1513: A Ships' Opera by Richard Wilson

1513: A Ships' Opera

A spectacular water-borne performance for the River Thames.

An armada of historic vessels from the age of sail, steam and diesel will perform a live, moving, operatic concerto of ships’ steam whistles, bells, horns, hooters, sirens and cannon as the centrepiece of the 2013 Thames Festival.

The first act of this symphonic maritime performance begins at sea, at the mouth of the Thames Estuary. A lone steam tug, the historic Barking, will make her way into the tideway to central London, all the while broadcasting her swag of steam whistles.

At 6.25pm, around Trinity Buoy Wharf (home of London’s last lighthouse and where Trinity House used to manufacture the buoys that guide the world’s mariners to this day), Barking will muster her fellow opera performers: the Trinity Lightship (LV95) pulled by two handsome red diesel tugs, historic Clyde puffer steam ships VIC 56 and VIC 96, the diesel tug Kent, and twin-masted 19th century Dutch sailing klipper De Walvisch - all bedecked with a range of steam whistles, horns and bells - the collected vocal cords of a ship of provenance, now long dead... lost voices calling again.

Here an audience will experience the second act of the opera, the magnificent fleet calling to the shore, waters and airwaves against the backdrop of The O2.

At Tower Bridge, at 7.45pm, the curtain opens as the bascules rise and the company of ships enters the theatre of the Pool of London. The main act of the performance begins, the ships now joining the cruiser HMS Belfast in an acknowledgment of our historic naval might.

500 years after the foundation of the great Corporation of Trinity House and 500 metres from Trinity House itself, as the bascules close, Trinity Light Vessel LV 95 swings her lifesaving beam of light illuminating architecture old and new from the Shard to the Tower of London.

Project Background

The Royal Charter and establishment of the Corporation of Trinity House

In 1513 a group of mariners petitioned King Henry VIII to regulate pilotage on the Thames, alerting him to the potential dangers in continuing to allow unsuitably qualified 'foreigners’, including Scots, Flemings and French, to learn the secrets of the King's streams.

The following year a Royal Charter to Corporation of Trinity House was granted ensuring the safe piloting of Thames’ vessels.

Today, Trinity House exists to uphold the safety of shipping and the well-being of seafarers throughout the British Isles, assisting the safe passage of a huge variety of vessels through some of the busiest sea lanes in the world.

The Performers:

LV 95


VIC 56VIC 96De WalvischKentBarkingHMS BelfastFearnoughtGeneral VIII  

For more information about these magnificent historic vessels, the performers in 1513: A Ships' Opera, please CLICK HERE

About the Artists

Richard Wilson

One of the UK’s most renowned sculptors, twice Turner Prize-nominated and co-founder of the notorious 80’s group, the Bow Gamelan Ensemble, Richard Wilson is internationally celebrated for his interventions in architectural space. Wilson’s seminal installation "20:50", a sea of reflective sump oil permanently installed in the Saatchi Collection, was described as ‘one of the masterpieces of the modern age’ by the art critic Andrew Graham Dixon on BBC television’s The History of British Art. He has exhibited widely and internationally for over 30 years, and was one of a select number of artists invited to create a major public work for the Millennium Dome. His ships’ hooter piece, Lower Reach Sounding, was one of the most popular highlights of the 2012 Mayor’s Thames Festival. Also in 2012, he teetered a bus off the roof of the De La Warr Pavilion in East Sussex.  Wilson’s giant 77-tonne sculpture, Slipstream, will be installed at London’s Heathrow Airport next year. Suspended 20 metres above ground level in the airport, it will be Europe’s longest art sculpture.

Zatorski + Zatorski

Collaborative artists working in the areas of video/ film, installation, sculpture and photography, Z+Z have exhibited widely, both abroad and in the UK, including Tate Britain, Whitechapel Gallery and the National Gallery of Scotland. In 2008, they closed their London studio and left with a suitcase to travel mainland Europe in search of a ship. Returning in 2011 with De Walvisch, their current large-scale art project is “The Cultureship”, a cultural catalyst that encourages inter-disciplinary collaboration and promotes engagement with our collective cultural and maritime history. Both artistic/ curatorial project and fully functioning historic sailing vessel, the Cultureship produces, commissions and curates high-impact artworks within a maritime context.


The Pool of London - River Thames between Tower Bridge and London Bridge