A boat trip

Salters Steamers from Benson to Abingdon

This post has appeared in full on my Henley on Thames blog – slide show are on this in full – see a residents blog on Henley on Thames in the links section on this blog.

After the downpours of rain this week, it was fantastic to find that the day we had selected to go on a cruise with Salters had turned out so well.

Salters are a reasonable company in that they do not take bookings in advance for this trip. We were told to meet the boat at Benson Marina. We got there but if we had not spoken to the man running the cafe there, we would have missed the departure of the trip. The Salters departure platform was in the park which was just by the Marina, but accessible from a different entrance via the road.

The boat that we went on was the “Reading” here are some pictures of the boat, which was manufactured in 1901 coming out of the lock at Benson. The trip had set off earlier from Wallingford.

DSCF7939

DSCF7940History of Salters from http://www.simplonpc.co.uk/SalterBros.html

Brief Salter Brothers History (with corrections by Iain MacLeod 08/02/2008):-Salter Brothers began in 1858 as a boat-building firm. By 1876, and perhaps earlier, Henry Astrop was using the paddle steamer Isis on a weekly service from Kingston to Oxford and back. She had a boiler built in 1872 and compound diagonal engines, possibly second-hand. It is possible that when first built she was named Julia. In 1878, the Thames and Isis Steamboat Company Limited was formed to continue the service. Henry Astrop was joined by Gabriel Davis of Abingdon, and his son, also Gabriel, an engineer. Advertisements in 1879 announced that a new steamer – the Thames – was being built (by Davis) and she was issued with a certificate on 1st October that year. She was 95 feet long and 13 feet in beam, with compound engines and twin propellers. In 1880 the Isis was advertised for sale or hire and the Thames sailed on the service. The Thames and Isis SB Co was wound up in March 1883 and the summer service was advertised by Gabriel Davis on his own account. This was the last year of the service between Kingston and Oxford. Neither the Thames nor the paddle steamer Isis was ever owned by Salter’s, though John Salter was latterly the Oxford agent for the service. There seems to have been a gap in the provision of a service between Oxford and Kingston between 1884 and the start of the Salter’s service from Oxford with the Alaska in 1888. In 1886, John Salter advertised for hire from Folly Bridge a small steamer, the Isis. Confusion has arisen because of the name, but there was no similarity to Henry Astrop’s paddle steamer Isis, except in name. Salter’s launch was screw-driven, built around 1885 and fitted with an engine and boiler by Seeking’s of Gloucester. She could accommodate up to 34 passengers, 10 or 20 in comfort, and was advertised for hire up until the First World War. Salter Brothers acquired the steam launch Alaska in 1887, and started a service between Oxford and Kingston in 1888. In 1889 and 1891 they acquired two new boats for the through service, the Oxford (1) and Kingston, built by Clark of Brimscombe. Clark then built a smaller launch, the Swan, fast enough for umpiring boat races, but also fitted out for hiring to small parties. Two more boats for the through service also came from Brimscombe, the Windsor and Cliveden (1) in 1892. These were followed by the Henley and the Nuneham, after which Salter’s built their own boats. At the turn of the century, the Salter fleet consisted of the 9 boats: Alaska, Cliveden (1), Henley, Isis, Kingston, Nuneham, Oxford (1), Swan, and Windsor. In the next two years they added the Reading, Marlow and Sonning. Reading is the oldest survivor still in the Salter fleet. In 1905, Salter built the Streatley for themselves, which still exists as a steamship. Salter’s last deliveries before WW1 were the Goring in 1912 and Wargrave in 1913, both in the 2004 fleet. In 1915, Salter’s became a limited company, the Isis was sold and the Kingston and Windsor were sold for service in Mesopotamia, where they were joined by the Cliveden (1). In 1916 Salter’s acquired the Sovereign, built in 1902 for Charles Southgate of Windsor but more recently owned by George Harris of Oxford. She remained with Salter’s until 1925 when she was sold to Joseph Mears. Salter’s added another second-hand steamer to their fleet in 1919. This was the Queen of England, built in 1902 for Tom Taylor of Staines. In 1927 she was sold to Pearce of Teddington and then to Alfred Crouch. She was lost at Dunkirk. In 1922, the Oxford (2) was built, replacing the Oxford (1), and in 1923 the Hampton Court. In 1924 Salter’s added the Phoenix, later renamed Hurley. The large 103ft Mapledurham was built in 1927. The 40 ft motor launches Iffley and Leander were built in 1927 and 1931. (This was actually the third Iffley, as Salter’s had already owned two small motor launches of that name.). In 1931, Cliveden (2) revived the name last carried in 1912. In 1938 Salter’s bought the Grand Duchess, built in 