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magpie patrick

Hire boats - any research been done

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Thoughts for that far off day when I have loads of time and even I can't use it all boating.

 

I am nostalgic for that I never knew - too young for steam trains and too young to have seen much narrow boat carrying but love their preservation (although one of my earliest memories is of a loaded boat going past 224 Booth Lane, Middlewich, the house we lived in until I was five), but I love the things I grew up with - I go weak for a decent class 118 DMU, and I recall with (possibly misplaced) affection the hire boats of old, and the companies that operated them.

 

So, if I were to research anything, it would most probably be the development of the hire industry - first we have to define that - hire boat meaning a boat that's available for self-steer rental on the canals (although the earlier development on rivers and the Broads has interest), who and where the companies that hired these were, and what craft they used. 

 

One normally starts with a literature review - is anything published that anyone knows of? (I don't, and my knowledge is extensive but not exhaustive) or do I start with canal guides and whatever journals might have published adverts and track down at least the geography that way? I'm not looking for anyone to do the research for me (and this isn't part of my commercial activity - I'll be doing this for "fun" - do remind me of that when the sleepless nights hit!) just a few pointers. 

 

Of course, if you want to tell a tale of your early hire boating feel free!

 

(My earliest personal knowledge of hire boats is 1959, seven years before I was born, Mum, Dad and Aunty Vera rented from the Potato wharf in Manchester and went to Nantwich and back - I'm aware there were hire boats from Stone before then)

Edited by magpie patrick

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Patrick,

 

It is sometimes said that there are boatmen and there are them that go boating. 

 

Boat hire and hire boating is equally diverse.

 

Whilst pleasure boating started earlier, hire-boating would appear to be a post war invention.

 

British Waterways had boats for hire in the 1950's.  Joseph Boughey has made a study of this topic, I believe.

 

As to the hire or lease of a boat, be it narrow boat, Trent Boat, Flat, Short Boat or Keel, there were canal boat builders that also chose to have contracts for hire instead of a direct sale. Few had the spare cash to buy vessels outright, I gather.

Boat hire formed an important revenue for them and those with the spare cash to invest in boats to hire out and this was a facet of history throughout the canal era. There has been recent discussion on the RCHS WHG regarding this.

 

 

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I recently aquired a book, published in 1975, entitled "Britains's Holiday Waterways" which is basicly a collection of photos with short captions. Most of the boats are either privately owned or unidentified hired boats, but there are some photos featuring hire boats. You are welcome to borrow it.

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Having worked in a hire fleet on the Thames in the 70s.

 

Some Thames hire fleets: Timms of Stains (Water suffix to name), Maid line at Thames Ditton and Wallingford (Maid prefix to names), Bates of Chertsy (Star suffix to names), One I can't remember the name of from further down river, Bushnells (Gay prefix to names but dropped if later) & Andrews at Maidenhead, Andrews at Bourne End (different company), Bushnells of Wargrave (Grey prefix to names) (different company). A company called Red Line operated from Abingdon. I am trying to remember if Benson Cruiser Station operated hire boats then, I suspect they entered the market later.

 

All operating wooden cruisers, some built by themselves like Bastes and some bought in from the broads and South Coast builder and fitted out by the company. Maid Line had some Seacrete hulls.

 

Maid Line also operated out of what is now Rose narrowboats with wooden canal cruisers.

 

At the time GRP was coming in so things like Seamaster 25s, 27s, & 28s plus centre and aft cockpit Elysian 27s and I think a 40 foot one were being hired.

 

The Hoseasons started to cover the Thames so all sorts of small operators of hire fleets sprang up, many of doubtful quality. Some of the "better ones" were Salters (of steamer fame) at Oxford, Bridge Boats and Caribbean Cruisers at Reading. They were all operating production GRP cruises, many from the broads like the Caribbeans etc. Gradually all the fleets moved to GRP. There was one outfit operating from Kennet Mouth and another from what is now the Four Pillars Hotel site at Littlemore. Eynsham Cruiser station operated a fleet of Caribbeans.

 

The around the early/mid 80s charter flights brought cheap holidays in the sun so the Thames hire fleets took a hit. Many gave up the hire side of things, some were bought out by companies like Rank Leisure (I suspect for the future value of their sites) and foreign investors seemed to pour money into some hire fleets like Benson hence we now have Le Boat in at least two sites on the Thames. Caribbean Cruisers and Bridge boats merged and as far as I know are still a private company. Bushnells of Maidenhead merged with Andrews of Maidenhead and were then taken over by Rank Leisure and after a few years closed.

