The Radleys of the Lea

Clive Radley’s book The Radleys of the Lea tells the story about the author’s ancestors, the Radleys, a family of boatbuilders and rowers.

Later this year, in early May, Clive Radley is publishing a book about his family’s history as boatbuilders and rowers, The Radleys of the Lea. The book is 220 pages long and contains many photographs, scans of historical records and newspaper extracts about the author’s ancestors, the boatbuilding family the Radleys. Here Clive gives us the background to his book:

The book The Radleys of the Lea is the story of my ancestors whose boatyard business was founded in 1840 by my great-great-grandfather George Radley and his wife Phoebe. The business flourished by the River Lea in northeast London for 130 years and at its peak in the early twentieth century there were three boatyards, all a few miles upriver of the London Olympic Stadium site, between Lea Bridge and Springhill. From the 1880s onwards, the boatyards traded as V. Radley and Sons, named as such by my great-grandfather Vincent Radley, who ran the business from 1865 to 1932.

CR - First advert
The first advertisement Kelly’s Post Office Directory of Middlesex, 1874. (University of Leicester Historical Directories of England & Wales).
CR - Vincent obituary
Vincent Radley’s obituary, Daily Mirror, 23 March 1923 (courtesy of Mirrorpix).

The book includes the history of the boatbuilding business and the rowing exploits of family members. Boatyard life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is described, as well as the way in which the social and geographic conditions of northeast London and northwest Essex influenced the founding of the Radley business and its subsequent development.

In a newspaper clipping from Sporting Life of 8 July 1862, I found the first record of Radley involvement in competitive rowing. Venus Rowing Club was founded by George Radley, who started the Radley boatyard business.

CR - Venus RC
Venus Rowing Club meeting 1862 (Sporting Life).
CR - Ye Olde Boat House
Ye Olde Boat House – the Radley’s first boathouse and cottage; picture probably from the early 1900s (family photo).

The Radleys of the Lea has its origins in the family history research I began in the late 1990s and was inspired by memories of my childhood visits to the family boatyard. I was born in 1945 and grew up in Leytonstone in northeast London and quite often my father would take us by bus to visit my uncle, Sid Radley, our last boat builder, at the V. Radley and Sons site at Springhill opposite what is now Lea Rowing Club. These visits resulted in an interest in rowing and boating which I have retained throughout my life, ultimately leading to this book.

CR - Sid Radley
Sid Radley in Springhill workshop (family picture).

My family history hobby had started in a broad, unfocussed manner, but fairly rapidly progressed to a more concentrated look at my father’s ancestors. He had left a number of pictures of the Radley boatyards and of family members rowing in family crews and these led to me to look more deeply into the boatbuilding and rowing aspects of the Radley family.

CR - Radley Family crew
A Radley Family crew comprising three of my uncles, Sid, Laurie and Wally, my grandfather, Wallis (at 3 with moustache), and my dad, George (cox), in a picture probably from the mid-1920s (family picture). As boatbuilders they competed in professional races for prizes.

My research proceeded at rather a leisurely pace until one day one of my cousins said “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a book describing our heritage, and why don’t you write it?”

“Why not?” I thought. The Radley family business had operated for 130 years so it should not be difficult to gather enough information to fill a book. In addition, I was computer literate so producing a manuscript should not be too much of a problem. This inspired me to be more serious about timescales.

Radley boathouse at Lea dock
The Radley boathouse at Lea Dock, probably in 1913 (family picture).

During my research, I contacted Chris Dodd, rowing historian at the River & Rowing Museum at Henley-on-Thames and contributor to HTBS. It turned out he was aware of the Radleys, as my cousin Patricia Szajer (née Radley) had deposited her father Laurie Radley’s handwritten memories of the family business at the museum. The manuscript covered the period from when Laurie was growing up at one of the boathouses in the early 1900s up to the immediate post World War I period. Chris turned Laurie’s handwritten text into an impressive document and it appears as a chapter in the book.

CR - Laurie Radley
Laurie Radley sculling on the Lea in the 1930s (family picture).

