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The history of Val Wyatt

From humble beginnings to a present-day promise of a more sustainable future, follow our story of sheds, slipways, ferries and foundries. The Val Wyatt timeline is a rich history of milestone moments and passionate people, all contributing to the marina you see today.


William Wyatt and his wife Emma came to Wargrave to help run their family business, The St George & Dragon Hotel. The marine business was established as people began boating from the hotel.


William and Emma’s son, Frank Thomas, was born. With his wife Kate, Frank took over the business until his death in 1899. Kate continued to oversee the marina and their son, Valentine, took over the family hotel.


Valentine – “Val” – Wyatt went on to learn boat building from George Dunton at Shepperton and took over the marine side of the business until the war. It was at this time that he named operations Val Wyatt Marine, building punts, skiffs, dinghies, canoes, and randans.


With the rise in motor boat popularity, Val Wyatt expanded operations by purchasing the present site on Willow Lane. It was here the build of motor punts began, sold for £78 per boat. 


Significant changes at Willow Marina included a new hand-dug slipway, and the first of three marina buildings, which enabled larger boats to be lifted out of the water for storage and repairs.


The Willows Boatyard was separated from the original George & Dragon yard, which continued to hire out 100 small unpowered boats. Eventually, that business was sold to Swancraft.


The yard started to specialise in Freeman river cruisers, at which time Val’s son, Bill, had been running the business for 5 years. The backwater meadow was purchased by the Wyatt’s, and soon after, demand for berths led to an agreement to use the Oxon bank for additional moorings – an agreement which still stands today.


The last building, now known as the Osmo Shed, was created initially as a store, and then a foundry. At the peak period, there were 4 boatbuilders, 3 fitters, 1 electrician, 2 trimmers, 4 general hands, and some casual labour.


Wishing to retire, Bill Wyatt sought to sell the business, and Alec Baylis happened by chance to meet him. Alec went on to purchase the marina, with his business partner Stuart Wade, supported by his father and uncle who had recently sold their tobacconist shop in Maidenhead.


Alec focused on expanding new boat sales, whilst also continuing the development of the marina with the installation of pontoons on the front and backwater, and with a second larger slipway dug to facilitate larger craft coming ashore.


The development of the business continued with the installation of pontoons on both the river frontage and the backwater, increasing mooring options and the overall capacity of the marina. 


Val Wyatt premiered the Haines 31 Sedan cabin cruiser at the London Boat Show. This was alongside Bob and Mary Haines, who had started building the boats at their Norfolk boatyard in 1980.


The Interboat partnership began, with the marina offering bespoke builds imported from the Netherlands. At this time most boats were cabin cruisers, but with more day boat options the marina landscape began to change. 


Lisa Anacora, Alec Baylis’ daughter, became involved in the business in 2011 and eventually took the helm from her father, proudly becoming Val Wyatt’s Managing Director in 2012.


The first Corsiva boats were sold from Willow Marina. These popular day boats were initially imported via our friends at Boroughbridge Marina, with Val Wyatt becoming sole importer three years later following increased demand.


Work began on developing the backwater moorings to provide additional berths, and The Ark, the floating houseboat office, was commissioned to replace the old boathouse. In 2015, with the mooring of the houseboat, the office was finally floodproof. 


The relationship with Haines Marine was re-invigorated through Lisa and Justin (Bob and Mary’s son). Twenty years after the Haines 31 had been premiered, a Haines 32 Sedan was commissioned.


The Cwtch coffee shop was created by Lisa and her wife Gemma, welcoming the public to experience Willow Marina. The coffee shop now lives on in the form of Velolife, offering spring and summer catering.


Val Wyatt Marine became the first marina in the UK to be awarded the Green Blue / Final Straw Foundation’s Bronze accreditation for reductions in single use plastic. This year we also committed halving our carbon emissions impact by 2030 and to becoming net zero by 2050.

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