February meeting review

Thankfully, the evening of 18th February was dry and mild (for the time of year) so a lot of members were able to enjoy the Iffley History Society’s first talk of the year on Salters’ of Oxford. I was also delighted to discover that the talk attracted some visitors who had direct connection with the firm – this added an extra dimension to the post talk questions and chatter.

Our speaker, Simon Wenham , it turned out, had not just an academic interest in the firm , having  briefly worked for the firm earlier in his academic career.
Simon gave a very fascinating talk, mixing hard facts and statistics, with entertaining anecdote and a fascinating selection of illustrations from the history of this firm which has been builder and hiring all manner of boats since 1858. I am sure I was not alone in having been completely ignorant as how important this firm had been for the working life of Oxford – before the arrival of the motor industry.  It was also a fascinating insight into the birth of the leisure industry.

Salters' base at Folly Bridge c1906

Salters’ base at Folly Bridge c1906

But Simon lecture told us that it does the firm injustice just to think of it as local or even English – such was its fame in its heyday that its craft were exported around the empire, and were even used by missionaries in the Congo!

For anyone who missed the talk – or has a memory like mine and therefore could benefit from a written record – there is an article,  based on Simon’s MSc thesis, thanks to the Oxford History and Architectural Society digitising its journal and making most of the volumes  freely available online. (There is a small embargo over the most recent issue when only members of the Society can read it.)  The article is called Salters’ of Oxford: a history of a Thames boating firm over a century of evolution 1858 – c1960 and was published  Oxoniensia volume LXXI 2006, beginning at page 111. (You download individual articles as pdfs) A book – based this time on Simon’s doctoral thesis and called Pleasure boating on the Thames – will be published by the The History Press in May this year.

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