Saunders, Roe and Burton of Beaumaris

by John Stops

One of James Hartley Burton's schooners on the slipway under Mount Field

One of James Hartley Burton's schooners on the slipway under Mount Field

John Stops worked at Saunders-Roe, Fryars, Beaumaris from 1950-1957. In this first article, he deals with the background of the company and of the Fryars estate.

Way back in the 19th century, the Swan, a riverside inn at Streatley on the River Thames was run by a family named Saunders.

Besides running the inn, they maintained the local locks and weirs and ran a ferry across the river.

Their first son was born on 27th May 1857 and was christened Samuel Edgar. As a boy, he built his first boat in his early teens, which created quite a stir locally.

In about 1870, the family set up him and one of his brothers in a boat building business. They quickly gained a reputation for excellence, especially for their river launches, which were fast and made very little wash.

This was due to their fine lines, which meant that the hulls had to be light. To combine lightness and strength, Saunders used veneers, with two layers laid diagonally and an outer fore and aft veneer.

However, instead of the usual method of fastening with boat nails to slender timbers, he developed a construction with the layers stitched together with copper wire. He named this Consuta, from the Greek for sewn together.

The same name was given to the first boat so built which was an umpires launch and was for years used by the BBC to follow the boat race.

Eventually the company found the River too constricting. In 1901 they moved to Cowes in the Isle of Wight, where the business moved from strength to strength with the opportunities that arose from being by the sea.

There followed a period during which of a profusion of notable motor yachts and record breaking high speed motor boats were built.

Samuel Saunders realised that aircraft offered a promising outlet for his Consuta construction and during the First World War the yard built nearly 1,000 aircraft.

After the war, the motor boat business continued to flourish. Aircraft production continued on a small scale, with an increasing emphasis on flying boats.

However, in 1928 when Samuel Saunders was 71 years old, he decided to sell his company. He lived until 1933; a man greatly respected for his technical skill and for his regard for the welfare of his workers and the local community.

During his time, the company received no less than four visits from King George V and Queen Mary, whose residence at Osborne House was just up the road.

Going back now to the year 1907, a young man won a prize for a successful flying model aeroplane. He followed this up in 1908 with the first flight of a British designed and built aeroplane, the Roe Triplane.

The young man's name was Alliot Verdon-Roe. He founded the famous aircraft company A.V. Roe, and the business took off with World War 1 during which a total of some 8,000 Avro 504's were built, including, in a pre-echo of relationships to come, 201 by S.E. Saunders at Cowes.

The company struggled in the years after the First World War, but went on to produce the Lancaster and the cold war icon, the Vulcan.

However, Alliot Verdon-Roe had sold his interest in A.V. Roe in 1928. He used the money to acquire a controlling interest in Saunders, which changed its name to Saunders-Roe in 1929.

Saunders-Roe continued to build boats right up to Word War 2, including a highly regarded range of motor cruisers and Sir Malcolm Campbell's Bluebird which established a new world water speed record of 113.71 knots in 1938.

Another product was lifeboats for the R.N.L.I., of which 61 were built between 1914 and 1937.

On the aircraft side, the company produced an assortment of aircraft, some to its own design and some for others.

In 1938, the Lerwick flying boat made its first flight. Indirectly, it was due to the Lerwick that Beaumaris and the Burton family come into the story.

In the council chamber in the Town Hall, there is a roll of the Mayors of Beaumaris, going back to the date of Edward the 1st's Charter of 1296. On it there is the name of James Hartley Burton. He was Mayor sixteen times, from 1915 to 1931.

Mr. Burton lived at Fryars. If you go northwards from Beaumaris towards Llangoed, you will see the house behind a stone wall facing the sea.

When Mr. Burton lived here it was a beautiful estate. Many of the older people in Beaumaris can remember their forebears working there.

Sailing was a big part of their life and he built the slipway which you can still see below the Northern end of Mount Field.

It was on one of their yachts moored in the on the Conway estuary that Mrs. Burton gave birth to triplets. Sadly, the two boys were killed in the closing months of the First World War and are buried in Llanfaes Churchyard. The surviving triplet, Mary Conway Burton, carried on the yachting tradition by sailing her Fife, Coralie.

