Raising of the Dolly.

The salvage of the Ullswater Steamship.

The Dolly in Ullswater: 

Reported by Gerry Jackson. 1st Class Diver Furnace Branch, B.S.A.C. Chairman of the NORFED Salvage Committee.

The wreck was discovered accidentally in Ullswater early in 1961 by Bradford Branch during a diving expedition. After several exploratory dives on the vessel, it became obvious that, even though she was buried in the mud from the stern forward to the cabin, and she lay in some 45 feet of chilly water, a steamer of immense importance and interest had been discovered.

At a diving council meeting in early 1962 the Furnace Branch representative present the first survey report and suggested that the salvage operation be undertaken by one group. It was pointed out that some branches, having great distances to travel, may not regularly be able to work upon the project. NORFED Council asked Furnace Branch, under the chairmanship of Gerry Jackson, to undertake this responsibility. This undertaking was made on 11th February 1962.

The project went ahead with much anticipation and eagerness.  Many dives were undertaken, many calculations made as to centres of major weight, methods of lifting, points of strongest lift and counterbalance. Some weekends amid snow and ice, conditions were such that progress was made almost impossible. One weekend only two divers manged to reach Ullswater, the rest being cut off by a blizzard at the top of the Kirkstone Pass. After quite a battle, the party made it back to Ambleside and safety. As time passed there was a great deal of material compiled and the following report was presented to NORFED Council 27th March 1962.

Ullswater Salvage Committee.

Initial Survey Report, Facts and Figures. (14th May 1962

“During the winter of 1961/62, the Salvage Committee, which consists of the Furness Branch BSAC, have carried out a careful and comprehensive programme of diving and enquiry on the vessel submerged adjacent to the Hotel Annexe (Glenridding). The correct position of the boat is clearly shown on the bearing sheet contained herewith and carefully taken on the 18th March 1962, (unfortunately 2017 this is not available).

“The vessel is some 45ft. in length and of 7ft. beam, the draught at the bow is 3ft. The complete boat is of timber construction, the main ribs are 10.5 inches apart and the finished section of each member is 2 in. x 1.1/2 in. The ribs seem soft to a depth of ¼ inch. But the rib cores are quite sound. The propulsion unit was steam driven and both boiler and main engine are just abaft of amidships and seem rather large and heavy as stated.

The funnel from the fire box was found alongside the hull resting on the mud. After consultation with Mr Pattinson of Ambleside it was decided to remove this item and give it into his safe keeping and care.

After many dives and periods of consultation upon methods of attempted salvage it was decided to construct a frame, and secured at the gunwales level and projecting some 3-4 ft. beyond; ropes passed under the hull and tightened around the frame beams; some of the netting or screen be secured over the side and lifting vessels be placed under and secured. Also, it was further suggested that lifting vessels be secured to the engine room machinery and boiler to take some of the weight off the hull. The cabin may also accommodate buoyancy vessels or bags.


It is strongly recommended that no unplanned or indiscriminate diving or handling of the vessel be allowed at this time since the Salvage Committee have still further observations to make. Many calculation tallies are screwed in position and must not be removed. Quite a good liaison has been built up between Mr Pattinson of Ambleside and the Salvage Committee and several lines of approach have been undertaken after discussions with him. Amongst other things, careful search for nameplates has been undertaken and examination of machinery parts for identification and characteristics in engine design. To date (1962), no clear item has been discovered of major interest about identification of the submerged vessel, except for the funnel. Further letters of enquiry, however, are being printed by the magazine “Cumbria” at the request of the Sub-Committee.

The committee have also patiently and carefully searched through the local reference library for information, but so far with little success. However, much material is slowly accumulating and so many new facts are coming to light that no doubt soon we shall have the name of this intriguing vessel.


The Chairman of the Sub-Committee would like to record his most grateful thanks to all members of NORFED who have contributed in any way so far with this survey. Also recorded, is the persistence of all with water work undertaken when conditions were sometimes such that lesser men would have given up in desperation and despair, particularly during the periods of snow and ice”.


After the Report was accepted. It was recommended that the raising of the wreck should be the highlight of “Windive V.” The Diving Council confirmed quote: “that they had full confidence in Furness Branch in this matter and delegated all responsibility to Gerry Jackson” unquote.

Now the salvage attack was to be made in earnest. We commenced by working ropes under the forward end and slowly working them back as far as the cabin, somewhat forward of midships. It was impossible at this time to work further aft of this point because of the position of the after end in the mud, mud which on most occasions reduced visibility almost to zero as it was very easily stirred up.