1924 for Maynard of Reading. During WW2, Mapledurham and Cliveden (2) were used as medical emergency vessels in London. The Grand Duchess carried passengers for a short while in 1940 between Westminster and Tower Pier. In 1945 Salter’s acquired The Majestic and The Original River Queen (1896) from Cawston of Reading. Cawston’s Mystery may also have been transferred but was not used in service. In 1947 Salter’s took over the Queen of the Thames (3), built by J.Maynard for themselves in 1925, The Majestic and The Original River Queen (1896) from Cawston of Reading. The next addition was Mary Stuart in 1958, a traditional-looking Salter’s boat built on a hull purchased in Europe. In 1962, the Salter fleet reached a maximum of 19 boats consisting of: Cliveden (2), Goring, Grand Duchess, Hampton Court, Henley, Iffley (3), Leander, The Majestic, Mapledurham, Marlow, Mary Stuart, Nuneham, The Original River Queen, Oxford (2), Queen of the Thames (3), Reading, Sonning, Streatley and Wargrave. In 1964, three steamships remained in service, the Cliveden (2), The Majestic and Queen of the Thames (3), mainly between Windsor and Marlow.
By 1977, Grand Duchess, The Majestic, Nuneham, Queen of the Thames (3) and The Original River Queen had been sold; Henley and Marlow followed soon afterwards. Sonning left in 1982, leaving 11 boats: Cliveden (2), Goring, Hampton Court, Iffley (3), Leander, Mapledurham, Mary Stuart, Oxford (2), Reading, Streatley and Wargrave. However, there was already plans for a new boat, although Lady Ethel did not arrive until 1988. Iffley (3) went in 1986, and Leander became Iffley (4) in 1991, the fleet remaining at 11 vessels until 1995, although at this time Cliveden (2), Oxford (2), Reading and Streatley were all described as being laid up, leaving just seven operational boats. Streatley was sold in 1996, but since then the fleet has increased with Oxford (2) and Reading both all re-entering service and the small Broads-style Jean Marguerite joining in 1998. The latest fleet addition is the Maratana, obtained from Hobbs & Co in 2004. The active 2005 fleet (11 boats) was: Goring (90ft – 276 pass), Hampton Court (90ft – 199 pass), Iffley (4) (40ft – 47 pass), Jean Marguerite (44ft – 44 pass), Lady Ethel (57ft – 150 pass), Mapledurham (105ft – 345 pass), Maratana (44ft – 50 pass), Mary Stuart (69ft – 120 pass), Oxford (2) (90ft – 199 pass), Reading (85ft – 120 pass) and Wargrave (90ft – 199 pass). Cliveden (2) (105ft – 276 pass) remained laid up. The smaller Iffley (2), Jean Marguerite, Lady Ethel and Maratana are used for short trips and charter workings. The other seven boats are all of classic Edwardian steamer design (including the 1958 Mary Stuart) and between them they provide regular services along the length of the Thames between Oxford and Staines, although it would take 5 days to complete the trip, departing Oxford on a Monday. Boats are based at Oxford, Wallingford, Reading, Marlow and Windsor. Only the Oxford-Abingdon and Reading-Henley sections are daily, with other sections Wallingford-Abingdon, Wallingford-Reading, Henley-Marlow, Marlow-Windsor and Windsor-Staines running on selected weekdays only. Short trips are run from Oxford, Abingdon, Reading, Henley, Marlow and Windsor, with dedicated vessels at Oxford, Marlow and Windsor. At Abingdon, Reading and Henley, the boats fit occasional short cruises in between their longer stage trips. Five boats, generally ‘classic’ boats, are therefore required for the advertised service, plus three other boats to run advertised short trips. Of the vessels sold out of the fleet, Henley operates for Ed Langley between Westminster and Kew, Hurley still operates for Parr’s of Kingston, and Sonning operates for Green’s Passenger Launches on the Trent, in Newark. Marlow is out of use in a poor state at Peter Freebody’s yard at Hurley (Thames), and Streatley passed to Keith French at Wallingford in 2005. Nuneham remains in service, restored to steam, with French Brothers, who also owned Oxford (1), now the Gaiety (since converted to a house boat). Alaska, the historically significant pioneer of Salter’s Oxford-Kingston services, has been beautifully restored with her original steam engine, and operates charters for Thames Steamers. Salter’s also built a series of nine launches for Joseph Mears of Richmond between 1908 and 1926. The complete list is:- Viscount (1908), Connaught (1911), Royalty (1913), Hurlingham (1915), Kingwood (1915), Marchioness (1923), Queen Elizabeth (3) (1924), Abercorn (1925) and Viscountess (1926). All remain in service in 2007, except the Marchioness, which was lost in an accident in 1989, and Abercorn which suffered a major fire in 2005 whilst at her moorings. Amongst other boats built was the Endeavour My thanks to Simon Wenham of Salter Brothers, Julian Kennard, Iain MacLeod and Tony Langford for providing additional information and scans. I still have a lot of work to do on this page, and will be actively seeking more postcards and photographs. If you can help with scans or cards, please email:- simplon@simplon.co.uk

