Fox’s Marina & Boatyard has come a long way since it’s early beginnings in the 1920’s, when Charlie Fox started out making sailing dinghies in a small shed on the banks of the River Orwell in Ipswich. The business was originally called the Halifax Boat Works, but was later changed to C H Fox and Son Ltd and it’s unlikely that Charlie Fox could have foreseen that the name he gave his fledgling business nearly a century ago would be recognised today as one of the UK’s most established and respected yacht refit and repair yards.
In the early days, what set Fox’s apart from many other pre-war boatbuilders was that the business specialised in building and restoring pleasure craft from the outset. As motor boating gained in popularity through the 1920’s and 30’s, the Fox’s yard was kept busy building small cruisers.
Whilst most of the yard’s output was for the home market, there was the occasional export order. In 1930, a double-skinned speedboat, with a 35hp outboard, was shipped to a large trading estate on the River Ganges in India. This complete fit-out package cost a lot of money in those days – £150!
At the outbreak of World War II, Fox’s was commissioned by the Admiralty to produce whalers and sailing cutters for training young seamen. Later they built eight standard pattern 52ft Harbour Service launches. It is interesting to note that in the early days of the war, diesel engines were in short supply so the Admiralty were forced to specify steam power for non-combat craft. The first two built at Fox’s were coal-fired; the following four were fitted with paraffin boilers, whilst the last two boats were fitted with Gardner diesel engines.
Many small boatbuilders enjoyed expansion during the war years but found their new, larger yards could not survive the downturn in orders in the immediate post war years. Fox’s never employed fewer than 100 men, so despite the inevitable lay-offs after the war, were able to continue in business, picking up where they left off in 1939, building pleasure craft.
Lean times approached with the decline of traditional boat building in the 1960’s. The last traditional wooden boat was built at Fox’s in 1965 and like many other yards, Fox’s moved to fitting out GRP hulls. Sailing craft started to become an important part of production and by the early 1970’s Fox’s fortunes were beginning to enjoy a revival.
Traditional wooden boatbuilding reappeared at Fox’s in 1971 with the commission for the Fox 35 sailing yacht. In 1972, Jack Knights, the respected yachting journalist on the Daily Express, commissioned Naval Architect, Stephen Jones, to design a Quarter Tonner called Odd Job, which went on to become one of the most successful Quarter Tonners ever built, winning the British Quarter Tonne Championship in 1984, and and is still raced to this day. At the same time, Fox’s diversified into plug making for a number of production boat builders including Seamaster and Shetland.
In 1974, Fox’s ceased to be a family business when Charlie Fox’s grandson, Bob Fox, sold the business to Eastern Tractors, an agricultural machinery distributor who moved the company to it’s present waterside site. New buildings were erected and a small marina dredged. Much of the deposits were used to build up the spit on the far side of the now dredged channel.
Eastern Tractors found boatbuilding and running a marina not quite the easy ‘money for old rope’ they had expected and the business changed hands several time over the next few years, and at one point was even owned by a jukebox company!
Richard Matthews founded Oyster Yachts in the early 1970s and, by 1978, all new Oyster yachts built in Wroxham, Norfolk, arrived at Fox’s to be launched and commissioned. At the time, Fox’s was one of the only yards on the East Coast to have a travel lift.
By 1985, Oyster acquired Fox’s Marina & Boatyard and relocated their headquarters from Colchester to the Marina site, with the construction of a new chandlery with offices above and a dedicated yacht spray painting facility. Oyster were to become one of the world’s most successful yacht brands with an international reputation for their high-quality deck saloon cruising yachts, winning two Queen’s Awards for export.
This success allowed ongoing investment in Fox’s, including the doubling in size of the marina facility and the construction of larger workshops, machinery, and a huge, new chandlery. It also facilitated the creation of several specialist departments including engineering, stainless fabrication, rigging, electronics and a range of other in-house services, enabling Fox’s, almost uniquely, to offer the most comprehensive range of services to be found anywhere in a boatyard, using their own teams of craftsmen.
When Oyster Yachts was sold in 2008, Fox’s Marina & Boatyard became an independent business, although Oyster Yachts continue as major customers to this day. During the last 32 years, Fox’s has maintained a continuous programme of reinvestment in its facilities and the team of experienced people involved in running the business.
Happily, despite the passage of time and many changes in the marine industry over the years, Fox’s is now a modern boatyard equipped for the 21st Century.
But the core values of service, quality and traditional shipwrighting skills remain as relevant at Fox’s today as they were nearly a century ago.