Bath: Venetian Fête (now Venetian Nights), decorated boats
|Matlock Bath : Twentieth Century Photographs,
Postcards, Engravings & Etchings
Decorated boats have been an integral part of the Venetian Fête,
later the Venetian Nights, since the beginning but they were part
of the village's entertainment before then. For example, Matlock
Bath hillsides were illuminated in August 1869 when there was a large
firework display in front of 10,000 people. Mr. Woodfield, a spar
and marble turner who also kept boats, lit his boats with Chinese
lanterns "which had a grand effect on the river".
Between 1875 and 1896 a series of regattas were held in early September
on the River Derwent in Matlock Bath. Whilst they were billed
as annual events, there were some years when nothing seems to
have taken place or the planned event was cancelled because of
poor weather. The regattas were more than just afternoons of
rowing races as the entertainments extended into the evening,
with firework displays and the illumination of the rocks. At
the second regatta, in 1876, the hillside extending from the
Station to weir and the Heights of Abraham were lit up with different
coloured fires, with the lights changing colour.
By 1882, as well as the evening display of fireworks, there were
also several boats on the river that were reported as being brilliantly
lit by chinese lanterns of diverse colours.
Part of the celebrations for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee
included "a procession of illuminated boats on the river
and simultaneous illumination of the walks by coloured fires". These
events, using the river as part of the entertainment, were the
forerunners of what became the parade of boats of the Venetian
Fête, later the Venetian Nights, of today.
There is more information about the
Venetian Fête, later the Venetian Nights, on
the previous page.
Just a few months after Queen Victoria's Jubilee, on 14 September
1897, the "Annual Regatta and Fête" included
an "exquisite representation of Venetian illuminated boats
on the River Derwent". The display, including fireworks, was
reported as being the finest seen in Matlock Bath for many years.
This was the first Venetian Fête and prizes were awarded
for the illuminated boats (see list of winners lower
down the page). On Fête night in 1899, when the festivities
continued until eleven o'clock in the evening, the river was described
as becoming alive at dusk with the decorated and illuminated boats.
The organising committee again offered cash prizes for the best
boat design, and there was strong competition.
The Arkwright Cup was donated by Frederic Arkwright in 1903 and
has been awarded for the best decorated boat since then, although
cash prizes continued to be presented too. The list
of winners lower down the page shows that all the entrants
before the Second World War were local men, from Matlock Bath,
Scarthin and Cromford.
There have always been individual entrants along with family groups,
friends and even the Matlock Bath Scouts and Rovers in the inter
War years. Some entrants have competed year after year, with the
Smith family involved for more years than any other family or
individual. David Gregory must hold the record, though, for the
number of boats entered by any one person since the Venetian Nights
moved to the Derwent Gardens.
Today the competition is open to all comers, with the judging taking
place on the first Saturday in September. The judging has always
been done by a small group of people who were independent of the
The 1933 Fête was reported as being
one of the most brilliant on record with attendances the highest
ever. Crowds of spectators were packed tightly on the Lovers'
Walks watching the parade of boats.
The winner of the first
prize was the Gondola of Arthur Smith, shown right, who lived
on South Parade.
Unfortunately, disaster struck as the Gondola passed beneath
the Jubilee Bridge. A rain of silver light, part of the
firework display, was cascading from the bridge. Some of the
silver fire landed on the gondola's cabin and the structure
caught fire. Despite the efforts of Arthur, who was rowing,
and two mandolin players who were in the boat, the fire got
worse. All three men went into the river and the boat turned
on its side and became waterlogged.
Gondola, First Prize 1933
Decorating a boat, with the superstructures taking weeks to build,
has always been shrouded in secrecy although it must have been
difficult to maintain over the years. The designers often tackled
quite difficult subjects, including the switchback railway and
the Eddystone Lighthouse.
Jubilee State Barge, 1935.
