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Wise Folly


A newly restored historic varnished mahogany launch


If you are looking for a new boat but actually want something traditional and wooden then look no further. Wise Folly is exactly that. She was built in 1915 by John Hart in Surbiton near Kingston on Thames which was a busy area at that time for boat building. The builder’s plate is clearly visible on the forward coaming. She was named on launch as Vacuna by her owner who ran the Elephant and Castle pub and lived locally. His chauffeur looked after the boat as was the custom at that time.

In 1973 Robin Newlands was given the boat. He ran the boat for 12 years and entered her into the first Henley Traditional Boat Rally. There were 27 entrants in all and Wise Folly carried off several trophies. She was the founder member of the Thames Vintage Boat Club and carries the Number 1 plate to prove it.

Robin had what remained of his boat under wraps for more than twenty years as he undertook some much required maintenance including replacing some planking and eventually replacing the transom which proudly bears the name Wise Folly today. Dennetts completed the work at Robin's request and presented her to the public once more at the 2017 Southampton Boat Show where this grand old lady drew admiration from the thousands of visitors to the show.

Robin Newlands (sadly no longer with us), the previous custodian of Wise Follow for the previous 40 years wrote :

“For your information I knew the daughter of Ernest Strange who had known the boat from its launch until her father sold it on in 1936.  She came for a ride on it 40 years later and all the information I have of that time came directly from her. In 1922 her father bought the boat as he was the owner of the upper part of Ravens Ait with a summer house on the island. His name was Ernest Alfred Strange and it was he who renamed the boat Wise Folly. Perhaps he considered it to be a wise purchase although he already had a couple of boats so this was perhaps an unnecessary addition to his fleet, or “folly” being so handsome a craft.

Miss Strange had read a River Thames Society article after a rally and contacted us. She lived in Weybridge, she also still had the original record player under her bed and the ensign which she told us her father believed had to reach from heaven to earth and was therefore exceptionally large for the boat."

After a scandalous elopement by Ernest’s daughter the boat passed a couple of years later (in 1936) to the owner of the Bell Hotel at Hampton where it was moored at the end of the ferry staging. During the war it was moored in Shepperton and is rumoured to have been used by the Upper Thames Patrol as a Home Guard boat for 3 years. Following the war the boat was returned to its owner. According to the aural history we have it is indeed highly probable that the boat was part of the Upper Thames river patrol during WWII. Robin said that he had spoken to the Duntons Bros. when they were still running the Shepperton Lock boatyard and that it was they who gave him the information about the Upper Thames Patrol and their joke about the owner picking the boat up after the war and wanting a push start.

In 1952 Mr John Coleman of Monksbridge Sunbury bought the boat for his mooring opposite Sunbury Lock. He and his wife Freda were owners of Gresham Lion Electronics so it is appropriate that the boat is now electric although he did in fact exchange the original engine for a Morris Vedette side valve engine. He used the boat for family holidays and as an umpire launch for Sunbury Regatta. He had another boat built with a cabin called Folly Two and then a large Broom which he called More Folly. Wise Folly had become surplus to requirements. In 1957 some youths had stolen her crashing into a barge up the weir stream and causing extensive damage to the bow and to some ribs.

The restoration work carried out by Dennetts should more properly be described as a complete refit and most of the work was an interpretation of the original. It was necessary to completely renew the internal panelling and the original would have been impossible to copy due to availability of suitable wood. However the old deck and teak cover boards were useable but were replaced with all mahogany and wider seams. The stem used to come above the deck with a silver metal capping. This is now flush with the deck. The original seat back and stern coaming would no longer fit due to the side decks being wider.

Originally the boat had 4 frames in the bilge. Due to her age 7 were fitted in total.

The original engine bearers had been cut down to about 3 feet to accommodate the Vedette engine and drawing the shaft forward about 2 feet. 15 foot long hardwood bearers were inserted by Robin in the hope of one day finding a suitable steam engine although the chances are that the boat was originally electric. The main part of the hull was also re-ribbed by Robin in an earlier phase during the thirty years years that she remained laid up.

At that time the stern was made from a plank of aphromosia which he had retrieved from the river and this wood has for major characteristic that it goes darker in the sun not lighter as mahogany does. The planking that he put in was of Honduras mahogany of which he used one 22 foot plank of the two that he had bought in the 1950’s. The ends of these planks still needed fairing in when the boat went to Dennett.

She was built as a Surrey Topped Gentleman’s launch and remained as such throughout her life. There was a postcard in existence showing her moored at Raven’s Ait and a later one, given to Robin by Strange’s daughter, at Runnymede in 1924. There is a postcard in existence showing her moored at the end of the ferry stage at Hampton and there are many photos of her at various rallies from 1973- 1985. All of these she is Surrey topped with a frill and full cover canvas curtains.

The construction was in 5/8th Honduras mahogany planking on oak ribs with teak covering boards. The planks are full hull length, matched and steam bent into shape. The metal work at that time was Germany silver plating rather than chrome which was not yet fashionable. However Dennetts have used brass throughout.

It is possible that her engine would have been a Gaines universal according to a description given by the daughter of the owner at the time but she could have been electric as she is once again now over one hundred years later.

Wise Folly is looking for another owner now to continue as custodian into her second century. She is electrically powered and sports a smart pair of brass navigation lights, a champagne bucket holder and smart green cushions. A three quarter Sunbrella canopy with sidescreens and a forward tonneau was added in 2020 as well as a full length storage cover.

The central Henley mooring is also available should a new owner wish to be based in Henley on Thames.

For more information and to view please call the office on 01491 578870.


Harts of Surbiton
Year of build
1915 and rebuilt in 2017
6ft 6ins
Electric 6kw 72 volt propulsion package

Please call Gillian on 01491 578 870 for more information


Henley Sales and Charter Ltd have gained a reputation over the last 30 years for selling and chartering beautiful, classic boats. Experience of operating and selling boats on the river Thames enables us to offer expert objective advice to prospective owners on all aspects of boat ownership including purchase, surveys, repairs and moorings. We will do our best to find the ideal craft to suit your individual needs - for a day or for a lifetime.

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29 Station Road
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire


01491 578 870

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