|Make:||James Taylor Gentleman's Launch|
|Location:||Windsor, United Kingdom|
|Offered by:||Henley Sales and Charter|
We often refer to this type of saloon launch as a 'gentleman's launch'. However it was none other than Dame Nellie Melba who commissioned the leading Thames boatbuilder from Chertsey, one James Taylor, to build her a state of the art petrol driven saloon launch. She was a famous international opera star who lived in Kingston Upon Thames and moved in royal circles as a close friend of Edward VII, then king of England after the death of his mother Victoria.
1907 was early for petrol engines as prior to that time all boats were either steam or electric. Here in the UK there was not yet a suitable engine so Taylor looked across the Channel to France for a Renault engine which was duly installed in the mahogany launch. The elegant beaver stern spoke to the builder's skill and gave the boat greater waterline length thereby increasing the speed capability without creating so much wash. At that time there were less than 200 motor boats in existence and Verity with her teak superstructure, teak and mahogany decks, an internal toilet and galley compartment was absolutely the last word in modernity.
Her large bow seating area forward and the equally spacious central cabin area seat 10 in comfort and aft of the galley is a cosy cockpit area where staff would have hovered while on hand to serve Dame Nellie and her guests. The most notable, the King himself, was an enthusiast for the new technology represented by the internal combustion engine, until that is that he found out that the engine was French! It is said that Dame Nellie planned to give the boat to the King as a gift in recognition of his support as a benefactor of the arts. However the plan foundered due to the nationality of the engine and she continued to owne the boat until the outbreak of war in 1914 when it was stored at Meakes of marlow where she had been using the boat at her country house Marlow Lawns.
The historical trail then becomes a little hazy. However it is rumoured that Verity was purchased in 1922 by Neville Chamberlain who was at that time the Postmaster General before becoming a minister and finally the Prime Minister from 1937 to 1940. During his ownership the engine was changed to a BMC dry sump petrol engine and moored in Pangbourne.
After the second World War, Verity moved across to the Kennet and Avon canal near Newbury as a tripping boat and renamed Limpley Stoke after a village on the Kennet and Avon. Keith Welham was the skipper at the ripe age of 15. It was thanks to the actual owner at the time that eventually the canal was restored by the British Waterways Authority.
When I first encountered Verity (now back with her original name) it was through then owner Mike Turk who had found the boat derelict and sunk at Pangbourne. Mike had a couple of boatyards on the Thames, one at Kingston, another in Teddington and a smaller one in Lower Sunbury. He also became very involved in films and so Verity appeared briefly in the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes when she moved to Liverpool Docks for filming and was painted black wiht a false funnel and boiler installed on the foredeck. Prior to that however the boat had been rebuilt and given to Mike's wife as a present on the birth of their first son Richard Turk, now MD of Turk Launches in Kingston upon Thames. Under her ownership Verity was to be seen frequently at Henley whether for regattas or the Traditional Boat Rally (now Festival). In 2003 the current 3 litre Perkins engine was fitted and the present owner tells me that on the Tideway the power is very useful indeed.
In 2010 under new ownership the hull and stern were treated to a major overhaul by Mark Stanley, then owner of the specialist wooden boat builders and restorers in Windsor. Verity participated in the Diamond Jubilee pageant in central London in 2012, at the Anniversary of the Magna Carta, and as a guard boat to the Royal Barge Gloriana when the Queen is on board.
I was fortunate to drive the boat recently and as promised she is very responsive and easy to manouevre despite her length thanks in part to the efficient hull and a large rudder. I also loved the headroom, the original heads (with holding tank) and the galley (with oven).
Verity has had a long and interesting life both as a private launch and for fee paying passengers. Her next owner will be one in a long line of privileged boaters who appreciate history and beauty afloat. There may also be a Windsor mooring available for the new owner with easy access for winter to an adjacent boatyard.