The Society currently owns five boats, Sgian Dubh (a shallop), Thomasina (a skiff), Running Waters (a Canadian canoe), “The Gig”, and Louise (a skiff). These boats are available for use by members. The boats are stored at Port Fonty and their use is administered by the Boats supervisor and the Vice Captain. The boat usage policy is available here. The Boat Supervisor can be contacted using this form:
In 2000, David Warren suggested to the TTBS that they take over the ownership of “Sgian Dubh”, his Shallop. A “sgian dubh” [English translation “Black Knife”] is the knife you see in traditional Scottish dress kept down the side of the stocking. This is the traditional Scottish Gaelic spelling although you can find it spelt in up to 8 different ways.
The boat was commissioned by David from Mark Edwards (Richmond Bridge Boathouses)
in 1994 for use by his family to compete in the Great River Race. She is 32 foot long with options to use 3 or 4 scullers, cox and up to 3 passengers and is quite narrow as she was built for speed! Hence the name. Made of what Mark first referred to as ‘cigar packing case’ timbers, Brazilian cedar, with oak timbers, “Sgian Dubh” is light in construction and tends to twist so care has to be taken with her and it also causes her to creak. She has rowlocks but can also be adapted to use thole-pins.
The boat was originally on a mooring under Richmond Bridge but as the family became otherwise engaged, “Sgian Dubh” was not getting much use so David offered her to the TTBS. The Society accepted this generous offer although at that time did not have its own storage facility. However, space was found at Radley College, by TTBS member, Ray Underwood, who worked there as Boatman.
The boat was moved to Society bespoke boatstore, Port Fonty when building was completed in October 2003, where John Greenford gave her a much-needed overhaul with minor repairs being made. The plan was for Society members to help maintain it and the following Spring, “Sgian Dubh” was varnished by Society members. The following year, 2005, a working party with many willing hands came down to
help but it soon became evident that nobody rubs down or vanishes the same way. And the decision was made for one person to complete the job.
Meanwhile, the fact that “Sgian Dubh” was an ideal racing skiff had been noticed by Malcolm Knight who had a team from Dittons Skiff and Punting Club wanting to attempt to break the record for the Giant Meander. Using “Sgian Dubh” they achieved this and gained an entry in the Guinness Book of Records in 2004, but it has since been surpassed. In October 2005 “Sgian Dubh” was invited to be part of the Flotilla that commemorated the funeral of Admiral Lord Nelson. Thereafter, when Malcolm became Secretary of Thames Traditional Rowing Association and started to organise pageants on the Thames, “Sgian Dubh” was one of the first boats to take part. She has participated in the Tudor Pull from the outset, the Lord Mayor’s Parade, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant, Olympic Torch Relay, and the Boat Race Flotilla. She has of course entered the Great River Race many times, for which she was built.
She has also been abroad to Poland, and Italy where she participated in the ‘Voga Longa’ in Venice. She has quite a variety of flags and pennants that have been used for the special occasions and pageants.
We also use her at Port Fonty for outings too. For some years there has been a pattern of a repair here or there by boatbuilders, Mark Edwards, John Greenford and Ryan Kearley but when it comes to varnishing, both Ray Underwood and more recently Ryan Kearley. have kept the boat in good shape.
In 2011, when the Society found new Members were needing to have the use of a solid double skiff, it was decided to purchase one for beginners and for loan to non boat owning members. Aware that an older double skiff, “Thomasina” belonging to member Caroline Hooper was going on the market, the Society offered to buy it. Th
us, boat and her “Hardy” trailer were purchased, knowing that she had been reasonably well maintained, John Greenford having done a serious amount of work on her when she was first purchased by the Hoopers in 2004.
“Thomasina” was built at Ashleys of Pangbourne by, we think, Walter Downing, a builder who is know
n to have worked in the yard from 1905 to 1912. Other TTBS members have boats made by this builder and it is possible to see similarities in the construction but no name appears on the underside of the thwarts or other parts of the boat. She was used as a hire boat by Ashleys, then by Hobbs who bought the yard, until the late 1990’s. She is 24 ft long and built of mahogany on oak timbers and has thole pins.
