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Connections with the Lapthorns

Tony Lapthorn's barge "Nellie"

Club member, the late Stan Yeates, worked for Lapthorns, the coastal shipping company based at Hoo, for many years. In 2001 the company commissioned a Fleet History book to commemorate its Golden Jubilee and Stan was given a copy signed by Tony Lapthorn, the founder of the company. Stan was kind enough to lend the book to me in order that I could glean information relating to Hoo and some of the background to the formation of Hoo Ness Yacht Club. The following is from that source ("R.Lapthorn and Company Ltd" a "Ships in Focus" fleet history by K.S.Garrett, published in 2001).

The Lapthorn Shipping family are descended from the Lapthorns in the famous sail making company, Ratsey and Lapthorn. Tony Lapthorn's grandfather was a partner in Ratsey and Lapthorn, but advised his son Roy not to enter the sailmaking business as he believed the days of sail were over. Roy heeded his advice and took up accountancy instead. The family did however retain an interest in sailing and this re-emerged later when Roy's son Tony had various boats after serving in the Second World War. Later Tony bought the sailing barge "Leslie" from John Briant and converted it into a houseboat at John Briant's Whitewall Barge, Yacht and Boat Company's yard in Whitewall Creek in Frindsbury.

As a result of this involvement with John Briant and the barge work in Whitewall Creek, Tony Lapthorn became a manager at the WBY&B Co. The company soon needed more space and land forming part of the worked-out brickfields at Hoo was purchased from the Brice family. The business moved there during 1949 and 1950. John Briant's ambitious plans to diversify into boat building and the marina business got off to a good start but were under-funded and went bankrupt in 1951. Tony Lapthorn also found himself in debt as he had given some personal guarantees to support the enterprise. These debts were repaid by means of personal loans from his family, but overall it was a salutary experience.

Despite these problems the Lapthorn family settled at Hoo and continued living on board the Leslie. Tony was able to make a fresh start involving the transport of aggregate for the Brice family business in a sailing barge called the "Nellie" (see photo). This was converted to a motor barge at the at the WBY&B company berth at Hoo by arrangement with Receiver. This enterprise provided the foundation for the Lapthorn shipping business.

Further barges were acquired and the business grew and diversified to include surveying and towing. The first steel ship on the fleet was the Mary Birch. She was a modified X Lighter, a forerunner of modern landing craft, which was built for the Royal Navy in 1915. She was acquired in 1955 in a joint venture with Stan and Chick Yeates who Tony had met at the Marina Club. Stan and Chick went on to have the Mary Birch for about ten years.

The Lapthorn family outgrew the Leslie so she was sold and they moved onto another sailing barge called the Alice May. She was modified to include modest office facilities for the business. Originally berthed at Hoo Marina she was later moved to the nearby Buttercrock Wharf. In later years an office was built on the wharf and the Alice May was put back into service. The present day offices, built in 1987, are close by.

The Lapthorn ships used to be a seen frequently with their white star emblem and their names incorporating "Hoo". In recent years the company ran into difficulties as the world of coastal shipping changed. The ability of ships to self-load and unload became critical and companies survived or died, depending on their ability to adapt to these requirements.

As one approaches Hoo waterside down Vicarage Lane and the vista across the river towards the Darnett Fort comes into view the old Lapthorn company offices are the most easterly of the Hoo industrial buildings to be seen. Beyond them in recent times old Lapthorn coasters could be seen laid up on the foreshore, as many as four berthed alongside each other.

In 2006 Lapthorn Shipping Ltd changed its name to Coastal Bulk Shipping Ltd. The company went into Administration in January 2009.

Martin Richards (modified 25th February 2009)

Date Published 27th Jun 2011