Contact with Chris continued sporadically, and I then discovered he was a rowing journalist and had written a number of well-received books on rowing history. After further contact, he agreed to provide advice and write the foreword. He also gave me a key piece of advice, that a book with just facts would be boring to most readers. In addition to facts, I needed to include family stories and anecdotes from those relatives who remembered the Radley boatyards and the people who worked in them.

I then began to contact my relatives, seeking facts, pictures, anecdotes and stories about our shared heritage, and they were keen to help. This involved Skype calls to South Africa, the USA, Canada, Hong Kong, Italy and France, as well as traditional landline calls to U.K.-based cousins.

In gathering stories and anecdotes, I was lucky that some of my cousins were born before the Second World War. Sid Radley’s two surviving children, June and Tony, had amazing memories of events going back to the 1930s. In a similar vein my uncle Laurie Radley’s daughter, Janet, had memories of the Springhill boatyard during the Second World War and made available a number of her family pictures. Tom Boyde, the husband of Sid Radley’s older daughter Shirley Radley, an international oarswoman in the early 1950s, contributed stories as did his children Emma, Nicholas and Simon. Nicholas Boyde also made available his archive of pictures and newspaper cuttings covering his mother Shirley’s rowing career.

CR - Cousin Shirley Radley
My cousin Shirley Radley at bow in the 1951 England women’s eight in third place at the European Championships at Macon in eastern France.

The crews the English women were competing against were racing in shells. The English women’s boat was a borrowed clinker-built and much heavier, perhaps a good explanation of their third place finish.

Sid's daughter June Radley
Sid’s daughter June Radley at no. 5 in a combined Lea clubs crew on the Serpentine, 1951, during the Festival of Britain (family picture).

June told me that the Lea clubs were asked to enter a representative crew to row against the Thames in the 1951 Serpentine regatta. It was half Borough of Hackney, which was June’s club, and half Stuart Ladies. The Lea crew had beaten Thames easily and at one stage the umpire called out to not get too far in front, as they were trying to get both crews in shot for the cameras. It was the only race June was in where the officials told her to slow down. June missed out on joining her sister in the 1951 England women’s eight due to a back injury.

CR - J Hopper
The Sid Radley-built J Hopper before restoration by Roger Bean in late 2012.

In late 2012, Roger Bean from Durham contacted me via Chris Dodd asking for help with the history of an old Radley sculling boat he had bought for £50, which he intended to restore. I was happy to oblige and by September 2014 he had completed the restoration of the boat, the J Hopper, and it completed its first short outing with Roger Bean sculling. His first outing was not a total success as the boat sprang a leak and took on some water by the time he returned to terra firma. Roger has written a chapter describing his project and provided a number of pictures.

CR - Roger Bean
Roger Bean in his restored single scull, J Hopper, September 2014.

The J Hopper is one of twelve Radley-built boats which have survived to the present day. Two are in the USA, one in Hong Kong and the rest are in England.

Once the draft of the text had been written, I realised that a number of my cousins were working or had been working in publishing and journalism and that my partner, Patricia, was brilliant at spotting inconsistencies and my poor English. She reviewed and checked the text a number of times and three publishing/journalist cousins edited and checked the whole manuscript, including the final copy. Chris Dodd had provided advice on the content and did some reviewing and Dick Anderson, the author of the recently published book on Lea rowing clubs, Springhill: Two Centuries of River Lea Rowing (2014), also provided valuable advice.

I am immensely grateful to everyone who gave me their support and a helping hand in writing this book.

A link to my blog about the book is here.



    In early March 2015 just before the book design was completed I received an email from Malcolm Pemberry who is a leading light in Dittons Skiff and Punting Club at Thames Ditton opposite the gardens of Hampton Court. He told me the club had three skiffs built by V Radley and Sons in the late 1960s. Up to this point I was unaware of them so I very pleased especiasally as I live about onl 40 minutes from Thames Ditton.

    On the 15th of March I visited Dittons and took a number of pictures of the Radley skiffs and did a short stint coxing one. Apparently one of the Radley skiffs took part in the Queens Silver Jubilee River Pageant which I had observed from the riverbank by Chelsea Bridge. The skiffs are in beautiful condition despite being used by club members most weeks of the year. The skiffs were built by Sid Radley at Springhill and were purchased by Dittons directly from him.

