along the river answered the peal from the barge leading the procession. The floating belfry was carrying a specially comissioned set of eight bells – these were later hung in the Church of St James at Garlickhythe.
The fire boats also gave their salutes wetting already soaked participants even more ……
And Tower Bridge raised its bascules to their highest point in acknowledgement …..
Despite the grey, dreary weather the river – it is rarely given its full title of the River Thames – was a spectacle of colour, of bells ringing, of music coming from one of several orchestral barges and the sound of the crowds cheering, clapping and singing the national anthem, “God Save the Queen”.
Once the Royal party had passed through Tower Bridge, the pageant came to an end. It concluded with the choral barge singing patriotic songs with great fervour despite the choir being drenched to the skin. Never had the words of “Rule Brittania” seemed more pertinant: “Rule Brittania, Brittania rule the waves ……”
For more details of the procession or to read about the individual boats that took part, visit the official website of the river pageant: http://www.thamesdiamondjubileepageant.org/ . Much of the information above has been taken from their very informative site.
The Gloriana (above) is the first Royal rowbarge to have been made in over 100 years. Covered in gold leaf it lived up to its name. Pphotographs can be found on an online article of the Daily Mail – and more information – by clicking here.
I so enjoyed your post Johnson..the photos are fantastic and, the link to the Royal Rowbarge perfect. How beautiful it is. Incredible history heh!Will never forget the war horse on the top of the building..it took my breath away, it was so real to me.You might be interested in a book, The Frozen Thames by Helen Humphreys, a number one National Bestseller in Canada. It's frozen history is magnificent as well.
Thanks for your comment and also the information about the book. I haven't come across it but shall certainly add it to my reading list.Another book which is fascinating and I do own is called The Lost Rivers of London by Nicholas Barton. It tells of the many tributaries of the Thames which wer covered over by the Victorians, some of them turned into sewers. They are still there and flowing but long forgotten and their history is just as interesting as the Thames itself.Johnson
I watched the whole of the river pageant and have learned more from your blog post than I did from the entire appalling coverage by the BBC. It was a spectacular event filled with historic and/or interesting boats all of which we heard nothing about. Your post has made me feel much more positive about it and I can only hope that overseas TV coverage was done by commentators from the countries concerned and not the BBC. The War Horse was superb and the Queen obviously enjoyed it as well. The choir sang beautifully at the end in spite of being drenched – if only the sun had shone. I must look for the book about the lost rivers of London as they fascinate me, some I know of and know where they are but I'd love to read about all of them – I get a real thrill from knowing that I'm walking over The Fleet or The Walbrook. This has been a really interesting post with some lovely photos.
Thank you for that then!! Will look for it online.
Thank you Rowan for your very kind words. It was quite extraordinary that we weren't told more about the boats themselves at the time – I was so pleased to discover the Pageant website which is excellent in so many ways. Just a pity I din't know of the site before I watched the pageant as I think I would have gained a lot more pleasure knowing a little about the boats in advance.However, despite the gripes, it was a spectacular event, the memory of which will stay with me for a long time – especially the image of the Royals jigging about to the tune of the Sailor's Hornpipe. They obviously had a great time too!Johnson