Open for Business since 1902

W Trout & Son Ltd - a Century in the marine business - 1st Feb 2002

Not many marine businesses can claim to have been 'in business' for a Century. This is the story of the company from 1902 to 2002, as related by Lynn Trout. It was on February 2nd 1902 that Daniel Charles Trout became Harbour Master at Topsham Quay near Exeter in Devon.

DanCTroutDaniel had worked in the Holman Shipyards in Topsham as a shipwright, but as Harbour Master Daniel had to give up his paid employment and make his own income. The post came with a five bedroom maisonette and a workshop in the Quay House, (back to back with the then much smaller Lighter Inn) but no wage.

Daniel became 'Daniel Trout', and began repairing boats, his headed paper having a ship on one side of the title and an adze crossed with a cross cut (two-handled saw) on the other.

The Harbour Master was responsible for berthing the ships at Topsham Quay and keeping records of the vessels, their tonnage, their captain and crew and a full record of the cargoes that came and went across Quay. He had to be available to meet the boats on the high tides and to meet the trains and let the trucks and flatbeds on to the quay to deposit and collect their cargoes from the boats. In those days the quay was protected by large wooden gates, which had to be locked over night.

The workshop was under the maisonette and in what is now the Lighter Inn bar. It was not a very big space and but it included a small office with an old fashioned desk in which to keep logbooks and a set of oak pigeon holes for correspondence from customers and ships, plus a heater for the winter. There were no doors to the workshop, just slatted gates. Daniel found his work repairing and fitting out small trading schooners, barges and fishing boats.

The maisonette had a large living room with a big blackened range, a small kitchen and five bedrooms, which became four when a bathroom was put in. The floor between the workshop and the living room was planks over beams, covered in linoleum and old carpet. When the wind blew from the Southwest the flooring would rise and fall, lifting the furniture.

William with his wife MaryAnn & daughter WinnieSadly in May 1918, Daniel fell into the hold of a boat he was converting to carry coal and died from his injuries 24 hours later, so William Charles Trout , his son, had to take on the post of Harbour Master.

William allowed his mother and brothers to live on in the quay house until his mother died in 1926. William ran Topsham Quay on the same basis as his father before him, although he had trained as joiner. He used the workshop to repair boats, but also to build houses, and found time to run an undertaking business, building his own coffins. Despite his many interests, it was also William Trout who began to convert the nearby workshops and warehouses into private houses.

In 1927/28 Daniel James Trout joined his father in the business.

William and Daniel pre warDaniel did not like the coffin making; he preferred the boat building and repairs. 

Then, sometime around 1937 Trouts entered the leisure market, building half a dozen 'Snipe' Bermuda rig sailing boats, an American design by Crosby.

About 15ft, carvel built with a hard chine, deal and oak, they weighed about 0.5t dry and about 4t wet! They sold for £27.10 shillings, unless one had the pull up rudder, which cost a further 30 shillings.


At the start of the war Daniel and his Uncle Reg were sent to Plymouth to build Montague Whalers and personnel landing craft, but on July 19th 1941 they met with a road accident on the way back from Plymouth, leaving Daniel in hospital for most of the rest of the war.

After the War, William renamed the business W C Trout & Son, and slowly built it up, building and maintaining small clinker and hard chine wooden boats of up to 25ft for the growing leisure industry, using the workshop beneath the maisonette.

Then, in 1958 Daniel and his wife Nancy brought what is now the Ferry Road workshop (much to the disapproval of his father), and a few years later, the family built the yard quay alongside the Ferry Road workshop on top of old wrecks that were slowly disintegrating there.

William, Daniel, Michael and Eric, Michael's brother who worked in the family business for a period of about five years, and recently Mark have continued the boat building and repairs initially in the Quay House workshop, more recently using the Ferry Road workshop.

Together they have built many unique wooden clinker and carvel boats, usually motor sailors of 26-28ft, lofted on the workshop floor, among them - most notably - the Exe 20 in 1986 and, very recently, replica of a Plymouth Hooker gaff rig cutter.

With the advent of GRP in the early 1970s, the designs were adapted and reworked to fit the new material. In the upstairs workshop at Ferry Road, W C Trout & Son produced 29 Exe 17s - a 17ft motor boat/work boat - over a period of four years, the production line for the craft only coming to an end when the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced VAT at 25 per cent.

Another popular line was a little pram dinghy known as the 'Raleigh', more than 80 of which were produced.

Daniel and Michael have also fitted out Tamar, Seafarers and Corvick hulls to the meet owners' particular requirements, and have done a lot of restoration work on older yachts, both insurance work and annual maintenance.

William died whilst he was still Harbour Master in 1960, and Daniel took the post, now called Quay Master and the maisonette.

By then the post provided the maisonette and workshop and a retainer of £5.00 a year!

Clonker 1960 Dan, Uncle Reg, Michael & Mr Wilkinson, (a Vet), the proud new owner of this clinker day boat with cabin, outside what is now the Lighter Inn bar, but what was the workshop 1960.



Lighter Inn fire May 1971In May 1971 a fire started in the Lighter Inn in the early hours of the morning. Daniel and Nancy escaped with most of their possessions and the tools from the workshop, and when Exeter City Council rebuilt the Quay House they took the workshop into the Lighter Inn and made it the main bar, Daniel and Michael moving all their boat building and repair work to the Ferry Road workshop.

Meanwhile, Daniel and Nancy had moved back into the Quay House maisonette, but finding that they could not take the noise and smells from the bar below, they converted the upstairs part of the Ferry Road workshop into the flat they still live in today.

Daniel retired from the post of Quay Master in 1983 by which time he was being paid the princely sum of £75.00 per year.

Mark is introduced to boatbuilding by Daniel and Mike


Daniel and Michael worked on as Partners and were joined by Mark, Michael's son in 1986 after he had taken a two-year 'ship and boat building' course at Falmouth.

Daniel retired from 'working' in 1991 but still maintains a watchful eye on proceedings 'downstairs' at the age of 88, and on 31st December 2000 finally retired from the Partnership and Mark became a Partner with his father.


In the last 12 years the family has expanded the pontoon facilities to widen the base of the business, culminating in some 30 extra berths added last summer, berth that are taken up by shallow draft boats such as RIBs during the summer whilst providing winter mud berths for wooden yachts.

Boatbuilding and repair apart, the company is part of Topsham Quay Agents, who are responsible for winter storage on Topsham quay. The company has 29 moorings on the river.

Currently, W C Trout & Son's workload includes repairs, annual maintenance and rebuilds in wood and GRP. The company also carries out osmosis treatment, and supplies and fits standing rigging up to 8mm.

About to enter its second Century, W C Trout & Son is still working on boats from Sussex and Dorset, plus a lot of local craft from Dartmouth, the South Hams, and the Exe estuary, and continues to provide access to the Exe Estuary for ferryboats from Exmouth and Turf and visitor pontoons for yachts and motor cruisers from right along the South Coast and across the Channel.

TopshamHarbourC1905weblCopyright Past and Present Publications

Our current site on Ferry Road in about 1905.  Looks a busy place!  The wooden post and rail or Gallas was for drying the fishing nets on.  The Victoria Pier built to celebrate Queen Victoria's Jubilee was demolished after a small boy fell through the rotten decking and drowned.

The original timber buildings built was over old stone stables.  The old stone walls are still there and form the bais of our current workshop.  The quay sheds were last used as a coal depot before Daniel brought it 1958.  He and Michael then knocked the remains of the rotting timber down and put up the current workshop.







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