    The Radleys of the Lea is one of the few books about rowing and boatbuilding history told from the boatbuilder’s viewpoint. The main other one is about the rather more well known Phelps family by Maurice Phelps!!!

  2. There was a connection between Edwin Phelps and Sid Radley of V Radley and Sons after WW 2.

    The Phelps boatbuilding company sometimes subcontracted to Sid when they were too busy to fulfill some of their orders.

    They were almost certainly wooden single scullers. After delivery to the Phelps company they were then rebadged as Phelps boats.

    Sid also sometimes subcontracted but I don’t know which companies he used.

  3. I blog frequently and I seriously thank you for your content.

    Your article has truly peaked my interest. I’m
    going to bookmark your blog and keep checking for new details
    about once a week. I subscribed to your RSS feed as well.

  4. Good news, the Henley Royal Regatta have agreed to take 20 copies on a sale and return basis. This is a surprise as initially they said they preferred the books they sold to be about the regatta.

  5. Rachel ~ I believe you can. Easiest way is to contact the author of the book, This is Clive Radley’s e-mail: clive – dot – radley1 – at sign – ntlworld – dot – com

  6. Rachel i sent a copy to Goran the postage was about £13. You could also order one from the Henley Regatta website shop. I assume their postage charge would be similar.

  7. Rachel
    I could include a CD containing all the pictures of the sculler restoration of the J Hopper carried out by Roger Bean in 2013 2014. There were too many to include in the book. The J Hopper was originally built as one of 6 by Sid Radley for the Doggetts races.

  8. Clive,

    I can confirm that HRR sold at least one copy of your book. I’m looking forward to reading it after following its progress via your correspondence with Göran.


  9. Hello, My name is Hank Joseph, beloved owner of a Radley here in the US, would love to have a copy [signed if possible]of your book.The book is a joy to row & I am proud to have her.. I look forward to your reply Hank

  10. Hello Clive, my radley came from Daryl Strickler whose company is “Rowable Classics” I am thrilled awaiting your book Hank Joseph Post Office Box 398, East Rutherford, New Jersey 07073 USA Tell me what I owe & will remit same, Thank You Hank

      • YES YES YES Book arrived this morning,Am thrilled to have it.Thank you so much. I am on the hunt for some vintage oars… I t would be a sin to use moden “hatchets” I will keep you up to date & will send some pictures Thank you Hank

      • You can pay by PayPal if that’s ok using my email address which is in the book. The USA mail system seems slow. I assume they have to scan everything to check the contents.

  11. The Henley Regatta shop/website has sold out of the Radleys of the Lea and as they don’t restock until the build up to the 2016 Regatta, the book is no longer available from them.

  12. Clive Radley

    An unepected chat with Sir Steve Redgrave. On Saturday afternoon, 19th September Patricia and I went to Marlow as that evening we were booked in at the Compleat Angler for a meal. Marlow Rowing club is close by so before having a riverside stroll we visited tthe club They have a brand new boathouse which had been officially opened by Sir Steve earlier that day. We were given a tour of the new facilities, most impressive, and then taken to the bar where we had a drink.
    Sir Steve was close by and I asked him whether whether he liked The Radleys of Lea book. I showed him a copy and he said the copy Katrina Robinson at the Regatta headquarters was meant to given him must have have been put in the wrong place as he hadn’t seen it before.
    He then looked through it and spoke about his memories of Springhill, mentioned Graham Hill and Sid Rand and he recognised the Radley bungalow from the pic in the book took away the book and said he would ask Katrina to look for the other copy. Patricia also got to have a chat wirth him.
    We showed him the part about Simon Boyde rowing at Henley in the double sculls an event won by a crew containing a young Sir Steve in 1992. Sir Steve said he was 20 at the time.

  13. Spent many a summer at Spring Lea Cruising Club living on a half finished cabin cruiser up on the hard. Our 1st boat was Erica, which was moored `up the wall` opposite the rowing club. The 2nd Avalon was launched by seahorse into the Marina, newly built of course. Happy days.

  14. My Grandads name was Henry Radley, a rag and bone man originally based I Hackney wick but later in Tottenham, died in 1980

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