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Matlock Bath Illuminations gearing up for 111th boat parade

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: September 02, 2014

Paul Henshall, 59

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EXCITEMENT is mounting as Matlock Bath Illuminations enters its 111th year opening this Saturday.

Stalwart Paul Henshall looks ahead to his 40th anniversary as chairman of Matlock Bath Venetian Nights Boat Builders’ Association

In 1998, a 14 foot Titanic replica was the subject of Paul’s labours, spending more than 100 hours building the famous boat.

A storm later ripped the doomed boat – lit with 1,000 bulbs – from its riverside mooring and irretrievably sank it.

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Paul, recalls his boat model that went down so well, it actually generated national publicity for the Illuminations.

"I really didn't think I was tempting fate," he says now.

"It was a well-timed choice of subject as the Titanic film had just been released on video.

“There was no raising my Titanic from the Derwent however - all that was left was the plastic iceberg!

“To be honest, it was great publicity for the Illuminations, making national headlines, and I even appeared on the National Lottery show."

Incidentally, the boat did take first prize.

The boat designs are judged by spectators picked at random from the first night crowds in the District Council’s Derwent Gardens.

Winners receive a cash prize and the Arkwright Cup, donated in 1903 by inventor Sir Richard Arkwright.

The themes of each boat is a closely guarded secret until judging takes place on opening night.

Paul, who will be one among the nine decorated boats later this month says the boat builders share their themes with each other around Easter time to ensure there are no duplications, and that is when construction on the boats start.

He says: "It's a bit of a cut-throat business until opening night - and after that we're all friends again.

“Actually we're a very tight bunch and I'm proud to be chairman of the association.

“While the boatbuilding art hasn't changed much since I started in 1974, a terrific development has been the involvement of women in recent years, and I'm delighted at that."

The Illuminations – which today attract 100,000 people over the eight-week season – date back to the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, who was reportedly impressed by the reflection of twinkling candle lights in the River Derwent when staying in Matlock Bath.

To celebrate the Jubilee in 1897, an illuminated boat procession travelled along the Derwent through the village, which was also illuminated with a variety of lamps, including coloured bonfires which adorned the limestone gorge rock face.

Today, the boat parade is still the main highlight of the Illuminations, and are produced and rowed by members of the Matlock Bath Venetian Boat Builders Association.

One Victorian-style candle-lit boat continues to be included in the procession, a reminder of the tradition’s origins.

Colourful lights will also decorate Derwent Gardens and nearby Lovers’ Walks.

The illuminated boat parade will take place every weekend from this Saturday until October 25 starting at 7.45pm. The parade can be viewed from Derwent Gardens.

In addition, a 9.15pm parade will coincide with fireworks nights scheduled from Saturday, September 27 until the end of the Illuminations.

To book tickets online visit www.derbyshiredales.gov.uk/Illuminations, and for further information visit www.facebook.com/matlockbathilluminations.

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