She also followed her father by being Mayor of Beaumaris from 1953 to 1956. Mr. Burton died shortly before the war but Mary continued living at Fryars.

She eventually moved to Victoria Terrace and donated the then very large sum of £12,000 for the restoration of the pier, which might otherwise have collapsed.

So how did Saunders-Roe and Fryars come together? See the next instalment!

Comments for Saunders, Roe and Burton of Beaumaris

Click here to add your own comments

Jul 30, 2014
Dwyn Wen
by: David

thanks for sharing the link about the fate of Dwyn Wen.

Jul 26, 2014
Loss of Dwyn Wen 2014
by: Dave Mills

It's with great sadness that I found this website showing the remains of the one lovely yacht Dwyn Wen.

Feb 29, 2012
Saunders Roe from 1947
by: Dennis Moore Trotter

My father was works manager at Beaumaris from 1947.

Feb 18, 2012
Dwyn Wen
by: Dave Baxter

I HIRED Hank Walzanski (ships carpenter on Dwyn Wen around 1972 to help build wood masts in Costa Mesa cal.

He had left the schooner in south america or Mexico. He was aboard her during the second war as mate when she was involved in the capture of a japanese sub.

Later he owned the pilot cutter Osker Tibring of Norway for years; then joined Dwyn Wen as carpenter.

He was a master craftsman and full of real life true stories.I pray He is around boats somewhere tho' he was around 60 then.

I am a schooner builder of the past but still sail the schooner Lieber Schwan I built 1964: I feel somewhat attached to the Dwyn Wen from just the vague stories about her and would love to hear more; and wish her the best. sincerely Dave Baxter. dave(at)orcasislandstudios(dot)com

Aug 05, 2011
Schooner Dwyn Wen
by: Douglas Peterson

I forgot to list an email address:

Aug 05, 2011
Schooner Dwyn Wen
by: Douglas Peterson

I have been gathering info and photos of the schooner that James Burton built in 1906 at Philip and Son in Dartmouth. He named her the "Dwyn Wen". I have created a website on the yacht.
Photos of James and his family aboard would be a great addition.
I would also like to know how he used her and info on his Voyages.

Oct 29, 2010
Lifeboat 'Henry Frederick Swan'
by: Tim West

The restoration of the lifeboat continues. The hull has nearly been scraped of all paint.

The after cabin whaleback has been removed to facilitate new planking on the starboard quarter together with a new oak bulkhead surround.

Both stem and stern posts and rudder are being renewed. Most of the deckboard supports are in need of renewal so these are coming out, first being numbered, photographed and then removed.

It's a pity we haven't got 'plans loft' where all this could be laid out. The finished restoration in hopefully 30 months will see the lifeboat returned to a condition to as near as original as possible.

Fortunately we have a copy of the original designers drawings from the National Maritime Museum, fascinating. The complete paint job has been sponsored by the Yacht Division of International Paints that has been a great bonus.

Attracting other funders proves difficult as the interest in Maritime Heritage seems to have been forgotten. It's ony remebred when it's not there anymore.

Sep 13, 2010
Lifeboat restoration
by: Tom

great to hear you're restoring the lifeboat up there in South Shields. With the choppy weather expected ahead we may need it sooner rather than later:)

would be great if you could tell us more about what's going on up there in the North East.

Sep 13, 2010
S.E. Saunders and lifeboat 'Henry Frederick Swan'
by: Tim West

The North East Maritime Trust based in South Shields, of which I am a volunteer, is currently restoring this lifeboat to as near an original condition as possible. The lifeboat was built by Saunders in 1917/1918 then served on the River Tyne from 1918 to 1947, with a short period in reserve from 1939 to 1941.

Jul 01, 2010
Saunders Roe buses
by: David Thrower

I am one of a very small number of people who own vintage buses built by Saunders, in my case dating from 1950. I am restoring it from "basket-case" condition. Restoration is expected to take seven years, 2007-14.

David Thrower
Warrington, UK

Click here to add your own comments

Return to Your Anglesey Story.

footer for Anglesey page