 

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The ex Challenger Stealth Hire fleet are now history.

Photo Market Drayton, October 2007.

October 2007 307 Mkt Drayton.jpg

 

The hire boats being: Blackbird, Eagle, George, Phantom,Shadow, Sky Hawk, Vanquish, Victory and Vigilant.

Edited by Ray T

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Think the boat in the photo at Napton could have been one of the Morgan Giles fleet. They and maid line at Brinklow had a big part in keeping the southern oxford open.

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1 hour ago, Dav and Pen said:

Think the boat in the photo at Napton could have been one of the Morgan Giles fleet.

BWB had a few Morgan Giles boats, I think this is one judging by the hull colour.  Hydraulic drive.

 

2 hours ago, Tony Brooks said:

many from the broads like the Caribbeans

Horrible things, steerer right at the front with a horizontal steering wheel.  Put up a huge wash.

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My boat is an ex Stone Hire Boat 35ft steel hull built at Penkridge (so Stone tell me) she was called "Alderley Rose" and still has her original SR2 1969

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7 hours ago, Chris Williams said:

 

blue.jpg.ca87cb36073fcf981cc0e7d6f1ddff6d.jpg

 

1968, hired this wooden outboard 2 berth cruiser from Blue Line at Braunston.

My vey first boating holiday was from Braunston in the sixties - grandparents took me and my brother for a week to get us out the way for the birth of third brother.  It was on an outboard motor powered camping boat named Bluebird I / II / III or IV - (can't remember which now but there was a number of them available for hire and probably Blue Line too.  

 

We got as far as Banbury - working the locks and lift bridges, lock keepers in all of the lock keepers cottages,  working boats (looked very very big compared to our little punt shaped camping boat.  Probably twenty feet long with square bow and stern and very small foredeck on which two coal scuttle shaped tall water containers stood.  To divid the boat into two 'bedrooms' a canvas divider was hung from the roof frame.  I used to have an image of one of these boat - different owner and paint scheme though.

 

 My brother and I and I absolutely loved it.

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8 minutes ago, happynomad said:

lock keepers in all of the lock keepers cottages,  working boats

What a difference a very few years made to the Oxford.

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13 hours ago, Tony Brooks said:

Some Thames hire fleets: Timms of Stains (Water suffix to name), Maid line at Thames Ditton and Wallingford (Maid prefix to names), Bates of Chertsy (Star suffix to names), One I can't remember the name of from further down river, Bushnells (Gay prefix to names but dropped if later) & Andrews at Maidenhead, Andrews at Bourne End (different company), Bushnells of Wargrave (Grey prefix to names) (different company). A company called Red Line operated from Abingdon. I am trying to remember if Benson Cruiser Station operated hire boats then, I suspect they entered the market later.

 

 

We hired a couple of Freeman 22s in, I think, 1970.  There were the Water Gypsy and Water Fairy - but I can't now recall the boatyard.  It was downstream of Windsor - but Timms does not sound correct and you say the "Water" was its usual suffix anyway.

 

Any ideas?

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It might be worth contacting Grand Union Narrowboats.   They are based at Weedon and are building up a fleet of hireboats which formerly belonged to Concoform Marine.  They have been restored to a high standard but still look like the hire fleet of forty plus years ago. 

 

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1 hour ago, koukouvagia said:

It might be worth contacting Grand Union Narrowboats.   They are based at Weedon and are building up a fleet of hireboats which formerly belonged to Concoform Marine.  They have been restored to a high standard but still look like the hire fleet of forty plus years ago. 

 

How splendid - preserved hire boats! They do look authentic, though I note that they have "new quiet, smooth engines". Oh well, you can't have it all.

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Wow! Just read through all this lot on the phone screen - I need a desk and a notebook already! More later when I'm sitting comfortably....

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Like many boat owners we started off hiring in the early 80s.  This shows the hire rates back then charged by Grebe Canal Cruises.

 

Another source of information on early hire boats would be Mary Matts at Foxton Boat Services.  She was very helpful to me when I was working out the history of our former boat, Owl.  Like many ex working boats Owl became a hire boat, complete with steerer - the legendary Jack Monk.

 

 

1811609569_20190507_092710(1).jpg.5ed79fc815a0aeea16f19d8c98863847.jpg

 

 

eta  If you are interested in hire boats from Foxton Boat Services, have a look at a page from my website:

https://www.narrowboatowl.com/1969-1989

I've posted on this website an early brochure for the hire of Owl.

