Saturday, 8 June 2013

The Shipyard


I started the day by thinking about my first job and of how it shaped my life in various ways. My working life started in a small shipyard, Morgan Giles Ltd, in Teignmouth, Devon.  
Before going into the shipyard I attended Newton Abbot College of Art and all was going well until a family crisis occurred in 1959 and I was sent out to work. My first wage was £2-15 shillings a week and after I signed my Indentures it was reduced to £2 - 9 shillings for a 48 hour week.


I was apprenticed as a Marine Engineering Draughtsman and spent the first two half years on the shop floor in various departments, starting in the fitting shop. My very first job there was to polish the bronze propellors of a 52ft Monaco Cruiser which was being readied for the International Boat Show at Earls Court in London. The firm designed and built it's own trailer to carry the boat which was to be towed by a heavy tractor, of the type that Showmen use; because of it's size and slow speed a special route had to be found to avoid low bridges and tight bends. Shipyard workers walked alongside the trailer. It took five days and countless pairs of shoes to transport the cruiser to London!


The Monaco Cruisers were luxury motorboats with an impressive turn of speed,built and fitted out to a high specification. They came in three lengths 36ft,42ft (later a 48ft) and 52ft and powered mainly by Caterpillar diesels. 
All of the fittings and furnishings were designed and made by us, for example the double ended fridges and electrically warmed toilet seats for those with delicate posteriors. One regular customer always had swiss silk curtains, another always wanted his boat to be a foot longer than anyone else's, so a 36ft became a 37 ft & of course he would be charged for our inconvenience. However, one year this customer wanted a 42ft craft to be extended to 43ft which made life extremely easy for the design team because our 42 footer was actually 42ft - 10 and 1/2 inches long. We merely redesigned the bow roller plate out by one and half inches. I have no idea how much extra he was charged for those one and half inches!

Today I spoke with Jos Moorman in France who recently spent ten years equalling 12 thousand hours restoring a 42ft Monaco Cruiser, which I helped to design. He has done a magnificent job & you can see her here if you paste this into your browser >

unknown yacht built by Morgan Giles Ltd

We also built various yachts for private owners and many types of inshore craft for the Ministry of Defence. The six years that I spent at Morgan Giles were not wasted and all that I learnt there has stood me in good stead throughout my life.

A ketch rig yacht which I believe was built for
Major Walcott of Torquay circa 1963

On the site where the shipyard once stood now stands a block of luxury apartments with superb views of the River Teign and the English Channel . I often wonder whether late at night any of the occupants hear the ghosts of the old shipyard men still working away because I often revisit the yard in my dreams.


  1. What a fascinating post, Mel. No wonder you have such an interest in boats. What was it like building luxury yachts for the very very rich? It must have caused a few sour comments among the craftsmen in the yard - or were you all just very proud of your skills and the results?

    1. Thank you for your comment, Val. I don't recall hearing anyone ever uttering derogatory comments or showing any sign of begrudgery towards our rich and famous clients. In fact we often found in most them, a great deal camaraderie and appreciation.

      We were all very proud of our innovative designs and in being the given the freedom to demonstrate our capability. Similarly, as were the craftsmen who demonstrated their own particular skills and who were not slow making suggestions to the design team to the benefit of the product.

    2. Sounds like a mutually satisfying situation. That's great!

  2. They look like 'proper' yachts; not like some of the crazy, one-up-man-ship, gin palaces that we see being built these days. I don't sail, but if I did I'd go for the white, single masted, unknown, job.

  3. Francis Morgan-Giles was my grandfather. he lived with his daughter, Hebe (my mother) at Ringmore for the last 5 years of his life. He never retired from the yard. i will always remember going up to the drawing office to collect him to go home. the model of the Monaco is now in Teignmouth museum

    1. Thank you for your comment. I remember your Grandfather extremely well, he always wore a navy blue jacket with grey flannel trousers and yacht masters cap over the top of his balding head. He had a jolly good sense of humour mostly, though he could also be tetchy at times (as can all elderly men & I'm no exception!) Actually his office was one floor down from the drawing office and it too had a drawing board as part of the furnishings. The gentleman in charge of the D.O. was Kenneth Collyer who was also a Director up until the yard was bought out by the late Mr Roberts.