Photo: Pat Walsh

Tough's Boatyard

The Tough family have been working on the Thames for over two-centuries, going back to Alexander Tough who was apprenticed as waterman in 1813. In the early 20th Century, brothers Douglas and Gordon Tough, established a successful boat building yard from Bunn’s boathouse in Teddington. During the Second World War, Tough’s expanded due to their management by the Admiralty. In May 1940 Douglas Tough famously mobilised around 100 little ships for Operation Dynamo, which helped rescue over 385,000 soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk. At the start of the War, Tough’s employed sixteen men – by the end there were two hundred and twenty. Teams of Tough’s workers travelled along the south coast to repair damaged boats, and the boatyard built vessels for the fire service that were using during the Blitz on London’s docks.

After the War, the focus of Tough’s shifted. The yard created a number of boats for the film industry, including a dinghy for From Russia with Love and underwater chariots for The Silent Enemy. Douglas died young in the 1950s and the business passed to his son Robert. In 1954 Bob Tough worked on the design of the Havengore, for the Port of London Authority, the vessel used to transport Winston Churchill’s coffin along the Thames, and watched by 350 million people across the world.

  • Boat steel frame © Pat Walsh
  • Bending steel frames © Pat Walsh
  • Tough's Boatyard © Pat Walsh
  • Havengore, 1980's © Chris Shankster
  • Dunkirk 'Little Ships' being repaired, 1980s © Jono Shankster
  • Moorings at Tough's 1980's © Chris Shankster
  • Tough's Yard, 1980s © Jono Shankster
  • Pat Walsh doing civil engineering work © Pat Walsh

From the 1960s, Pat Walsh worked at Tough's as a boat builder. He was also a key part of the civil engineering side of the Tough’s business, and established his own civil engineering and towage company on the river. In the 1980s he was part of the team who built one of Tough’s last boats, a 150 foot yacht called Brave Goose, for Sir Donald Gosling. Two young brothers, Chris and Jono Shankster worked at Tough’s at that time and worked on Brave Goose. The yacht was launched in April 1986, and was brought downstream under Richmond Bridge, where it was famously caught by the tide. By the 1990s the boatyard was in decline, with Bob Tough eventually retiring in 2006, and the yard has recently been redeveloped into offices and apartments.