Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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This article More than a Mooring - Uxbridge Boat Centre is the copyright of Jim Shead - The fourth of a regular series of articles on marinas and boatyards. First published in Waterways World January 2004.
Uxbridge Boat Centre
This is a traditional boatyard with a history that goes back to the days of Fellows, Morton & Clayton who ran the yard right up to 1948 when the company went into liquidation and the premises were bought by the British Transport Commission. It was then little used and left derelict for many years before it was taken over by a company called Uxbridge Marine for three years before they too ceased trading. In October 1976 the present owner, Alan Boswell, took over the boatyard. At that time it was a repair yard for wooden boats employing three carpenters, one welder and a full-time painter. Today their work is almost entirely on steel boats so they now have three welders, just one carpenter and a painter.
Alan's interest in the waterways started when he bought a wooden lifeboat at Kingston on Thames and brought it back to Rickmansworth. This led to a desire to get into the boating business, which he did in 1968 by running hire boats at Willow Wren Wharf, Bulls Bridge in Hayes. This was in the mushroom years of the hire-boat industry but when the Uxbridge yard came on the market he decided it was time for a change, which was fortunate as the hire-boat business took a dive the next year. Linda Hamilton, Alan's fellow director at the Uxbridge Boat Centre, joined the company soon after it started in 1976. She had finished college, was looking for a job and knew Alan, as she had previously hired one of his boats with some of her college friends.
In the early days of the business they introduced the chandlery based on the original parts store for the boatyard. Starting with a table in one room the chandlery grew and grew over the years with racks and storage buckets being added and the area allocated to it increasing. Now they carry an impressive range of goods and the chandlery shop now accounts for the largest proportion of their turnover. They also supply a lot of items by mail order and have a range of their own unique items that they manufacture on site.
For about three years around the end of the 1970s to 1980 or 81 they jointly owned a Dutch barge with Bill Fisher who now runs the Newbury Boat Company. In this they carried grain from Tilbury up the Thames and the River Wey to Coxes Mill. At the time a photograph of the loaded boat coming through Tower Bridge appeared on the front cover of WW.
Today, in addition to the well stocked chandlery, they have a dry-dock, crane and a collection of workshops that provide boat repair, servicing, engine repair and DIY facilities. They have their own machine shop and manufacture stern-gear, narrowboat chimneys and quite a lot of other boat related items. Although they do not build narrowboat shells they will build one-off specialist boats and do boat fitting. Cutting and lengthening boats is something they do fairly regularly as is over-plating. A lot of boats built in the 70s, that have not been very well looked after, are being re-plated. They were built with 6mm bottom plates, or less, in those days but it may give some clue to finding out how long narrowboats last. The skeg straightening and rudder repair business is boosted by Denham Deep Lock, which catches many people out. This is a busy yard working on a lot of boats and sometimes they take six boats out of the water in a week for work in the yard or for one-day surveys, many of which are referred to them by the nearby Virginia Currer Marine brokerage.
Uxbridge Boat Centre is not really big in the moorings business they have some moorings further down the canal but not many. One of the drawbacks of the site is that it only has 110 foot of waterfront and this is always packed out with boats waiting to be lifted out or worked on. Don't let this deter you from visiting if you are passing by boat. I have always found it possible to moor there when required although it has always meant mooring three or four boats out from the bank. If you are the kind of person who enjoys looking around chandlery shops you will find this one a delight.
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