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The Company History of E.C.Jones & Son (Brentford) Ltd

The Staffordshire Wharf business

Edward Charles Jones, my great grandfather, was employed by a local boat yard repairing wooden barges as recorded in the 1881 census. In the 1890 he decided to set up his own business at premises at Staffordshire Wharf in Catherine Wheel Yard in Brentford. The yard prospered and he was able to expand the business into lighterage.

Local records show that the first barges registered to him were the Eva and the Edward on 17th January 1899. Several others were registered to him over the next few years but there is no named master on the barge registration documents. He also owned and ran a newsagent business at 99 High Street, Brentford, so I presume that the barges were probably the start of his canal carrier business and he employed men to work on them.

The bargees and their families would have lived on the boats and the registration certificate stated how many adults and children could travel on the barges. The barges would have been horse drawn and travelled on the Grand Union Canal and the River Thames Tributaries. These would later be steam driven. I do not know when he gave up the newsagent’s business but he left the address in 1919 so it may have been then.

The canal and River Thames barge carrying business continues until the late 1940's and the company continued to expand, as seen by the entries in the Rate Books. Between the years of 1890 and 1915 E.C.Jones moves from Staffordshire Wharf to Brentside Wharf but this date is not known. A Kelly's trade directory from 1914 records E Jones, barge builder, still at Staffordshire Wharf, East Side of Catherine Wheel Yard.

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Expansion - move to Brentside Wharf and building of wooden barges

The Rate Book for Brentford shows that the first date E. C. Jones rented land was on 24th June 1915, he rented two pieces of land below Dock Road from the Broad Company. The largest piece of land was registered under the name of Edward Charles and the smaller one under the name of his son Edward George plus an unexplained entry for an “Island Empty”.

In 1920 the land and wharf were owned by the Gas Accumulator Company and the Island by The Grand Union Canal Company but by 1922 the canal company owned all the land they rented. A long lease was negotiated with the Grand Union Canal Company so enabling to plan for the future. The land was originally a tidal mud flat and was used to berth E. C. Jones’s barges and barges to be repaired and this was the start of the company first repairing barges then by 1923 starting to build them.

After they moved to Brentside Wharf the family started building wooden barges. The earliest record I have is a photograph of a barge built in 1931 with a 24b.h.p. Petters Atomic Diesel Marine engine installed. My father had memories of sawing planks of wood to make barges, because as he was the ‘youngster’ he was the one in the pit below the plank sawing with another man above using a long two handled saw, he then had to caulk the joints.

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The company's first steel barges

The company started building steel boats in 1923 and built their first barge called Success. This was the first steel barge built on the River Thames. Over the next few years the wharf slowly developed and by 1933 the rent is paid for “Land and Sheds”.

In 1940 rent is paid for “Barge Building Works and Appurts.” so by this time the company is well established.

An advertisement placed in the Port of London Guide in 1927 describes E.C. Jones as a ‘Lighterman and Canal Carrier’.

The son takes ownership

Edward Charles passed ownership of his barges to his son, Edward George, but this date is not known but on 28th August 1937 The Port of London Craft Registration changes the owner of the barges from E.G. Jones to E.C. Jones & Son although the company was not set up until 1946. During the late 1930's several tugs were bought or built but I only have records of the Malta 2 and Margha being built by the firm but the Medea and Malaya were also owned by the family and could have been built by them.

In 1935 an advertisement E. C. Jones & Son (in the book “Arteries of Commerce”) states that they are ‘Tug and Barge Owners’ and say ‘Goods Carried to all Parts of River Thames and the Grand Union Canal’.

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The Melita tug cum sailing boat and WW2

The Melita was brought in 1933 and was used as a family pleasure boat; it was a large tug cum sailing boat and had living accommodation. She was taken over to Holland for a family trip before the war and made other sea trips.

On 5th September 1939 the Melita was commandeered by the Royal Navy for coastal patrols and painted in the grey naval colours. Guns were fitted to the boat as seen in an old photograph that was in the company’s office.

In ‘British & Foreign Merchants Ships and Misc. Craft in Service of His Majesty Government’ the following entry appears for the Melita:

Official PLA No. 76
Dimension: Length 59ft.3ins. Width 11ft 8ins. Depth 4ft 6ins.
Date of Registration: 26th July 1933

  1. Name – (E. C. Jones & Son) at any time since 3-9-39
  2. TU – Tug
  3. 1933 Built Date
  4. R (T98C) R = Requisitioned T98C = Net Charter Parties
  5. 193 IHP = (Indicating Horsepower)
  6. Misc. N. = Misc. Naval Contract
  7. 5-9-39 Date of commencement of service
  8. No entry – options– Presumed sunk Date of completion S– Sunk T – Total loss
  9. £43-8-6 rate per month.

