A rich history. A bright future.
Lots Ait Boatyard is situated on an island in the river Thames between Kew Gardens and Brentford. An important part of London’s commercial boating history, it was one of the last tidal boatyards to be closed in the early 1970’s. Thanks partly to its island location, Lots Ait avoided re-development and for a long time remained very much as it was left over 40 years ago with weeds and undergrowth hiding the vintage boat sheds and machinery that were formerly a hive of activity.
Thanks to plans developed by the islands owners, the Thames and General Lighterage Company, and the late John Watson, dearly missed founder of John’s Boat Works Ltd, the Lots Ait boatyard and workshops with its principal tidal dock and specialist equipment are gradually being restored to former glory, with the remaining tidal docks made available as leisure moorings.
Amongst other improvements in recent years are a footbridge installed to provide pedestrian access. Friend of John and current owner of John’s Boat Works, Patrick Unwin, took the helm in 2022 and is committed to continuing to make improvements across the site, with many exciting projects on the go. An area of the island fronting the Thames will remain untouched to provide a natural habitat for the local wildlife, as per John’s wishes.
The history of Lots Ait
The boatyard on Lots Ait was established in the 1920’s by the Thames Lighterage Company to provide a base for the building and repair of the steel hulled lighter boats that were used to transport goods between the London Docks and the Grand Junction (later Grand Union) canal and the Great Western Railway, providing access to and from the heart of the nation.
The coming of motorways and shipping containerisation introduced in the 1950s and 60s caused the commercial river going traffic that had dominated the tidal Thames since the early days of the industrial revolution to enter a rapid and terminal decline. This led to the riverside boat yards shutting one by one. Lots Ait was one of the final boat yards to close in the 1970s and is almost unique in being preserved in its original form.
In John’s words…
Here’s what John had to say back in 2011 prior to John’s Boat Works opening for business for the first time: “I have a lifelong passion for traditional boatbuilding and our great boating heritage, so having the opportunity to be involved in reopening Lots Ait boatyard is a dream come true. The revitalised boatyard will provide a fantastic boatbuilding and repair resource on the Thames for boat owners and enthusiasts and will also provide an opportunity for a new generation of craftsmen and women to experience and acquire traditional and modern boatbuilding and restoration skills.”
“We will provide facilities for all types of restoration work, equipment on site will include a travelling crane to enable work to be performed on vessels in the tidal dock, while a restored trolley and lift engine will enable vessels to be taken up the slipway railway for survey, inspection and short term repair. The workshop will be equipped with a wood machine shop and stores. A hard standing area will be available for winter storage as well as repair and restoration projects. The yard will encourage traditional and heritage vessels to find a home for storage, maintenance and repair, alongside smaller commercial vessels and we thoroughly look forward to opening for business.”