AUTHOR Simon Wenham first became interested in the Salter Bros’ rich history when he discovered the company archive while working at its Folly Bridge base.
The history student then researched the Oxford business for a Masters research degree at the University of Oxford before writing a doctorate on the family firm’s history.
He said: “People don’t realise, I did not realise, just how famous and how prominent they are.”
His 228-page book, which is due to go on sale next month, has been compiled using the 36-year-old Marston resident’s university research.
Alaska, the boat Salter’s first used on the Oxford and Abingdon service from 1888
Some of the stories he uncovered include the firm’s unwitting role in the suffragette movement, a surge in trade after the Titanic sank, and the family’s role in the Oxford and Cambridge boat races.
Married father-of-one Dr Wenham first got a summer job with the boating firm in 1998 while he was an undergraduate history student at the University of Sheffield.
The former Cherwell School pupil became the operations manager in 2000 and worked there until 2005 when he left to study the history of the business. He finally finished his doctorate last year.
He said the firm, as well as popularising pleasure boating on the Thames, had manufactured and sold boats – including pleasure, racing and military crafts – across the world.
Dr Wenham said: “You think it is just a little business but when you go through the generations you realise they have had quite a major role in Oxford and the Thames Valley’s history and also that they are world famous.”
But he said the tale of how the family business has survived such a long time is also an incredible story.
He said: “It is interesting how the business has survived and still survives under the same ownership of the family and evolved – particularly when Oxford has changed so much with the arrival of the motor works.”
Orders for the firms Oxford Collapsible Lifeboat rocketed after the sinking of the Titanic in 1912
The writer said at the business’s peak in the 1970s it was carrying 500,000 people every year on the Thames, adding: “Lots and lots of people will have gone on the Thames in one of their boats.
“It is something Oxford can be proud of and the family can be proud of for keeping it going.”
The book is due to be published on Monday, May 5, and Dr Wenham will be at a launch party on a boat at the Folly Bridge base on June 2 from 5.30pm to 7pm.
‘We are really proud of our long family history’
PAUL Salter is now a director at the firm his ancestors started in 1858.
The 25-year-old, the sixth generation of the Salter family to help run the firm, said: “We are really proud of the family history and the fact that it is still going strong 155 years on.”
Salter’s green barge, circa 1870, used as the finish line for university rowing races
He said the firm had made a few changes down the line, such as a new logo unveiled this year, but the business was always going to evolve around simple leisure trips down the River Thames.
And he said the biggest factor in the firm’s success was always the weather, adding: “When the weather is nice it is nice to go outside and enjoy the River Thames.”
Mr Salter also said he hopes any future children he is lucky enough to have will take on the business after him.
He said: “The plan is just to keep going as we are. I am sure we will have no worries.”
- In 1912 Helen Craggs, a suffragette, was convicted of attempting to burn down Nuneham House, having used two Salters’ boats for reconnaissance.
- In 1905 Salters’ supplied the Baptist Missionary Society with a steamer named Endeavour, right, for use in the Congo. A dedication service was held at Folly Bridge and the boat was dismantled and sent to Africa via Liverpool.
- In 1911 Salters’ constructed a single lifeboat, but after the sinking of the Titanic in the Atlantic, the demand for lifeboats rocketed. In 1912 the firm received 29 orders for its largest model, the Oxford Collapsible Lifeboat.
Facts on the firm
The Oxford business was founded in 1858 by brothers John and Stephen Salter.
In the 1860s it was the leading racing-boat-builder in the country and was exporting boats around the world
By the 1880s it was one of the largest boat-letters in the country and at one time had 900 boats in its fleet.
The firm had many prestigious customers, including Edward VII, Indian royalty, TE Lawrence, CS Lewis and Edward VIII
The firm now has other offices in Windsor and Reading as well as landing stages along the river including in Abingdon and Wallingford.
- Salter’s Steamers Ltd is still owned and run by fifth and sixth generation members of the Salter family who founded the business.
- Second generation brothers John and James Salter both became mayors of Oxford.
- Arthur Salter (1881-1975) became a lecturer at All Soul’s College, an MP for the university and was later given the title Baron Salter of Kidlington.