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Salters Steamers website -

Salters is a family firm that has provided first-class hospitality on the Royal River Thames for over 150 years (est. 1858).
As one of the longest established firms on the Thames we own one of the largest and most exclusive fleets operating on the river. Our cruises combine traditional style, contemporary comforts and the highest modern standards.
We offer a variety of hugely popular boat trips through some of the most beautiful scenery in England. During the summer our scheduled trips operate from every major location on the Upper-Thames between the university city of Oxford and the London boundary city of Staines (including such famous places as Reading, Henley and Windsor).
Furthermore, our exclusive craft can be privately chartered as the perfect venue for all kinds of function, party or celebration (including showpiece events such as the Henley Royal Regatta).
We also hire out punts, day-boats and other small craft (from Oxford only) as well as operating charters on the Solent.
In addition we are now offering a timetable of one-off special cruises held from a number of different locations throughout the year. These include public jazz cruises (from Oxford and Windsor), special services along unusual routes (e.g. Oxford to Wolvercote) as well as different trips to mark certain events (e.g. Bunkfest at Wallingford).

History and Pictures of Salter's Steamers

Salters Steamers on Folly Island
Salters Steamers on Folly Island.
The Goring there is one of the younger steamers (1913!)

Opposite the Head of the River is the Folly Island and the headquarters of Salters Steamers. It takes real professional boatmen to so nearly block the entire river and yet cause almost no problem to almost anyone - much - no really - hardly at all - most of the time - and what right did that narrow boat think it had anyway - coming downstream, slowly, keeping right? Folly Bridge was once the site of a weir and all navigation would have been through the LEFT bank (south) side of the island. Between The Head of the River and Salter's was a weir pool.
But seriously Oxford - Staines trips on steamers are to be recommended for anyone who cannot take their own boat on that stretch. The hulls of the steamers (now diesel) are based on sailing yacht designs and they make far less wash for their size than the average outboard launch.

1873: Salter's advert in Thames Map by Henry Taunt, 1873

1878: The Thames and Isis Steamboat Company Limited ran a regular service between Oxford and Kingston using the paddleboats Isis (built in 1878) and then the Thames (built in 1879).

SL Isis at Folly Bridge, 1878
Paddleboat Isis at Folly Bridge, 1878

The Thames and Isis Company ceased trading in 1882

1885: Dickens's Dictionary of the Thames carried this Salters advertisement which does not specifically mention a regular steamer service -

Salters Advertisement 1885
Salters Advertisement, 1885.

1887: John Salter bought the steam launch Alaska, built in 1883 by Horsham & Co. of Bourne End, Buckinghamshire from W.H. Barbrook of Walton-on-Thames.
1888: John Salter was running a regular service with Alaska leaving Oxford at 9.30am on Mondays, stopping that night at Henley and reaching Kingston late afternoon on Tuesdays: the return journey took three days, stopping at Windsor and Reading.
[ In later years Alaska was used as a private party boat at Oxford.
Alaska served in the wartime Thames River Patrol, was then sold in 1942 for service further down the river with Joseph Mears and was laid up shortly afterwards.
After withdrawal, Alaska is reputed to have been poled from Kingston to Oxford by a new owner.
She settled in shallow water on the Oxford Canal, was decked over and used as a boat hire pontoon. In 1974 she was rediscovered and identified by boat historians, ex-crew members and Lloyds. After being brought to a boatyard at Hurley, further research located her original engine at Kingston. Boat and engine were restored over a period of several years and a new boiler provided. In 1999, Alaska was acquired by Susanne & David Williams and leased to Thames Steamers for Thames charter work.
From 2006, Alaska is owned and operated by her skipper Peter Green. Chartering Alaska ]

In 1999 I passed through Sonning Lock with her and took this photo -

Sonning Lock
Alaska in Sonning Lock © 1999 John Eade

1906: G.E.Mitton -

The best way to see the river as a whole, for those who can spare the time, is to go on Salter's steamers, which run daily, Sundays excepted, during the summer. The fare one way is 14 shillings, exclusive of food, and the night spent en route. The trip takes two days, the steamer leaving Kingston at 9 in the morning, and reaching Henley at 7.15 in the evening. The reverse way, it leaves Oxford at 9.30, and reaches Henley, which is about half-way, at 7 in the evening.

