IT SEEMS I was not alone in mourning the passing of part of the old Thornycroft launch works on Platts Eyot which was destroyed by a fire recently – it brought back memories for a couple of families who had happy associations with the company.
Firstly, Alan Hill, who now lives in Burnham on Crouch in Essex, but who served his apprenticeship as a boat designer and builder at Thornycroft, contacted me.
He said: “I started in the drawing office in 1948 at 15 years of age having first, on leaving school, joined the accounts department.
“I was always interested in boats and started early – I built a number during the war out of Tate and Lyle sugar boxes but, sadly, they didn’t float!”
Alan recalls that Thornycroft’s was a real family affair with dances held each month in the works canteen.
He kindly provided me with this group photo and says: “Centre of the third row down is Mr Miles, the managing director with Mr Bryant of accounts and the two general managers, Mr Franklin and Mr Bish. The rest are boat builders, joiners, electricians and drawing office personnel.
“They were a good crew who between them must have built dozens of assorted craft including a 106-foot minesweeper, Dark class and Gay class motor torpedo boats – all sorts.”
Working for Thornycroft certainly set the pattern for Alan’s professional career because after three years’ national service with Coastal Command he went on to study yacht design before starting up his business in Burnham on Crouch.
Even then, his association with the Thames didn’t end because he designed a number of craft, which plied the river.
One, Windrush, was designed for what was then Thames Water.
Alan says: “She was steel constructed and launched in 1989 as a10-passenger patrol vessel and to carry VIPs on the Thames. When the Environment Agency took over responsibility for looking after the river she was sold off and where she is now, who knows?”
He also designed all the existing EA 29-31-foot patrol vessels.
Alan, who retired in 2002, still looks back on his time at Thornycroft with very fond memories.
ANOTHER for whom Thornycroft brought back happy memories was Bridget Penn of Molesey whose brother, Peter Richardson, also served his apprenticeship as a boat builder with the firm.
She said: “Peter was always so proud of working for Thornycroft because they had such a wonderful reputation. He went on to start up his own boat building business on the Isle of Wight, firstly at Yarmouth and then later, in Cowes.”
Bridget, now 78, recalls that the family used to live in Weir Road, Chertsey and the children spent much of their childhood swimming in the river.
Sadly, Peter Richardson died in 2008 at the age of 76, but his legacy lives on because his sons now run the boat building business in Cowes.
All seeds sown at a little Thames company called Thornycrofts.