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Stratford upon Avon
Boat Trips on the River Avon from Stratford
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This page shows a selection of passenger boats which have worked on the River Avon based at Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire.
River Avon Navigation
There are four rivers named Avon in England, located in Devon, Warwickshire, Hampshire and Bristol, with others in Scotland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Avon is an old English name for a river. The source of the 'Warwickshire' Avon is near the village of Naseby in Northamptonshire. For the first few miles of its length between Welford and the Dow Bridge on Watling Street, it forms the border between Northamptonshire and Leicestershire. On this section, it has been dammed to create Stanford Reservoir. It then flows in a generally west-south-westerly direction, not far north of the Cotswold Edge and through the Vale of Evesham, passing through the towns and villages of Welford, Rugby, Wolston, (bordering Leamington Spa), Warwick, Stratford-upon-Avon, Welford-on-Avon, Bidford-on-Avon, Evesham and Pershore, before it joins the River Severn at Tewkesbury.
The river has a total length of 85 miles (137 km) and a catchment size of 1,032 square miles (2,670 km2). The Avon's tributaries include the Rivers Leam, Stour, Sowe, Dene, Arrow, Swift, Alne, Isbourne, Sherbourne and Swilgate as well as many minor streams and brooks. A long distance footpath has been created which follows the river from its source to the River Severn at Tewkesbury. The route is marketed as Shakespeare's Avon Way, and is 88 miles (142 km) long. It uses existing footpaths and tracks to stay as close to the river as is reasonably possible.
Charles I granted letters patent to William Sandy of Fladbury in 1636, who used his personal fortune to purchase the land and to build locks, weirs, channels etc to make the Avon navigable from Tewkesbury to Stratford and to within four miles of Warwick by 1641. Further improvements were made to the river above Evesham from 1664 allowing 30 ton barges to reach Stratford. Ownership of the navigation was formally divided into the Upper and Lower Avon in 1717, with Evesham being the dividing point. Whilst the Lower Avon from Evesham to Tewkesbury received some investment and remained in use, the Upper Avon between Evesham and Stratford gradually fell into decline and was effectively abandoned as a navigation in 1857, despite having been connected to the Stratford Canal in 1822. The Lower Avon was slightly more successful, and struggled on until the Second World War. by which time a single barge ran between Tewkesbury and Pershore, the river above Pershore becoming unnavigable.
The Lower Avon Navigation Trust Ltd was formed in 1950 and restoration from Tewkesbury to Evesham was achieved by 1962. The Stratford Canal was reopened in the same year. The Upper Avon was in worse condition and was not reopened until 1972. 
Clifford & Co - Bancroft Cruisers
The Clifford family also began running boats at Stratford around the turn of the century, and by 1912 were advertising the steam and motor launches Titania, George Washington, Grace Darling (1) and Robin Goodfellow. Clifford & Co maintained the largest fleet in Stratford until the late 1980s. In 1977 the Clifford fleet consisted of:- Delta (c.1920 - 35ft - 34 pass), George Washington (23 pass), Mistress Quickly (1976 - 69 pass), Princess Marina (1) (18 pass), Royal (c.1910 - 22 pass) and Titania (1) (1906 - 36ft - 48 pass). In the 1960s they also owned a boat named Viola. By 1983 they had acquired My Lady Hilton (built 1973 - 52ft - 40 pass) replacing Mistress Quickly. My Lady Hilton was later renamed Grace Darling (2). Princess Marina (2) (1976 - 50ft - 60 pass) had arrived by 1985, the fleet then being Delta (c.1920 - 35ft - 34 pass), Grace Darling (2) (1973 - 52ft - 40 pass), Princess Marina (2) (1976 - 50ft - 60 pass), Delta (c.1910 - 30ft -22 pass) and Titania (1) (1906 - 36ft - 48 pass). The two large 1970s boats were of narrow boat design. By this time the fleet was being marketed as Bancroft Cruisers (the fleet sailing from Bancroft Gardens in Stratford-upon-Avon). The fleet was unchanged in 1989, but by 1991 the remaining older vessels Delta , Royal and Titania (1) had been sold and the two remaining boats Grace Darling (2) (1973 - 52ft - 40 pass) and Princess Marina (2) (1976 - 50ft - 60 pass) were sailing from Moat House Hotel Wharf as Bancroft Cruisers. Delta moved to Hereford, but I have not traced the fate of Royal and Titania (1). Grace Darling (2) was replaced by the broader beamed new Rita Ellen in 2009 (55ft - 52 pass). The Moat House Hotel has now become the Holiday Inn.
Avon Boating (Rose Family)
The Rose family introduced trip boats to the River Avon at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1898 with the Swan of Avon. She must have been quite a pioneer, being powered by an Austro-Daimler petrol engine. She was joined in 1900 by the Rose of Avon. In 1905 the family ordered the Britannia from the famous Oxford boat builders Salter Brothers. She was delivered to Stratford via the canal system, and remains in the current fleet, now powered by a British Leyland engine. These three boats maintained their fleet until the early 1990s when their rivals Clifford & Co reduced their fleet to two narrow boats. The fleet was expanded with four wooden launches all built by Borwick of Bowness on Lake Windermere, although they came from various owners. These are all in current service and are named Mayflower, Spray, Lotus and Lady. The first three of these boats (the larger ones) have all been converted to battery/electric propulsion. They are moored overnight downstream of the tramway bridge and run from the quay at the Bancroft gardens. Britannia and Lady were moored upstream of the bridge in 2009 and operate from a pontoon by the Avon Boating boat house, where small rowing and motor boats are available for hourly hire. The fleet is divided like this because the larger launches cannot fit under the tramway bridge after heavy rains, as happened on my second visit. Britannia was not running in 2011, presumably for restoration. Swan of Avon was in the shed, receiving a vertical boiler and steam engine. In 2010 Avon Boating acquired an additional open boat named Paddler (or Avon Paddler?) which originally worked at Longleat and was a two-decked replica stern-wheeler. The upper deck and paddle wheel have now been removed. the vessel had no displayed name in October 2011 (hence the possible confusion). A large new vessel Titania (2), with both saloon and open area was delivered in 2011.
Sections on this Page
Operators & Boats on this Page
Clifford & Co - Bancroft Cruisers
Grace Darling (2)
Princess Marina (2)
Rose of Avon
Swan of Avon
www.avon-boating.co.uk - Stratford-upon-Avon
Related Simplon River Boat Pages
Stratford Header Page - this page
Evesham Header Page
Avon Boating - Stratford-upon-Avon
Handsam Too - Evesham
River Thames Header Page
Associated Simplon Pages
UK Excursion Vessels
World Ferry Fleets
Simplon Postcards - Home Page
Simplon Postcards - Recent Updates
Trip Out Guides - Written & published by G.P.Hamer - editions 1977-2011
Trip Out Guides are available from Geoffrey Hamer, PO Box 485, Southall, UB1 9BH
Cruising Monthly - www.cruisingmonthly.com
Josephine Jeremiah - The River Avon - Philimore 1999 
Josephine Jeremiah - The River Severn - Philimore 1998 
Jamie Davies - Shakespeare's Avon - Oakwood1996