Next a slide show of the journey form Benson to Abingdon.

The river cruise to Abingdon from Benson takes 2.5 hours and is a very picturesque route. There is no commentary which I feel could have been provided.  The crew however were happy to answer questions. They told me about the Pooh sticks competition that happens on one of the bridges we passed.

DSCF7958 - Copy - Copy

DSCF8032DSCF8033DSCF7959 - Copy (2)Winnie the Pooh story about the Pooh sticks

We start the chapter with Pooh, who is walking towards a bridge over a stream in the forest. He is trying to make up a song about fir cones, because there are lots of them lying around, but he is not having much luck finding anything that rhymes with fir cone. Just as he comes to the bridge he trips, and the fir cone he was holding falls out of his paw and lands splash in the river.

Pooh says “Bother”, and starts to go and get another fir cone, but then he decides to just lie down and watch the river for a while in a peaceful type of way, and as he is looking at the river he suddenly sees his fir cone floating away down the river – he had dropped it on one side of the bridge, and now it has emerged from the other side of the bridge.

Pooh is intrigued by this discovery, and wants to see whether it is just a one-off or whether it will happen again with a new fir cone. And so he tries it again, and it does happen again – he drops the fir cone on one side of the bridge, and then sees it come out on the other side of the bridge.

Now that he has confirmed his first discovery, Pooh decides to raise the stakes a little bit – this time he drops two fir cones into the stream at once to see which one comes out from under the bridge first. One of them does come out first, but unfortunately Pooh can’t tell which one it is, as both fir cones were the same size, so then he tries it with one big fir cone and one small one, and the big one comes out first, which is what he predicted would happen (he had also predicted that the small one would come out last, and he was right about that too, which just shows you that Poohs have more brain than they are sometimes given credit for).

Pooh continues to play his fir cone game all afternoon, and by tea-time he has made 36 correct guesses and 28 incorrect guesses, which is pretty good going I think you’ll agree.

This is rather a momentous occasion…for Pooh has just invented Poohsticks! (It becomes Poohsticks rather than Poohfircones because it turns out that sticks are easier to mark than fir cones, so you can tell whose stick is whose).

So…one day Pooh and Piglet and Rabbit and Roo are all standing on the bridge playing Poohsticks. They all drop their sticks in the water when Rabbit says “Go!”, and then run across to the other side of the bridge to see which stick is the winner. It takes ages though, because the river is only going very slowly.

Roo gets overexcited in the meantime, and keeps thinking he has spotted his stick, when he probably hasn’t. Pooh thinks he can see Piglet’s stick, which is a bit greyish, and Piglet is thrilled to hear this, and is trying to look but carefully, in case he falls in.

Pooh is watching the progress of Piglet’s stick, and it’s big, and grey, and he’s sure that it’s Piglet’s stick – but then it turns out to be Eeyore instead! Everybody cries out “Eeyore!” in surprise, and Eeyore comes fully out from under the bridge, floating in a dignified manner with his legs in the air, and turning around gently in the river’s current. Roo says that he didn’t realise that Eeyore was playing, and Eeyore says that he wasn’t.

Abingdon is a very attractive town

Abingdon-on-Thames has a strong claim to be England’s oldest town. Archaeological digs have shown that this was one of the earliest areas in which our hunter-gatherer ancestors first began to lead more settled lifestyles, attracted by the food and trading opportunities that the confluence of the River Ockwith the River Thames provided.  (full history http://www.abingdon.gov.uk/discover-abingdon/abingdon-story )

Finally a slide show of pictures taken in Abingdon during the 1.5 hour break we had before having to travel back to Benson. This time the boat was full, a coach trip form Marlborough helped fill the Reading steamer up. By the way the first pub we encountered after leaving the boat was called “The Broad Face”. This is a very unusual name for a pub, I just love the pub sign as well!

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