The King’s Room
In July 1671 King Charles II, an inveterate yachtsman (he had 26 royal yachts in his 25-year reign), was beset by storm in the Channel and sought shelter in Dartmouth. The Corporation, delighted by this unscheduled visit, lavishly entertained the King in arguably the best room in the town, with its fine panelling and ceiling. The royal coat of arms was placed above the fireplace to mark the King’s visit.
Intricately carved frieze on wall panelling
The wainscot panelling, frieze and ceiling of the King’s Room are original and an important part of the Butterwalk’s Grade 1 listing. The motifs of mythical beasts of the frieze are repeated but are not exactly the same, showing that the carving was not done to a template but with freer expression.
A problem that had to be overcome by the designer and cabinet maker when the museum displays were updated in 2010 was that there is hardly a true vertical or horizontal or right angle anywhere in the building, the consequence of subsidence following the Butterwalk’s construction out on the mud of the estuary in 1640.
The King’s Room has a fine collection of ship models, paintings and drawings relating to the town’s maritime history. There is a timeline of ship models round the walls of the room. The first model is simply made and possibly stylised but has educational value. It is a Crusader warship. It has a raised forecastle and sterncastle but no gun ports in the hull. The substantial Crow’s Nest has room for several more archers. There is no rudder for steering but a ‘steerboard’ on the ‘starboard’ side.
Other models in the timeline include the Pilgrim Fathers’ Mayflower, which called in to Dartmouth on the way to America for repairs to the accompanying Speedwell, a fine bone model of a warship hull, possibly built by a French Prisoner of War in Dartmoor Prison during the Napoleonic period, and a Brixham trawler with the intriguing name Seaplane.
In the island display case in the centre of the room are some of our finest ship models, built to the highest standards. Outstanding is the model of the 1782 24-gun sloop HMS Echo, a small part of which is shown in the photograph. The detail is extraordinary.
Paintings in the room include two oils of maritime scenes attributed to Thomas Luny and a splendid copy by Fothergill in 1880 of the famous artist JMW Turner’s watercolour of HMS Hindostan and Britannia, the Admiralty training ships on the Dart before the Britannia Royal Naval College was built in 1905.
The King’s Room houses further collections contained in ‘The Drawers’
Ship in a bottle, Queen Margaret
The Dawe Collection
The King’s Room also houses a wonderful collection of 26 model sailing ships-in-bottles (and even a ship-in-electric-light-bulb), known as the Dawe Collection. These highly accurate models represent many of the finest ocean-going sailing ships of the second half of the 19th century. The bottles are the well-known dimpled whisky bottles and you may wonder how the modeller accumulated such a large number for his collection.