New book by Simon Wenham (right) traces history of Salters Brothers

It is one of the best-known names on the river. Now a new book tells the history of Salter Brothers of Oxford.

Simon Wenham’s book is based on a remarkable archive of company records and other material dating from the 19th century to the present day.

Pleasure Boating on the Thames tells the story of a family business that reflects changes on the river over some 150 years particularly the transition from working river to a waterway used mainly for leisure.

Known these days for its passenger boats the company traces its origins back to the popularity of rowing as a sport in Victorian times. Salters built racing boats but also hired them to clubs and individuals and by the 1870s owned no fewer than 400 boats far more than other firms on the Thames. They even built and owned barges which were hired to Oxford Uinviersity boat clubs.

As a boat builder the firm constructed everything from skiffs to war-time landing craft, from children’s paddle boats for amusement parks to racing motor boats and 110ft passenger vessels.The author estimates that between 1858 and 1980 the company produced some 17,000 craft.

Salters were pioneers of the “holiday afloat” and at one time rented out boats for a one-way trip from Oxford to London after which the company brought back the craft by road.

It was the development of the railway and the availability of cheap excursions that in turn led to the expansion of the passenger boat side of the business. At one time a scheduled service ran on the river from Kingston to Oxford.

Some of the vessels used for this service and for shorter trips are still in use today -  like Reading (dating from1901) Goring (1912) and Wargrave (1913) Some like Alaska are owned by other companies but still on the river.

The book charts the ups and downs of the company – it struggled during the Depression of the 1930s but trips on the river were popular with passengers wanting to get away from Blitz-affected London. Working in partnership with railway companies, and later with coach firms, Salters developed into the major river excursion company on the Upper Thames.

The author Simon Wenham once worked for the company himself and is now a research assistant for an Oxford academic. His book is based on a thesis he researched and wrote for his PhD degree.

He said: “In many ways Salters is a unique company on the Thames. It is certainly the best-documented. I I had access to a vast amount of archive material which was a tremendously helpful resource."

Remarkably detailed, the book also has fascinating glimpses of life on the river: Lewis Carroll is said to have first read Alice in Wonderland to friends on a day out aboard a Salters hire boat; at one time the company did not operate on a Sunday because of the founders' Methodist beliefs. The company built two large vessels for the Baptist Missionary Society for use in Africa. The boats were built in Oxford then dismantled for reassembling in the Congo.

For anyone interested in the River Thames this is a recommended, fascinating read which not only tells the story of a famous river firm but recounts how firm's history reflects the changing face of boating from Victorian times until the present day.

Buy the book today via Amazon - link top right - of from Blackwells of Oxford below.

Story dated June 12th 2014








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Superb colour cine film of the Thames has been put online by the British Film Institute. Watch it below

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