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  Themes Homepage > Boat building
Working on and along the river
Boat building

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Boat Building
Communities were already established along the banks of the Thames a thousand years before the Romans arrived. Wolves still roamed the forests and extensive marshlands and swamps made travelling by land difficult, Simple boats would have provided a fairly safe form of transport.

Dugout canoes made from tree trunks were probably the earliest boats that were built along the banks of the Thames. Frameworks of willow, covered in animal hide were probably next. 2,000 years ago the Romans used Londonium (London) as a port for their sea-worthy ships, by which time, boat building had become highly sophisticated, and trade was well established with Europe.
Boat building
Boat building
Harry Rose, boat builder
Harry Rose, boat builder
The advertisement shown here from the 1870's is an example of one of the many boat builders working in the upper Thames. They provided new and second-hand boats for sale, and often boats for hire, and associated services such as guided trips.

Some well known boat yards of the 1880s included Messrs. Salter, Oxford; Clasper, Oxford, and "The Feathers," Wandsworth; Searle & Sons, Stangate, Lambeth, London, S.E.; Phelps, Peters & Co., Unity Boat-house, Putney; Biffen, Mall-road, Hammersmith; Messum, Richmond; Wheeler & Sons, Richmond; and Tagg, Moulsey. Although modern fibreglass vessels can be built far from the river, there are still some traditional boatyards which survive, which have been handed down through the family for generations.
The name of Turk has been associated with boat building since medieval times. One family has run the same business for nearly 300 years. In 1710, during the reign of Queen Anne, Richard Turk founded a boat building business on the Thames near Kingston. The original boatyard has now gone, but boat hire and building continue, and television programmes such as "Hornblower" hire its services.
Half scale model of Turk's boatyard workshop
Half scale model of Turk's boatyard workshop
Prices of racing boats
"A comparison of the rates of charges of some of the principal boat builders on the Thames shows the price of racing-boats, including oars, sliding-seats, etc., to average as follows: Eights, £60; fours, £35; pairs, £22; and scullers' boats, £15." These prices come from the 1889 edition of Dickens "Dictionary of the Thames".

"The prices of the other kinds of boats vary considerably according to length, material, fittings required, &c.; but a pair-oared gig or skiff, built of deal and mahogany, 22 feet long, plainly fitted, and without any very high degree of finish, with one pair oars, one pair sculls, one boathook, two mats, cushion, back-rail, &c., complete, may be taken at £23; if built of oak and mahogany, or mahogany alone at £25."
There is a display of half scale model boats made by Turks, at Kingston Museum.
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  Themes Homepage > Boat building
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