You have possibly seen those Hollywood movie blockbusters where various groups of time served veterans emerge from retirement to reunite and save the world from aliens or meteors. Something similar happens in the much more sedate world of Great Ouse boating every year in the picturesque, compact city of Ely!

Appleyard & Lincoln ceased to be in the mid 1970s however the company, more specifically Appleyard's Boat Builders, had been a small but well known presence on the riverside near what is today known as The Cutter public house. Look carefully, and set back is the old boat house and as a further clue if you look on the wall of the adjacent house the word 'Appleyard' can be made out in flaking and slowly fading paintwork.

Harry Lincoln effectively bought the company out in the 1940s and though Ted Appleyard remained a presence along the river until his death in the 1980s Appleyard & Lincoln struck out as a major manufacturer of high quality wooden, and later, fibreglass boats for both the hire and self-owned markets.

The boat house soon became too small for the expanding trade and moved over the river to what we now know as Lovies Marina or Babylon with a sizeable workforce producing bespoke wooden craft throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s and then inevitably moving with the times and switching to GRP and the renowned Elysian cruisers.

When Appleyard & Lincoln eventually closed its doors the site became a natural location for the marina we see today and should in theory have been destined to become a bit of an afterthought in conversations of the old days of Great Ouse Boating!

Keeping the flame alive, however, is a small band of Appleyard & Lincoln ex-employees who, each year, meet up for no other reason than that they enjoyed working for the company, and enjoy reminiscing with pride. Aged respectably (and respectfully) from their 60s to their early 80s there are fitters, designers, chippers—apprentices who learned a trade and then spent a lifetime working on boats.

The reunion on Friday 28th October 2011 was somewhat different in that the group were joined for the first time by various owners of Appleyard & Lincoln produced craft. As owners of one such river cruiser, Orchard Delight, our passion for the boat itself led us to want to know more of its history. With one previous owner being the boatyard owner himself, Harry Lincoln, and another being Mr Alan Scarrow (who appears as a very young apprentice on photographs of our boat under construction) we soon started to build a sizeable archive of images, facts and figures.

This inevitably led to a wide portfolio of information on other boats produced by the Ely company and, having made contact with a very sprightly Hugh Easton who designed many boats including ours, more and more owners were contacted. In addition to over 15 of the original Appleyard & Lincoln team, six current owners of boats dating back to the 1940s met in Ely on a very mild and very memorable October evening. Courtesy of Hugh Easton and Alan Scarrow a compact and extensive display of historic images and documents was produced and, if I say so myself, it was a unique night; the more so because many of the old wooden boats represent a time long gone. The survival of the various vessels is down to their quality of design and build (thanks chaps) and also the love and care that their current owners give them.

Some craft haven't fared too well though and there have been losses and whilst one vintage Shearwater is much loved and resident on the Thames, an identical sister boat was last said to be languishing waiting for a new owner to take her away free of charge and commence restoration. Something of a race against time maybe.

For 2012 it's planned to bring as many of the Appleyard & Lincoln boats back to Ely for the Aquafest Jubilee on Sunday 1st July. Given the distance for some of them this might be problematical but for others it's less daunting.

The group of former workers is growing smaller, however the "crackle" at the reunion was very evident, and it has kick-started us into planning the trip back to Ely, this time in Harry Lincoln's own pride and joy, Brouhaha, now called Orchard Delight!

Stephen Watson & Denise Troughton, skippers, Orchard Delight, 2011

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