Friday, 10 September 2010

V Radley and Sons Boat Builders on the River Lea

First Boat House at Lea Bridge
The New Boat House and proprietor Vincent Radley  early 1900s
V Radley and Sons were a family boat building company who operated on the river Lea in NE London in the Clapton area from the early 1840s to 1970 through four generations of Radleys . They built wooden boats both racing and for leisure. The first known picture of their premises is shown above probably taken in the late 19th or early 20th century.
At its peak in the 20th century there were three sites the last of which was at  Springhill opposite what is now Lea Rowing Club.

 Boats were both built and hired out and facilities were rented to rowing clubs. The business was started by George Terence Radley and his wife Phoebe and the earliest record of it is newspaper articles in 1844 which refer to Phoebe as a boat proprietor, and as hiring out boats on the River Lea. The articles describe a drowning inquest in which Phoebe was a witness. A 1855 wedding certificate shows George as a boat builder but prior to 1855 documented records, the 1841 and 1851 censuses, and Vincent Radleys 1849 birth certificate show George as a dyer so it is postulated that the business started as boat hire with boat building coming later. However, the exact course of events is not known. The business was initially known as Radleys Boat House. Georges’ son Vincent took over after 1865 when George died and became known as V Radley and Sons from the late 19th century until 1970.
In the first half of the 20th century the Radleys were the principal boat builders, owners and hirers on the River Lea at Clapton, east London. At its peak from the early 1900s to 1932 there were three boathouses - the Old Boathouse or Old Mill Boathouse (also known as Radleys Boat House) south of Lea Bridge, the New Boathouse north of Lea Bridge adjacent to the Kings Head public house  and the Bungalow at Springhill.
Vincent’s son Wallis George Radley ran the business after he died in 1923. It is possible that Wallis’s elder brother also Vincent had been intended to take over the business but he had died in 1915. Also Wallis served a waterman’s apprenticeship rather than as a boat builder. Wallis George died in 1943 and his son Ken took over but his management was short lived and his brother Sid and took over the reins in 1949 with the help of his brother Wally. The business ceased trading when Sid died in 1970 and the site was sold to the Lea Valley regional park authority and is now Springfield Marina.
The business was well known in rowing/boat building circles and Vincent, Wallis George and Sid all had obituaries in the newspapers. A number of family members were expert oarsman with Shirley Radley one of Sid’s daughters rowing in an England eight in 1951 and her sister June missing out due to a back injury. The family also put together rowing crews consisting of Radley family members pairs, fours and eights pictures of which appeared in the national press. Laurie Radley sculled in professional races in the inter war years, in those days people in the boat building trade were barred from amateur events such as Henley.
There are still a number of Radley built boats in existence one of which was displayed in June 2010 at the Wooden Boat Show at Mystic Seaport Museum Connecticut USA. A picture of this boat, a clinker whiff, appeared on the Hear the Boat Sing web site along with the following:
‘Steve Ferlauto also had a beautiful old single on display by boat builder V Radley and sons. (see picture below) who built boats on the river Lea in east London starting during the 19th century. It has probably been restored on a couple of occasions, with a sliding seat, ‘new’ clogs, etc. – a beautiful craftsman work, indeed.’ This boat was almost certainly built by Sid Radley at some time after World War 2 in the 40s or 50s.

Radley Family Eight on Lea by Springhill Boat House
Wallis had ten children and formed family rowing crews both fours and eights. Two of his sons rowed for prize money in professional sculling races. A number of rowing clubs were based at Radley premises including Cecil Ladies one of the first Ladies rowing clubs started by Vincents sister Phoebe.