William Henry Halford was principally a builder of rowing boats for pleasure and racing but he also built yachts, steam launches and pilot boats.

In August 1873 twenty-four-year-old Halford advertised that he was a boat builder and oar and scull maker on the canal bank at Gloucester. He offered to build pleasure and racing boats and steam launches on the shortest notice and he had pleasure boats constantly for hire. Around the same time he was appointed boat builder to the Gloucester Rowing Club which also involved helping to get their boats in and out of the water. At that time the rowing club was based on the canal bank 400 yards south of Llanthony Bridge where the club had a boathouse on land that had previously been William Hunt's ship-building yard. Halford soon took over the premises from Hunt and it seems likely that Halford had formerly worked for Hunt.

In 1879 Halford severed his connection with the rowing club and moved to Oxford where he built a series of successful racing boats which won several of the major cups at Henley and at other regattas in Britain. By 1885 he had returned to the canal bank at Gloucester and his racing boats continued to be successful at regattas in Britain and as far afield as Germany.

Pilot boat Britannia

As well as building racing boats he was no doubt also building small pleasure craft and in 1888 he completed the sea-going steam yacht Rosina for local mill owner Richard Foster. This was 89 feet long, 61 tons register and rigged as a schooner. A large number of spectators assembled to watch the launch but when the shores were released she did not move. Teams of men pulled on two ropes attached to her stern but the only result was that the ropes snapped and the men fell on their backs. Hydraulic jacks were used to increase the incline of the launching ways but still she would not move. After two and a half hours the steam tug Hazel was brought in to help and to everyone's relief her first pull caused the Rosina to glide down the ramps into the water.

The successful completion of the Rosina led to other orders for sailing yachts and also a pilot boat. However, it seems that Halford took on more than he could manage. He lost money on the pilot boat and work was disputed for which he did not have written authority. Also he got behind on building two yachts which were subject to a penalty for late delivery amounting to more than the contract price and they were seized. Eventually in October 1890 he was forced to petition for bankruptcy. His main assets then were two sheds on the canal bank, an eight-oar racer at Oxford built in hopes that the Oxford crew would have bought it, two old racing boats, two dinghies, a canoe, a yacht and two sculling boats not completed. The furniture in his house at Tuffley had been sold to pay the rent owing.

Halford must have come to some arrangement with his creditors as he was soon back in business. In December 1892 he was commissioned to build a boat for George Bubear - a well-known professional oarsman who was matched to scull George Hosmer from Boston, U.S.A. The winner would receive £200, the championship of England and the 'Sportsman' challenge cup. The race took place six weeks later on the Thames from Putney Bridge to the Ship Hotel at Mortlake, and Bubear won easily. A year later Halford built another boat for Bubear to race C.R. Harding of Chelsea for £200, but this time Bubear lost.

It is likely that Halford's resumed boat building activities took place on the east bank of the canal below Hempsted bridge where in the mid-1890s he was advertising racing boats of every description built to order, and boats, punts and canoes for sale or hire. He claimed patronage by the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Dublin and the principal rowing clubs, and he listed over 30 cups won by his boats at Henley and at other regattas in Britain and Germany.

In addition to the pilot boat previously mentioned Halford's yard built at least three Bristol Channel pilot cutters including the St. Bee's, the Britannia (later Christabel) and The Solway (now Carlotta). Unlike many other pilot boats that sported an offset bowsprit, Halford's pilot boats were unique in featuring a bowsprit that housed directly over a raked stem. Carlotta is the only remaining example of this type of craft from the Halford yard.

With thanks to Hugh Conway-Jones for research

Pilot boat St. Bees