 

Edited by koukouvagia
  • Greenie 1

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We bought a boat from Venetian Marina in 1975. The boat was called Shiela,was built of plywood with a Stuart Turner inboard engine. suplied new in 1968. This engine(aP5 MRE) was supplied as a replacement for the origional. Last hire licence was issued in 1971 number395. The boat was built by Deans of Chester and I believe was opperated by them as a hire boat. My guess would be that the boat was built in late 50"s. It was as rotten as a pear when we bought it.. Venetian delivered it free by road. I suspect they were glad to see the back of it. I tipped it over and fitted a complete new bottom and replaced the bottom of the sides. Started our interest in canals,kepped it a year and moved on to a steel boat.

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On 06/05/2019 at 19:38, Tony Brooks said:

Having worked in a hire fleet on the Thames in the 70s.

 

Some Thames hire fleets: Timms of Stains (Water suffix to name), Maid line at Thames Ditton and Wallingford (Maid prefix to names), Bates of Chertsy (Star suffix to names), One I can't remember the name of from further down river, Bushnells (Gay prefix to names but dropped if later) & Andrews at Maidenhead, Andrews at Bourne End (different company), Bushnells of Wargrave (Grey prefix to names) (different company). A company called Red Line operated from Abingdon. I am trying to remember if Benson Cruiser Station operated hire boats then, I suspect they entered the market later.

 

All operating wooden cruisers, some built by themselves like Bastes and some bought in from the broads and South Coast builder and fitted out by the company. Maid Line had some Seacrete hulls.

 

Maid Line also operated out of what is now Rose narrowboats with wooden canal cruisers.

 

At the time GRP was coming in so things like Seamaster 25s, 27s, & 28s plus centre and aft cockpit Elysian 27s and I think a 40 foot one were being hired.

 

The Hoseasons started to cover the Thames so all sorts of small operators of hire fleets sprang up, many of doubtful quality. Some of the "better ones" were Salters (of steamer fame) at Oxford, Bridge Boats and Caribbean Cruisers at Reading. They were all operating production GRP cruises, many from the broads like the Caribbeans etc. Gradually all the fleets moved to GRP. There was one outfit operating from Kennet Mouth and another from what is now the Four Pillars Hotel site at Littlemore. Eynsham Cruiser station operated a fleet of Caribbeans.

 

The around the early/mid 80s charter flights brought cheap holidays in the sun so the Thames hire fleets took a hit. Many gave up the hire side of things, some were bought out by companies like Rank Leisure (I suspect for the future value of their sites) and foreign investors seemed to pour money into some hire fleets like Benson hence we now have Le Boat in at least two sites on the Thames. Caribbean Cruisers and Bridge boats merged and as far as I know are still a private company. Bushnells of Maidenhead merged with Andrews of Maidenhead and were then taken over by Rank Leisure and after a few years closed.

 

You missed off Kris Cruisers, they started late 70’s at Chris’s dads boatyard at Datchet and are still going strong.  On the same site was Castle line or craft run by Hugh Fletcher and for a short time King Craft.

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A friend studied the hire boat industry for his degree dissertation, he ended up starting a hire boat company which is still going strong 30 years later!

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11 hours ago, neilb12 said:

You missed off Kris Cruisers, they started late 70’s at Chris’s dads boatyard at Datchet and are still going strong.  On the same site was Castle line or craft run by Hugh Fletcher and for a short time King Craft.

Quit right, I remember when they started. Also King line at Abigndon Boat Centre run by a Mr Riddick who also owned a steam railway engine.

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Foxton Boat services again.  In about 1982 in November four of us hired one of Tony Matts boats, one of four I think, all Harborogh Marine boats with Lister SR2's and 3's in them and all named Fox something, ours was called Foxtail a 36 footer. We'd never been on canals before, sailing was our thing, and never done a lock before. We went straight up the Foxton flight, doddle, no messing about with the volunteers in those days and on to Braunston and back.  I pretended that we had to not use the engine to pass through Bosworth Husband tunnel and we poked it through with the pole. The boats were kept in good nick, wouldn't be surprised if they're still in use.  I believe Sam Matts mainly runs the show now. They ran a horse drawn trip boat for many years too up the Market Harborough arm.

  It worked out at about £29 per head for the week plus fuel.

Edited by bizzard

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