Oxford, the Thames and leisure: updated thoughts (August 2016)

This month (August 2016) my doctoral thesis (‘Oxford, the Thames and Leisure: a History of Salter Bros, 1858 – 2010‘) is finally made available for full download. Since publication (2013), a number of my views have evolved, which may be of interest to scholars studying any of the particular areas. The comments relating to the thesis are shown below, whilst a popular level summary of the firm’s history can be read by clicking here:


  1. In the section on racing boats (pp. 24-39), more could perhaps have been made of the rivalry between northern (Tyne) and southern yards (Thames), although the Salters themselves appear to have been on good terms with the Clasper family. See this article for more on the leading racing boat builders.
  2. Frederick Rough is shown as being John Clasper’s son-in-law (pp. 31 and 58), when it fact he was his brother-in-law. Nevertheless, the latter was the leading constructor at the time, so he is still likely to have been the senior party.
  3. I mentioned T. E. Lawrence (p. 58), but did not mention that he often left his motorbike at the Salter family house, when he went abroad.


  1. In 2015, I conducted an interview with boat-builder, Richard Tyrrell, who worked at the firm in the late 1940s. He gave more detailed information about the state of the boat-building department at that time, which emphasised some of the problems they were experiencing after the war, such as a lack of training for new recruits (even for the apprentices), the thought that it was a dying trade and even the fact there was only one staff member who could understand technical drawings.
  2. More could also have been included on the time it took to build certain boats. I have more comprehensive information about this, but it was not included in the thesis.
  3. The Titanic is mentioned in the thesis (pp. 74-5), but I don’t mention that one of the employees (William Paintin) had a son who was the ship’s steward on the liner (James Paintin).
  4. I mentioned Warren Lewis’ boat (brother of C. S. Lewis), but I didn’t mention that it was part of the Upper Thames Patrol during the Second World War.

Pleasure boating

  1. I have been working on a more comprehensive overview of the early history of the Thames for the ‘European Rivers and Towns‘ initiative. This will be available in published form in due course.
  2. I use the term ‘golden age of the Thames’ as this has been used by a number of popular writings. Nevertheless, I decided that the expression was perhaps unhelpful, so it was omitted it in the subsequent book.
  3. Discerning when the river was at its busiest continues to be a difficult matter. The sources make it difficult to even compare the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, although we know that recorded traffic through the locks was highest in the 1970s.
  4. I mentioned the anti-urbanism of authors like William Morris (p. 127), but it should have been noted that his News from Nowhere was actually written after a trip on a Salters’ houseboat (named Ark).
  5. The history of water-based camping is mentioned in the thesis (pp. 134-8), but my work in this area has been enhanced greatly and turned into an academic article. I argue that recreational camping was first popularised on the river Thames, which goes against the received wisdom of it being first popularised by other groups, like the Boys’ Bridge or the Association of Cycle Campers.
  6. More could perhaps have been made of the development of certain resorts, including those that were popular prior to the railway.

Passenger boats

  1. More could perhaps have been said about the competition from different craft. This was not done so because of Frank Dix’s comprehensive work on the history of passenger boat services on the river.
  2. The 1891 changes would have allowed three single trips rather than return trips (as stated on p. 185).
  3. More could have perhaps have been said about the sheer novelty and experience of being on a steamer (p. 189). Historians have noted the thrill of travelling by train, but going on the Thames would have also been quite an experience.
  4. Some of the more recent information about developments on the river were omitted, such as the ‘Park and Glide’ scheme in 2002, a completely impractical initiative of using the river for transportation. Another was some of the changes in the timetable by Salters’, such as the reopening of the Wallingford services in 2003 or the reduction of services around the Windsor area in 2015.
  5. More could perhaps have been made of the other firms forging their own local identity, which was even manifested in their names (e.g. Hobbs of Henley and French Brothers of Windsor).
  6. In the section of marketing it could have been stressed more than Salters’ was not advertising a great deal by the end of the twentieth century, because of financial difficulties.
  7. Some of the information about other boat companies used their current names in the description rather than their original legal names (e.g. Thames River Cruise’s legal name was D and T Scenics) and one of the founders of French Brothers was omitted (Christopher French).


  1. The article mentions the burning down of a rival’s yard by the suffragettes and more can be read about this in the popular-level article ‘Acid and arson: the darker side of the Oxford suffragette movement‘.
  2. The firm has continued to add more property since the thesis was finished, including adding Abingdon Boat Centre in 2015.


  1. I have only touched upon the different family members, but a biography has been recently completed on Lord Arthur Salter, called Power, Policy and Personality.
  2. Some of the fluctuations of wage levels can be explained by inflation (p. 252).
  3. Another aspect that could have covered in more depth was examining the experience of work, as a form of leisure. In this respect, it has some parallels with those who do sport for money, i.e. it has an aspect of enjoyment to it.
  4. Apparently the steam engineer was known as the ‘driver’.
  5. The appeal of working on board the steamers has been elaborated further in the book, Pleasure Boating on the Thames.


  1. The thesis originally had a seventh chapter, which looked at the influence of religion on the family and the firm. This had to be cut because of lack of space, but a version of it appeared in the subsequent book, Pleasure Boating on the Thames.

[If any scholars have any questions about any of the themes covered in the thesis, then please do not hesitate to get in touch]

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