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A former employee of E. C. Jones, Eric Baker, has told me that he recalls the Melita returning to the company. He remembers scraping off the barnacles from her hull and her still being in the Royal Naval colours that she had been painted for the duration of the war but her eventual fate is unknown.

During the war Edward George stayed in Brentford and ran the business which was mainly repairing barges, life boats for the Navy League and occasionally narrow canal lighters. He always wore a Royal Naval Reserve Uniform to work and I have been told he helped in the Dunkirk evacuation.

At this time the wharf consisted of a small two level building with an office above and a small workshop below mainly for storing tools. There was a lot of spare ground around and there was a small repair area which had a halved roofed area. Three or four men were employed by the company at this time.

My father, Edward Charles (Ted) and his brother Robert William (Bob) were working in the London Docks and their youngest brother Stanley Alfred, (Stan) went into the Royal Air Force. After the war all the sons return to the family business.

Building a new yard in the 1950s

Edward and Robert built the superstructure of the yard in the early fifties and erected steel girders for roofing, installed several pulley systems for moving the steel sheets and built the workshops and offices. They built a crane high above the wharf at road level so the steel sheets, which were delivered by lorry, could be lowered onto the wharf.

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Company registration 1946

The company of E. C. Jones & Son (Brentford) Ltd. was registered at Companies House on 29th March 1946 and the company number is 407291... The share capital was £15,000 divided into shares of £1 each, the shares being divided as follows: Edward George 14,700. Edward Charles 100. Robert William 100. Stanley Alfred 100. On the 17th June 1948 the Share Capital of the company was increased from £15,000 to £30,000 by creating 15,000 shares of £1 each. It is not known how these shares were split up.

Cleat bollard patent 1947

In 1945 Edward George designed a cleat bollard with a hole in the centre so that more than one rope could be used without them jamming. He applied for a patent for the design and this was granted in 1947. Patent Number: GB 587098 A brochure was published to advertise the bollard.

Bantam Boats

The company designed and built ‘Bantam’ Boats from the late 1940's and this was the start of a very innovative project. Several patents were applied for and given for the design of Bantams, 89 were built between 1948 and 1969 (see Bantam IV trials at Brentford Dock in 1950) . The company also had International Patents for Bantam Tugs.

Between 1959 and 1961 the company build 19 River Class boats for British Waterways, all other boats, tugs, barges and pontoons built during this period can be seen in the relevant lists. The company grew and employed about 20 people; their workmanship was of a very high standard so their reputation grew as first class boat builders. Bantams were also used by the company for their own work on the River Thames and one was retained and used for moving barges around the wharf for many years.

Local exhibitions were a good way of advertising Bantam Boats and E. C. Jones had a stand at the Brentford and Chiswick Industrial Exhibition held at Carville Hall, Brentford from 19th April to 27th April 1950. The following year at Olympia they had a stand at the Engineering Welding and Marine Exhibition held from the 30th August to the 13th September 1951. Boats were taken to the venues and displayed.

Robert William chose to leave the family business in the early 1950's and his place as director was taken by Edward George’s wife Ada.

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1960s - diversification

The area of ground that the wharf covered was only 1787 square yards (just over one-third of an acre) and it is hard to see how so many boats could be built in such a small area... During the 1960's the company seeing the demand for the tugs reducing decided to branch out. One reason cited for the drop in demand for the Bantam tug is that they were built so well that they were all still working: as indeed many of them still do after 50 years of hard work. They were asked to build 6 canal cruisers; these were for pleasure purposes so they built the hulls and fitted them out completely as hiring boats.

Edward George was a very keen Brentford Football Club supporter and the company made and erected the metal framework towers for the clubs floodlighting but the date is not known.

In the 1970's they had orders for River Thames pleasure boats and this again was a change of direction. As well as building the boats they completely fit them out too. During the period between 1946 and 1977 the company built over 200 barges for use on the River Thames, canals and gravel pits.

The success of the firm has been attributed to their high standard of workmanship, their willingness to change direction in the boat building industry to meet the changing market, also their position of the business near the River Thames.

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The last Jones to work for the company

Ted retired on the 9th February 1979 and Stan on the 29th September 1981. Edward Harris bought half the company from Ted and then had complete ownership after the retirement of Stan when Edward Harris’s wife became the company secretary. The Jones family connection with the company ended completely after this. Edward Harris had to retain the name of E. C. Jones & Son (Brentford) Ltd., until such times that the wharf ceased to be a working boatyard.

E.G. Harris & Son Ltd. owned of the firm E. C. Jones & Son (Brentford) Ltd. from that time until it went into receivership on 11th February 1992.

Published October 2006; links added March 2012