‘We are not amused’ – a floating bridge tradition

By Chris Cornford Feb 1, 2021

Island residents who are unamused by the troubles of the floating bridge are nothing new – although the scale of today’s problems appear to dwarf those in history.
In a 1983 booklet, produced by the IW Council’s Cultural Services Department, Sir Charles Baring recounted an anecdote about his father, Sir Godfrey Baring, a former Liberal MP for the Island. In 1898 Sir Godfrey was elected Chairman of the Isle of Wight County Council, a position he held for 51 years until he died in 1957. He was a lifelong resident of the Island and lived at Nubia House in Cowes which was demolished in the ’60s.

Sir Charles said: “During the late 1890s my father received a royal summons, which turned out not to be a very pleasant occasion. My father was still in his twenties, and had recently been elected Chairman. One day – a very black day – the ferry, or floating bridge (which sometimes belied its name by becoming stuck) had broken down between East Cowes and Cowes at the very time when Her Majesty Queen Victoria was crossing in her carriage to make some social calls.
“The Queen was kept waiting for ten minutes and – in the historic phrase – was not amused. The sequel took place the next day, when a message reached my father at Nubia to say that the Queen wished to see him at Osborne on a most important matter.

“Of course, in those days it was not possible to proceed in a suit – you were expected to come into her presence fully dressed. My father, much to the astonishment of his family and amidst some derision, was forced to put on a top hat and morning coat. He arrived at Osborne, and the courtiers with meaningful looks told him that Her Majesty was engaged, and he was kept waiting for half an hour – I suppose as some sort of punishment. He was eventually ushered into her presence and the Queen did not, of course invite him to sit down. He remained standing almost at attention. The Queen said, ‘Mr Baring, I was kept waiting for the floating bridge for ten minutes yesterday. Pray do not let it happy again,’ and she turned her back without further ado. Without even the chance of making an apology, he was ushered out.”

We can only speculate on what Her Majesty would say about Floatie 6!

With thanks to Michael Cooper of Whippingham.