Restoration & Conservation|Unusual Commissions

Serpent Tails

Gleaming bright gold, this Lake District icon can be seen hovering above lapping waters and through all weathers. Over the past five months, we have been working on a particularly unusual commission and a Lake District icon. We have been recreating the Coniston Gondola’s striking, sea serpent figurehead…

The National Trust, who rebuilt the original Victorian Gondola (in the late 70’s) have commissioned Peter Hall & Son to recreate its spiralling serpent figurehead. Affectionately known by the crew as ‘Sid’, the serpent has led the way over the water, with more than three decades of weathering having taken its toll.

Gondola’s story begins in Victorian times with the original yacht commissioned in 1858 and built in 1859 by the Furness Railway Company, as an attraction for the tourists they brought by train to Coniston. Gondola’s full lake cruise starts at Coniston Pier sailing to Lake Bank, the site of the original Victorian ticket office and waiting room, then to Parkamoor on the east shore and north to Brantwood, the home of John Ruskin between 1871 and 1900 and then the short distance across the lake back to Coniston Pier. Whether you choose to sit in the luxurious First Class Saloon or enjoy being out on the deck, it is a wonderful journey, gliding smoothly and almost silently over the water on this majestic boat, surrounded by stunning scenery.


Gliding silently across Coniston at water level on Gondola is an unforgettable experience.


This is not the first time we have been involved with Gondola. About 14 years ago we did some major work in the First Class saloon; lining the ceiling with very fine wool and supporting it with wooden vaults to match in with the design of the original. The seating we reupholstered in plush red buttoned fabric, thus reinstating the saloon in the first class manner in which it was intended. Restoration work also took place then on Sid, involving replacing rotten wood and regilding the serpent. That, along with improvements to the barge boards on either side of the bow, has kept it all in good order up until now.



A fundraising drive was launched resulting in the commission of the new serpent to be carved in solid oak, gilded and placed back on the bow, ready for when Gondola is put back on Coniston in March for what is hoped will be many more years.

Suzi Bunting, visitor experience development manager for Gondola, said: “Sid not only represents our link to Gondola’s Victorian history but his forked tongue, according to maritime myth, is said to ward off bad weather. That’s some achievement in the changeable climate of the Lake District.”

So if you are in The Lake District between 25th March and 31st October be sure to go to the shore of Coniston and see this wonderful boat in action. Or better still, buy a ticket and experience Gondola for yourself. Members of the National Trust now get a discount!

Let us take you through the creation of the new Sid…

The new serpent started its life as blocks of English oak, glued and cramped together to form a rough ‘blank’, ready to be sculpted.

The sculpting took the best part of four months, despite the use of machinery used to get the general shape. Hand tools were used for much of the finishing to ensure beautifully smooth and flowing shapes and detailed face.

Each night, Sid was placed in our woodshed to keep him in similar conditions to that which he will remain when onboard Steam Yacht Gondola, to protect him from becoming too dry or cracking.

Each of the scales have been painstakingly planned out to ensure an even cross hatch pattern that tightens at the coils. Every line has been hand carved with a V shaped chisel and mallet.

Over six coats of undercoat and yellow paint were applied before finally applying a skin of gold leaf. This required a huge amount of care in order not to fill the grooves and lose their definition.

Undercoat of Sid


See the process from start to finish.

Watch the serpent emerge from a block of timber and grow his golden skin.


Explore more…

National Trust

Grand Victorian Circular Tour

Find out more about our Woodturning Workshop

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