Each year the Marine Trades Association (MTA) and Boating Business get together to present industry awards and for 2010 the Boating Business Lifetime Achievement Award went to Mr. R J Richardson of Richardson’s Group.
In summary, Mr. Richardson purchased his first cruiser during WW2 and he has grown the business by designing, building and letting hire cruisers. Attracting thousands of customers every year, his fleet currently stands at over 300. The wider business includes pubs, holiday sites and industrial units with 676 current employees, 163 in the boating sector.
Richardson’s Group is a family run business in the leisure industry. Established for over 60 years Richardson’s own the largest fleet of cruisers on the Norfolk Broads, one of the main tourist attractions for Norfolk and one that has given this area national and international recognition. The group also owns 5 holiday villages and parks in Norfolk and Sussex; Hemsby Beach, Seacroft, Summerfields, Mundesley and South Downs. These sites along with the boating holidays attract a substantial number of visitors to the areas every year with over 30,000 holidays taken between the sites.
Mr. Richardson is still involved in the running of the business and comes into the Stalham base every day. He has recently started handing the reins over to his sons Paul and Clive.
HISTORY OF RICHARDSON’S BOATING.
The history of the Richardson Family can be traced back to Mr. Richardson’s Great Great Grandfather Mr. Robert Kemp who owned and ran a public house in Oulton Broad named “The Lady of the Lake”, which is still there today. A son also named Robert, was a boat builder and built Norfolk Wherries on what was know as the “Salt Side” which is on the east side of Mutford Lock. Robert Kemp No 2 did not have a son, but he did have a daughter named Minnie. She married Mr. Richardson. They had four sons, one of whom was named Robert after his Grandfather; the others were Frank, Jack and Dick. Robert Richardson Father of the present owner served his apprenticeship as a marine engineer and worked for many years at Chambers shipyard on Lake Lothing, Oulton Broad. He is mentioned several times in Ted Frost’s book “From Tree to Sea”, which is the story of wooden steam drifters. Mr. & Mrs. Richardson had three children, two girls Thelma & Joy and a boy Robert John.
Mr. Richardson Jnr bought 4 row boats from Joe Dunnet for £36 in the early part of the war, before he was “called up”, and his father let them for him during the War, in addition to the existing fleet of day boats which were previously let from the ‘free quay’ and ‘Boulevard’ in Oulton Broad. In 1944 Mr. Richardson purchased their first motor cruiser “Mac Nab” from C Paget-Clark and early 1944 Mr. Richardson Snr and Jnr bought Old Mill House Boatyard in Oulton Broad. From this yard they let row boats, sailing boats and motor launches. Robert Jnr was in the R.A.F. during the war stationed in Palestine, Egypt and India, flying in Wellingtons and Liberators as a Flight Engineer. When he came out of the R.A.F. in March 1947, he re-joined his father in the boat letting business.
Over the following few years a programme of building and purchasing motor cruisers took the fleet to 35 boats and 2 part built cruisers by 1957 the Hire Fleet had outgrown the Oulton Broad sites which had also been acquired which were Parkers Yard which later became Hamptons, Old Mill House Boatyard on Commodore Road and 2 boat dykes in Carlton Ham as well as a boat building yard on Lake Loathing which was sold to Fred Newson. Therefore, Mr. Robert Richardson Jnr, who had taken over the running of the business, started looking for larger premises on the Northern Broads.
After missing purchasing the riverside estate in Brundall, Robert’s mother Dora saw the advert for the auction of Brightside Guest House in Stalham which was purchased at the auction by Mr. Richardson in 1957. He moved the business, together with the fleet of hire boats to Stalham in the winter of 1957/58, and started hiring from Stalham in the spring of 1958. Once the Boat building sheds were erected another boat building programme began. During the next 15 yrs he increased the fleet and purchased extra plots of marshes surrounding the original site at Stalham to create the largest boatyard on the whole of the Norfolk & Suffolk Broads. In 1969 a new company Aquafibre Ltd was set up. Mr. Richardson owned a 30% share in this company and it started to build fibreglass boats for the fleet at Stalham, eventually he set up his own building operation on the Stalham yard under the Name of “Horizon Craft”.
In 1974, the whole of the Stalham boatyard, together with the fleet of 244 Cruisers, was sold to the Rank Organisation. When the yard was sold, Mr. Richardson purchased a motor repair garage at Catfield where he erected a T2 aircraft shed and moved Horizon Craft his boat building operation. Horizon Craft built a fleet of 46 boats which were let the Acle yard in 1977 which is still operated by Richardsons, the boats were the ‘Horizon 35’ and ‘Horizon 42’ which are both forward drive single level broads cruisers of a John Bennett design.
From the same designer came the ‘Horizon 43’, this boat was built with a number of superstructures and uses including fishing boats, towing boats pilot boats and various cruiser versions eventually selling the moulds to Kuwait. Also built were a 40 foot John Perryman design which were built as gunboats which went to Lebanon and fisheries patrol boats. Suez canal boats were also fitted out along with various contract builds for abroad and other British boatyards. In 1980 Mr. Richardson purchased a small building site in Stalham High Street, which is now let as light industrial units as is the site at Catfield. In April 1984, Mr. Richardson bought the Stalham Boatyard back from Rank. The boats had deteriorated both structurally and mechanically and they all needed major work. The first Easter there were only 54 boats of acceptable standard for hire. Within 3 to 4 years the fleet was bought up to an acceptable standard.
The fleet continued to increase and in 1986, the Horning Boatyard was purchased from the Rank Organisation, originally known as “Caribbean Cruisers”, later renamed “Blue Line”, and now known as “Horning Pleasurecraft”. Next in April 1991, came three boatyards on the River Thames originally known as “Maidboats”, these were also purchased from the Rank Organisation and renamed “Benson Pleasurecraft”, “Maidline Cruisers” and “Ferryline Cruisers”. The last boatyard to be purchased was “Hearts Cruisers” in Thorpe Norwich. This came in 1992 from the Mowatt Group, who went bankrupt in August 1992. The fleet rose to approximately 750 boats after purchase of boat yards’ hire fleets and individual boats.
Thames Yards, Hearts Norwich and Savoy have since been sold.
Over the last 10 years Richardsons have been investing in the building of new boats from other moulders but have taken the decision to design and build once again, in October 2009 we started the production of a all new design of broads cruiser designed by John Moxham which will be available for hire from Easter 2011.
For further information or comment please contact: Greg Munford on 07899955016
Richardson’s Group, The Staithe, Stalham, Norwich, NR12 9BX