Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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This article More than a Mooring - Reading Marine Company is the copyright of Jim Shead - The fifth of a regular series of articles on marinas and boatyards. First published in Waterways World February 2004.
Anyone cruising the eastern end of the Kennet & Avon Canal will have seen hire narrowboats, all named after locks on the waterway, in the distinctive livery of the Reading Marine Company. The company is based at Aldermaston between the busy road lift bridge and Padworth Lock and offers more than just boat hire. Despite the similarity of the names Reading Marine Co has no connection with Reading Marine Services based on the Thames.
The business is run by Richard Edwards and his son Andrew and was started by Richard's father-in-law in the nineteen-sixties. In the beginning it was based at a site in Reading then moved to another site in the town, at Blake's Lock, before moving to Aldermaston. Richard took over the running of the business due to his father-in-law's ill health. At that time it was just a small boatyard on the original site in Reading. This was where Richard started the hire fleet 31 years ago with just three boats. The company grew and moved to a better site at Blake's Lock and now, at its current home at Aldermaston, has 18 boats in the hire fleet with two more being added next year. Two of the hire narrowboats have a slightly different style of build and paintwork These were originally built by Reading Marine as hire boats for someone in Holland and were returned when the Dutch operation ceased and the owner moved to Spain. One hire boat is due to be sold as part of the normal renewal process which maintains the fleet at about 18 to 20 boats, which is a manageable size that makes economic sense. To run this and all the other parts of the business they now have 14 full time employees plus part time people. These include four full time joiners, two people working on the hire fleet and two mechanics.
The boat building side of the business is rapidly expanding with an order book of about two years. This started nine or ten years ago when they moved to the present site. They build six or seven boats a year depending on how much work is involved in meeting the customers' individual specifications, which are generally getting more elaborate all the time. The National Waterways Festival at Henley in 1997 was the first boat show at which they exhibited narrowboats and proved very successful not only for new boats but also for paint jobs and other types of work. At the 2003 National at Beale Park Richard showed his own wide beam Dutch barge that was recently fitted out and which he hopes to take over to France at some time. This is just the latest in a long line of boats he has owned including sailing boats and power boats. Even before he entered the business he had always been a boater. His father's father was a lock keeper at Blake's Lock and it was there that he learnt to row.
On the engineering side Reading Marine specialise in electrics, especially repairs for the Electrolux 240-volt 3.5 Kw power units, which very few people repair, and are a Mastervolt Energy Shop. They have a good reputation for paint jobs although finding good boat painters restricts the amount of work they can undertake to three or four a year. They are dealers for Beta Marine and Yanmar engines and carry quite a lot of spares for these. They also supply Eberspacher diesel heating systems. Moorings are not a major part of the business but they have about 20 linear mooring spaces above Aldermaston Lock.
Although Reading Marine is very much a working boatyard there are some areas which they do not tackle, for example they farm out large welding jobs. Graham Reeves builds the shells for the boats they produce. Also because the boatyard is on the towpath side of the canal it has not been possible to build a slipway or dry dock so all lifting out and in is done by hired cranes.
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