THE Walton Yacht Company was something of an enigma, having been founded in the 1930s and grown to the point where it was employing more than 400 people at its site just downstream of Walton Bridge on the Middlesex bank of the Thames.
Then by the late 1950s it disappeared just as quickly as it arrived.
But while it was in operation, it made a terrific impact on the lives of the folk who worked there.
One such was Allen Pady, now a sprightly 83-year-old from Snellings Road, Hersham, who remembers signing on at the yacht works as a 16-year-old apprentice in May 1941.
“It was actually because of my mum,” Allen recalled.
“She went into the works to ask whether they were looking for any apprentices and I got the job from that.”
“I started just blocking rivets (holding a metal weight against the rivet head on the outside of the boat while a boatbuilder hammered the tail of the rivet firmly into place) but I went through the whole training process and eventually emerged as a fully-qualified boatbuilder.”
During the first year of his apprenticeship, Allen earned the princely sum of 10 shillings a week (50p in today’s money) but he was able to supplement that by acting as a fire-watcher during air raids.
“Because we were making boats for the navy and the air force, the yard was a prime target for German bombers and they needed fire-watchers to be there every night with water pumps and sand,” he said.
“We got paid £1 a night so we were glad to do it – the equivalent of two week’s money for one night’s work!”
During his time at the yacht works, Allen helped to build countless boats, including 3oft police launches, 60ft torpedo recovery craft and 65ft air-sea rescue launches. At its peak, the yard turned out one such launch every week.
Len Glover from Joinville Place, Addlestone also spent time at the yacht works. He joined the firm just after the war when it was run by the Odell family. Len had been in the RAF and had a penchant for working with engines.
When he asked if they had a job, the boss, Leslie Odell, heard he had experience with motor engines and said: “I think you’re just the man I’m looking for.”
Len, now 83, said: “He pulled open some boatshed doors and, to my amazement, there were a lot of cars jacked up and covered with sheets.”
Odell told Len the vehicles had been stored during the war and he wanted them all made roadworthy again. After Len got them all running, Odell decided he wanted to take part in the Monte Carlo Rally in 1949 and asked Len to prepare a car for him.
He promised to take him along and Len put his heart and soul into preparing a Triumph Roadster for the trip.
Sadly, at the last minute, Odell decided to take someone else and Len was so upset he promptly handed in his notice. “I was young and impetuous,” he recalled ruefully. “But I was really disappointed after all the work I’d done.”
The Odell company produced a number of stylish waterbuses which were used to carry day-trippers between Hampton Court, Kingston, Richmond and Westminster during the 1950s and 60s.
Another who remembers the yacht works is Iris Freestone from Rydens Grove, Walton.
Her father, Stanley Dedman, worked on building some of the riverbuses.
“I remember it was a very busy place,” she said. “I recall as a child standing on the Surrey bank of the river, waiting for my father, and there would be a hooter to signify the end of the working day.
“There would be an absolute flood of men coming across Walton Bridge shortly after.”
The yacht works was eventually bought by a company called Laconite, which made building materials, and when they moved out the site was left empty for several years. It was eventually bought by developers and contains prestigious riverside flats.
But the spirit of the craftsmen who turned out some superb watercraft at the site is obviously something that many local people won’t forget.