WHEN Nicky and David Prior bought the Bridge Marine boatyard in June 1984, it was a rundown wreck of a place.
Situated in the shadow of Walton Bridge on the Middlesex bank of the Thames it had precisely six small boats on site, a main building and several huts, a crumbling slipway – and the grass and weeds, which covered most of the yard, were nearly as tall as the office.
A huge amount of work and several years later, the couple, who now live in Hamm Court, Weybridge, had transformed the yard into a going concern that was attracting customers from far and wide.
And a testament to Bridge Marine’s success occurs this weekend when the Priors’ daughter, Jenny Beagle, who now manages the place, is holding three open days to show off the range of services now on offer.
Nicky Prior said: “We’d had our boat, Francis, at the yard for a while and we saw a number of owners come and go but we always liked the place. So when it came on the market, we bought it and started the renovations.
“There were some old dilapidated bungalows at the back of the site and I had great fun knocking them down with a tractor as we cleared the place.”
The Priors then rebuilt the slipway in 1987 and bought in a boat-lifter and transporter (to lift bigger boats from the river) and a launching tractor for trailer-based craft and the yard soon filled up.
Jenny Beagle helped out during her parents’ tenure and when they retired in 2001, she was the obvious choice to step in and take over the ropes.
“Since then, we’ve massively expanded the chandlery side of the business and secured franchises to represent Suzuki outboards and a number of other marine companies,” Jenny told me.
Bridge Marine has remained remarkably unaffected by the current economic downturn and I asked Jenny why she thought that was.
“Because of the people here,” she answered promptly. “We all try our best to make our customers really welcome and we enjoy having a laugh and a joke with them. I’m very lucky that all the staff here just love their jobs and that comes over in everything we do. It doesn’t matter whether we’re servicing a big old diesel engine, selling a brand new outboard or launching a boat – we try to do everything with a smile on our faces and I think that counts for a lot with the customers.”
These days, there are upwards of a 100 boats – of all sizes from eight foot dinghies up to 40’ gin palaces – based at Bridge Marine and Jenny has a waiting list of people wanting to keep their boats at the yard so she must be doing something right.
Bridge Marine’s 25th anniversary open day demo weekend will run from Friday, June 26 to Sunday, June 28 from 9am to 5pm. There’ll be a number of demonstrations including various inflatables and outboards, kayaks and rope splicing. And the well-stocked chandlery will be offering a 10% discount to customers throughout the three days.
I can recommend a visit to the place – it must be one of the friendliest boatyards on the Thames.
NEXT week: Part two of my look at Dot Beeson’s swan sanctuary.
Also, what’s your view about Surrey Police’s decision to phase out the role of river policeman – write and let me know at mortsmith [at] trinitysouth.co.uk or call me on 01932 561111.