1906: Salter's Paddle Steamer Isis -

1906: Salter's Paddle Steamer Isis
1906: Salter's Paddle Steamer Isis

2008: This can still be done in 4 or 5 days each way, costing £90 return or £55 single. See Salter's Website

There are also many individual section regular trips.

Joseph Ashby-Sterry wrote 'EASY ALL!' in his 'THE RIVER RHYMER', 1913 -

( 'Neath the awning you sit, and may smoke if you please,
While the Thames Panorama you view at your ease ! )

ON board the Steamer of Salter, down stream are you quietly steaming,
With bright panorama in view - in sweet summer weather you're dreaming ;
The day is before you and you are doing your best to get through it,
You've naught in the world now to do and feel you're quite equal to do it !
For here you may sit at your ease, the while at the prospect you're gazing,
And if you are anxious to laze, may take a full measure of lazing !
I'm sure you will have no desire such happy conditions to alter,
As blithely you bask in the sun, aboard of the Steamer of Salter !

Of Care you take leave for the day and revel in lack of employment ;
You've not the least trouble at locks they do not prevent your enjoyment !
And no one ejaculates "Time!" and none at your "feather" is jeering,
Or grumbles at absence of style, or slangs you for errors in steering !
Or talks about "trimming the boat" or ventures to hint you're a duffer
In fact you're delightfully free from ills ev'ry oarsman must suffer !
Likewise you may leave, if you're bored, wherever the vessel's a halter ;
For trips long or short you may take aboard of the Steamer of Salter !

Without any bustle or noise you make a delightful progression.
And quietly gliding along, see pictures in endless succession :
How lovely and cool is the stream, with countless reflections a-quiver,
The villas embowered in trees, and lawns sloping down to the River :
The gardens, the waterside inns, and ancient riparian churches.
The groves of the elm and the beech, the poplars, the willows, the birches :
The people you see at the locks and boaters should claim your attention,
The girls in canoes and in punts and launches, allow me to mention,
Form subjects for study and you at studies like these will not falter
They add to the charm of the day, aboard of the Steamer of Salter !

1909: The Stripling Thames, Fred Thacker -

However often one may turn upstream under Folly Bridge, it is always with a sense of entering upon an undiscovered land that for many centuries has lain undisturbed.
Once beyond the city boundaries there begins to stir within the heart the gladness of escape from civilisation and modernness, of the dawn of a world still to be explored however often visited.
To the ordinary voyager from London, intent upon "doing the river" in the fewest possible days, Salter's raft is the ultimate limit and source of the Thames. He learns, if he learns anything, of mere slums above, of gasworks and railway bridges; and easily concludes that Nuneham and Iffley are the last word the river has for him, and that beyond this raft he need not ascend.
Whereas this century old Folly Bridge, one hundred and twelve miles by water from London Bridge, is the portal to a course of fifty four miles to Trewsbury Mead, full of recollections of ancient times, and of scenes of gentle beauty and unsurpassable peace.

1951: Edward Ardizzone, his wife and son, rowed from Lechlade to Oxford and his sketches from his Holiday Afloat are published in 'Sketches for friends' -

Successfully negotiate the narrow waters in the city and arrive safely at Salters Yard where we bid a sad farewell to our craft.

1953: from Oxford by James Morris -

The only proper ships to be seen upon [Thames] waters are the fine old pleasure boats of the Salters fleet, based at Folly Bridge.
They were mostly built in Oxford, the last one before the second world war — though the Mary Stuart was once the Kagerplass, built in Germany and sailed here from Holland under her own steam.
Most of them are diesel powered, the biggest is 70 tons’ dead-weight, and nine of them remember the nineteenth century.
In the summer they still make the voyage downstream to Kingston, on the outskirts of London: it takes three days, but 'a fair number of colonials', a Salters man once told me indulgently, 'still do this kind of thing'.