It had been decided to build a cradle forward of the cabin, secure lifting vessels and raise the prow to allow ropes to be fed under the hull aft of the engine room. Work progressed favourably and by the 1st August 1962, ropes were under the keel amidships and the cradle built and secured forward. After many hours of diving and much hard work the lifting vessels were secured, on the 22nd August 1962, we carried cylinders of compressed air down and started to inflate the flexible buoyancy bags and blow the oil drums; the forward lift commenced. Flexible vessels were made secure to the main engine and boiler to remove any strain from the hull. By the following day the forward end was raised about 12 inches. Whilst all the work was taking place our film makers and producer had been recording the progress on cine film for the complete film record, he hoped to make of the salvage operation.

By 29th August 1962, further timbers were secured and a tie rope affixed port and starboard of the cradle and anchored around the stern under the mud. This was to prevent the cradle sliding forward when the forward lift was increased. Forty-gallon oil drums were flooded, guided down and secured with wires and shackles to the timbers we had placed in position. High pressure air was taken down and the drums blown. Slowly the prow began to move; we were delighted to observe that she was now two feet above the mud.

We surfaced and swam ashore to recharge our cylinders. As we were about to congratulate ourselves; tragedy; the largest buoyance vessel burst like a a depth charge with precisely the same surface disturbance (it was found afterwards that the relief valve was jammed, shut.)

After diving again, we inspected the damage and were bitterly disappointed to see that all the timbers were adrift forward. Sadly, we proceeded to remove and rebuild the cradle during the next dives. About this time visibility in the Lake generally began to worsen; it had never been very good anyway. On one occasion it was down to only inches and although we had firm bearings and assumed we could find the wreck blindfolded, it took us some considerable time to locate her.

On the following expedition we secured more beams athwart-ships, fixed forty-gallon drums in calculated, predetermined positions and many five-gallon drums port and starboard. Air was fed into these and more weight was taken. Looking through one’s Log for this period, the comments about the cold, dark water are in almost every entry. However, we worked hard and steadily until Sunday 2nd September 1962, the prow was lifted to within 6 ft. of the surface; we were delighted.

Ropes were quickly passed under the keel aft of the engine room and secured ready to prepare for the final lift. The writer drove away from the site this day very pleased indeed. Success was in sight but the old enemy; time was running short. If we were to carry out the final lift when planned, much was yet to be done. During the next expedition, timbers were sunk, oil drums flooded and secured aft, the complete cradle positioned, and all made ready to go. Finally, 14-00 hrs, 29th September 1962 we blue air into the last forty-gallon drum aft of the engine room, when slowly the entire ship began to move!

Gently, oh so very gentle, she extracted herself from the mud of ages and gracefully glided to the surface taking me with her. A most thrilling moment. She settled on an even keel with the cabin deck head just below the surface. It was 67 years since she was here last and slowly moved to the lakeside under human tow and moored to await the fixing of safety factor vessels ready for the long tow to Glenridding pier to prepare for beaching.

During the next two weeks forty-gallon drums were removed from the superstructure and secured below the gunwale level and filled with air; the ship rode higher in the water. Unwanted timbers and equipment were removed, all drums and vessels topped up and the beautiful hull was towed by hand around to the pier and secured alongside the jetty ready for pumping out and beaching.

The concluding chapter of this magnificent salvage operation was written on Thursday 8th November 9162. The ship now floated under her own buoyance and all salvage equipment was removed (the writers dog, Mike, assisting by swimming ashore with sundry items of gear as instructed; much to the amusement of the small gathering of onlookers). She was pumped out, several tons of mud removed and slowly coaxed on to the trailer previously winched into the Lake.

Slowly and carefully the trailer was hauled out bringing the ship ashore for the first time in almost a hundred years. She looked beautiful and everyone was agreeably surprised that she had been salvaged in such lovely condition.  The original gold leaf lines were still to be seen and the rudder worked perfectly. Just as darkness was falling the ship was finally secured and towed away over Kirkstone Pass to Ambleside where Mr. G. Patterson hopes to rebuild her as new.

One cannot conclude without expressing grateful thanks to all who have assisted in any way during the entire operation; members of NORFED, particularly Darwen Branch for the loan of the compressor; Mr Lane of the Ullswater Hotel, his co-operation was most appreciated; Mr Pattinson for his valuable technical advice and his practical work during the final phase and many others. Finally, the Furnace Branch for uncomplaining devotion to duty and work under arduous conditions. To everyone, the writer extends his gratitude.

As a summary of all the stories put forward regarding the history of the wreck, we think the most likely one is that the ship was built for Mr R Bowness; original owner of the Ullswater Hotel. Her hull timbers were sprung during the severe frost of the 1894-1895 winter. At the thaw she shipped water and sank at her moorings to remain there until discovered some 62 years later.