After purchasing her, “Thomasina” was put on trestles and overhauled. Two, new to her, pairs of sculls were adapted and she started being used on the Port Fonty outings which take place once a month. She has accompanied the Society to boat Shows and even gone on the Tideway in the newer parade known as the Boat Race Flotilla. We have recently fitted custom made cushions of a traditional design to the bow passenger seat, for extra comfort. Whilst “Thomasina” has cost the Society to keep up with repairs, she enables our many members who do not own their own boats the pleasure of “messing about in boats”. She also has her own camping cover and hoops for members to experience the full “Three Men in a Boat” experience.
To further promote the preservation of boats used on the River Thames in the past, in 2015 we accepted the gift of a 1885 Peterborough canoe, “Running Waters” from Mike Pearman, a member of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association. When John and I were sent to inspect her we came back to the Committee saying “we cannot say no!”
This beautiful l6 foot canoe is unusual in that the strips of cedar from which she is made are placed around the boat and not along, as was more common. She was exported from the USA to Paris to be given as a wedding present to a French couple. When they subsequently moved to England they brought “Running Waters” with them, but she was never used it. The story further related that she was very similar to one given by the Peterborough Company to our Queen on her marriage to Prince Philip, now located in the Canoe Museum in Canada.
She more recently had a stern seat fitted and had been re varnished as she was leaking. Kneeling was, and is still used by some, when paddling but sitting is now found by moany to be the most comfortable way to use the craft. A bow seat had already been added by Mark Stanley who initially strengthened the inwhale with mahogany and varnished her.
Since we acquired the canoe, the Society has been presented with two lovely old canoe paddles by member Martin Jarrett, the design being similar to her original paddles. She also has a small “junk” sail with bamboo spars that we think are original.
“Running Waters” is popular with our younger members and is regularly used at Society events, both regular Port Fonty outings and at boat shows. We now have several members who are canoeists and she enables those who do not won their own canoe to attend specialist canoe days and other events.
“The Gig” was one of two built by George R Dunton of Shepperton in 1883 of Honduras Cedar on a pitch pine keel with oak frames and timbers. This is probably the only surviving gig built by this company. George Dunton was best known for building punts and was famous for being the builder of the “Best of the Best” and “Two Foot” racing punts.
It would appear she has never had a name and is therefore simply known as “The Gig”
She is in an original condition with the original pine floorboards, fore and aft checkerboard gratings. One unusual feature is there is a high grating in the bow which when lifted up reveals the floor is cut out to hold bottles or glasses! The bow thwart is pierced for a sailing mast and has 2 drawers beneath
The first owner was the Vicar of Streatley, and the boat has spent most of her life at Streatley Vicarage. The boat was in storage for many years. A TTBS member, Peter Philips, was living at the Old Vicarage, Streatley. He learnt of the boat and purchased her in 1993. A full restoration was carried out by T Green & Co of Remenham Hill. Following Peter’s death and the subsequent sale of the Old Vicarage, The Gig passed to the new owners. They have generously donated this historic boat to the TTBS to look after and maintain.
We exhibited her at the Thames Traditional Boat Festival in 2023 and according to their records The Gig is probably the oldest unpowered craft to appear at the Festival.
Gigs and skiffs are the traditional unpowered boats of the Thames and the Society is lucky to such a fine example in its care
Louise is a 25 foot, mahogany on oak, double sculling skiff built by Messums in 1898, and has many of her original fittings.
She was bought by John Shine in 1920 from H Hammerton and Sons of Long Ditton for the sum of £40. As part of his work for the Admiralty during the First World War John had been aboard ships during enemy action and had resolved that if he survived the War he would buy a boat. When he purchased the boat the name was “Dare” and he changed it to that of his wife, “Louise”, which is far more suitable for such a lovely craft. John later passed the boat to his son, Tony. Louise has been kept in fine condition by the Shine family, and Freebody and Sons did a full restoration in 1987 for the sum of £5000, and Henwood and Dean re-varnished the exterior in 1999.
The Society is grateful to the Shine family for generously donating Louise to the Society
Messums were one of the leading skiff builders on the Thames and Louise is a fine example of their craftmanship