Also designed by Mr Smith, who was rowing the boat, this design
was in honour of King George V's Silver Jubilee which was celebrated
in 1935. It is believed that the lady in the boat, who is wearing
a crown, was Flossie Smith.
Until 1952 the boats had only been required for one night but
in that year were extended and there was a
parade of boats on the river every Saturday from the beginning
of September to the beginning of October. It was then that the
Venetian Fête became the Venetian Nights. Ultimately, this
meant that the structures had to be stronger to withstand variants
in the weather.
|If you were amongst the crowd on the night of
the Fête in the early 1950s you can't have failed to be
impressed by the mermaid in the oyster shell, being pulled along
by a huge fish. The stunning design, shown from a different angle
at the top of the page, won the first prize in the decorated
boats competition for that year and the team in the boat was
a father and daughter from Matlock Bath, Mr. Arthur Smith rowing
the boat and Miss Patricia Smith as the Mermaid.
As the black and white photographs here show, they were traditionally
illuminated by small glass "bucket" lamps with candles
in them, all of which had to be individually lit before the boats
set out upstream from the landing stage behind the Pavilion.
This method of lighting was wonderfully effective when the weather
was good, but could be problematic when it rained or was windy. The
boats of today are lit by bulbs powered by batteries.
First prize again for Mr Smith.
Mr. Arthur Smith is rowing the boat and Miss Beverley Smith is
holding a wand in one hand and the Arkwright Cup in her other
hand. Although the photograph was taken during the day, at
night the reflections of the flickering candles in
the water was a wonderful sight.
In post war Britain, emerging from austerity, the boats were a
truly magical sight for any child (or adult). There
was huge creativity and also some humour; sometimes there were
minor glitches. The late Mrs. Inez Boden told the web mistress
that her brother Remo Tinti erected a miniature Eiffel Tower on
his boat one year. Everything had to be carefully measured to ensure
it would pass under Jubilee Bridge. Unfortunately for Remo, the
river levels rose so his Eiffel Tower seems to have turned into
more of a Leaning Tower as it struck the Bridge.
Arthur Smith, whose family had entered the competition from the
outset, first won the Arkwright Cup as a 16 year old in 1933
(see list of winners). He was a regular
entrant, competing for many years. As his children grew up
they all helped decorate the boats.
Dudley Smith, Arthur's son, also won the cup as a teenager. He
is seen here being presented with the cup by Miss Derbyshire.
Boats moored at the landing stage behind the Pavilion. Undated, but
Wizards, witches on broomsticks, reindeer, swans, frigates.
Boats, 1897 - 1938. Past Prizewinners and/or Subjects
Some individuals (up to 1907) have been identified in the
2. Wm. Smith, Matlock Bath
3. W. Walthall, Matlock Bath
||1. B.Buxton and W. Smith
3. Messrs. Tissington
||1. Messrs. Coates and
2. Mr. Frost
3. Mr. Barker
||1. Mr. Sprinthall
2. Mr. F. Buxton
3. Waring Brothers
||1. Messrs. T. Coates and E. Sprinthall
|1. Messrs. T. Coates and E. M. Sprinthall:
the King's motor car
2. Messrs. J. L. Stafford and Mr. W.
E. Smith: Log cabin
3. Messrs. T. Shaw and Farnsworth: Coach
|1. W. Frost: Dale Road Suspension Bridge
2. S. Smith: Liverpool to Isle of Man Ferry
3. Messrs. Farnsworth, Barber and Shaw: The World's Fair
|1. Mr. T. Coates: Indian birch bark
2. Mr. E. M. Sprinthall: Swan
3. Derwent Rowing Club: torpedo boat
4. Messrs. Warren, Boden and Barber: Lighthouse
5. Mr. E. Huddard: Lighthouse
|1. T. Coates and Son: Chinese junk
2. Ernest Sprinthall: gunboat
3. A. Coates
|1. W. Frost: Clock tower
2. E. M. Sprinthall: Chinese pagoda
3. T. Coates: Willow pattern boat
|1. T. Coates: gondola (Harmony)
2. E. Huddart: May Queen
3. W. Frost: Switchback
|1. H. Higton
2. } = S. Smith
3. } = W. Barber
4. J. Oliver
5. P. White
|1. Mr. T. Coates
2. Mr. Sullivan (London)
3. Mr. J. Gregory
|1. Mr. Higton: Tower House, Heights
2. Mr. Walker-Hall: Neptune device
3. Mr. Coates: Flip-Flap
|Winners not known, but ten entries
including a model of the Kursaal that was then being built,
a seahorse, a replica of the Laxey Wheel, two crocodiles,
a ship, clock towers, sledge and horses, decorated boats,
|1. Mr. White: Silver State barge
2. Mr. Coates: Elizabethan State barge
3. Mr. Barber: Diver
4. Mr. Walthall: Diver
5. Mr. Holmes: Gondola
|1. W. Hall: Lighthouse
2. R. Coates: Coronation state coach
3. H. Walthall: Grace Darling Monument
|1. P. White: Battleship Dreadnought
2. Misses Edwards and Lanchland: White Coons
3. Mr. H. Walthall: Lighthouse and Monument to Grace Darling
|1. Mr Walker Hall: Queen of the Ocean
2. Mr. L. Parker: London Tower Bridge
3. Mr. T. Henshall: House-boat
|1. Messrs. Parker: S.S. Mauretania
2. E. Frost and M. Close: S.S. Olympic
3. P. White: Gondola
|1. H. Parker: Express engine
2. A. Locke: Indian camp
3. W. Barber: Zeppelin airship
4. R. Holmes: Blondon [sic]
||No Fete held during the First World
||1. Mr. Walther: Willersley Castle
2. Mr. Walters: Destroyer
3. Mr. Parker: Motor bus
||Boats included Nelson's "Victory",
Lipton's yacht "Shamrock", a lifeboat and a houseboat
||1. P. Pearson: paddle steamer
2. Mr. Walker Hall: tramcar
3. H. Walters: Jubilee Bridge
||1. No name: Crich Stand.
On the side, beneath the Stand, were the words: "In
fond remembrance of those who died that we might live".
||1. Mr W Barber: Tower Bridge and steamer
2. Mr. R. Coates: Swan and family
3. Mr. H. Pidcock: London Tower Bridge
||1. W. Barber
2. C. Smith
3. Tom Coates
||1. No Name: Switchback, with cars
2. No name: The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe
3. No name: Motor car
||1. W. Barber: Jubilee Bridge
2. C. Smith: H.M.S. Renown
3. J. Bond: Conway Bridge
||1. No Name: Willersley Castle
2. No name: Menin Gate
3. No name: Willow pattern bridge
||1. W. Henshall: French Chateau
2. W. Oliver: Suspension Bridge
3. C. Frost: Submarine
||Torrential rain made the boats waterlogged,
so all entrants awarded £2. The entries were Riber Castle,
Clock Tower, Miss England II, Loughboro' Carillon Tower,
Gondola, Tower Bridge, Liner, Monsal Dale Viaduct, Swiss
Chalet, "One __ Thing After Another" and "Labour
||1. Mr. Henshall: The House that Jack
2. Mr. Pidcock: Cinderella's coach & horses
3. Mr. W. Frost, junior: Submarine
||1. Arthur Smith: Gondola
2. Mr. Lawton: Taj Mahal
3. Matlock Bath
Boy Scouts: Viking Ship
(Leslie Sewell, Les Mosely and Rueben Smedley, assisted
by Frank Clay)
4. Mr. T. Hensaw: Turkish Palace
||1. Matlock Bath Rovers: Roman Naval
2. W. Hall: Neptune
3. W. Smith: Noah's Ark
||1 Mr. Walker Hall: Queen of the Derwent
2. Mr. Arthur Smith: Jubilee State barge
3. Mr. T. Henshaw : Eastern Temple
4. Matlock Bath Scouts: Santa Maria
||1. Matlock Bath Scouts: Spirit of Carnival
2. Mr. Thomas Britland: Jubilee Bridge
3. Mr. Aubrey Elsmore: Girl Pat, alias Kia Ora
4. Mr. W. Barber: Travelling Cafe
||1. No name: Windjammer
2. No name: Noah's Ark
||No Fete held during the Second World
War and its immediate aftermath
and BAND CONTEST arranged for
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 2, and
the BAND CONCERTS for SUNDAY,
SEPTEMBER 3, are
("Derby Daily Telegraph", 1 September
The above information has been extracted from "The Derby
Mercury",the "Derbyshire Courier", the "Derbyshire
Times and Chesterfield Herald" , the "Derby Daily Telegraph",
the "Sheffield Independent", the "Sheffield
Daily Telegraph"and the "Manchester
Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser".
The boats are brightly coloured for maximum impact.
They are designed to be shown at night and lit up, of course, with
their image mirrored in the dark water.
These photos provide a sense of that, but they are daytime pictures
so are missing the additional magic created by the lights.
A coach and horses and a train.
A dragonfly and the Red Arrows.
Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men.
The children's cartoon characters, first seen on BBC
TV in the 1950s, made a comeback in 2000.
The boat design doesn't include Weed, or Wee-eed as she always
Car from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Decorated boats moored at the Pavilion landing stage.
Whilst the postcard has no date, from the colour quality the image
could date from the 1960s.
Matlock Bath Venetian Nights
Bath: The Royal Museum (Smith's), South Parade
Bath: Royal Museum Petrifying Well
Travelling to the
Venetian Fête or Venetian Nights - view some
letter from the renamed committee elsewhere on this website (linked
at the bottom of that page).
Bath: Charlotte Farnsworth, Poetess - Charlotte wrote a poem
about the Venetian Fête.
Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, 1897
1. Photographs of Smith family decorated boats and Smith family
members in the collection of, provided by and © Jeremy Smith,
son of Arthur Smith.
2. "The Matlocks, Derbyshire", guide book published
in the 1950s. Geo. Hodgkinson, Printer, Matlock. In the collection
of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
3. Coloured photographs and "Wizards, witches on broomsticks,
reindeer, swans, frigates" in the collection
of, provided by and © Kenneth Smith (not related).
4. Postcard "Decorated Boats at the Venetian Fete, Matlock Bath".
No publisher, but no.D.V.P. 807. British Manufacture. Not posted.
In the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
Written and researched by and © Ann
Andrews. Intended for personal use only
 "Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield
Herald",14 August 1869. Display of fireworks and illumination.
 "The Derby Mercury",
13 September, 1876.
Times and Chesterfield Herald",16 September 1882. Matlock
Bath Annual Regatta and Swimming Races.
 Benjamin Bryan, (1903), "Matlock,
Manor and Parish". Bryan, unfortunately, does not mention
 Several reports including in "The
Derby Mercury" 22 September, 1897 and the "Derbyshire
Times and Chesterfield Herald" of 18 September 1897. The
event should have taken place earlier in the month, but was rained
 "The Derby Mercury",
1899. Venetian Fête at Matlock Bath. The Fête was organised
by a committee made up of residents.
 On 2 Sep 2010 the "Matlock
Mercury" reported that David Gregory, a local electrician,
had entered the decorated boat competition 40 times, with his boat
designs featuring in the parade every year since 1971. His first win
was as a nineteen year old in 1973 when he designed a Viking longboat.
 "Derby Daily
Telegraph", 1 September 1933. Venetian Fête Thrill.
Gondola Catches Fire.
 Until the Venetian Nights re-located to
the Derwent Gardens in 1967 the boats used to set out from the landing
stage and were rowed upstream, passing beneath Jubilee Bridge to the
North Parade section of the river and turning round just above the
bandstand. These days slightly more of the river is used.