A 6 minute Read by Alice West
Founded in 1870, Hobbs of Henley has been a trusted name in boating for over 150 years. Today, as a family-owned business, we take immense pride in operating the largest fleet of boats on the River Thames. Our rich history is a testament to our dedication to exceptional service, constant innovation, and a deep connection to the Henley-on-Thames community. Climb aboard, and let us take you on a trip back to the very beginning…
From Wharfingers to Publicans and Boat Builders
The story of Hobbs of Henley begins long before our official founding. Records show that the Hobbs family were farmers in the Hambleden valley from at least the 15th century before they became wharfingers at Hambleden Mill, from which they ran the ferry to Aston from 1713. In 1870, Harry Hobbs established the family firm on Wharf Lane (off New Street) building a row of boathouses and running the business from The Ship Hotel which he was also landlord of.
In 1875 he narrowly escaped prosecution for serving his home-brewed gin outside of the hours permitted on Sundays – but that’s a story for another day…
Harry and his six sons then constructed a boathouse on the current Hobbs site we know today in 1898. This strategic move placed Hobbs of Henley in proximity to the railway station, enabling easy access for out-of-towners seeking adventures on the Thames.
Expanding Reach and Legacy
As we progressed into the 20th century, Hobbs of Henley cemented its position as a leader in the boating industry. In 1902, we registered as a limited company and acquired additional boatyards in Goring, Shiplake, Marlow, and Pangbourne.
Always innovating, during the Second World War and with petrol strictly rationed, the company thrived by hiring out punts and skiffs at the weekends instead…
Our commitment to the Henley Royal Regatta was demonstrated by the construction of the Enchantress in 1913, a remarkable craft that carried a young Queen Elizabeth II (then a Princess) in 1946. For much of the 20th century, Hobbs & Sons would also build and dismantle the Royal Regatta course every year.
From Generation to Generation
The Hobbs family’s dedication to providing exceptional boating experiences continued through the years. In 1953, A.R.B. (“Dick”) Hobbs – Mayor of Henley – took sole management of the firm, while his son, Tony, fronted motor cruiser hire.
Tony Hobbs’ appointment as Royal Waterman to Her Majesty the Queen in 1981 brought further distinction to our family legacy. This esteemed role called upon him to carry out royal duties at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, including hosting foreign dignitaries and participating in state openings of parliament.
Adapting to Changing Times
As the boating industry evolved, so did Hobbs of Henley. We shifted our focus to larger passenger vessels and exclusive day-hire boats in the 1990s, ushering in a new era of luxury on the Upper Thames. Notable additions to our fleet during this period include The New Orleans, The Waterman, and Hibernia.
In recognition of our exceptional service, Tony Hobbs was honoured with an MBE for his contributions to the community in 2004. Tony also became one of only four individuals to be awarded the Henley Town Medal, a testament to his dedication and commitment.
A Commitment to Excellence
The 21st century has seen Hobbs of Henley embrace new ventures and technologies. In 2005, we rebranded as Hobbs of Henley. The following years saw the introduction of luxury Linssen Holiday boats to our fleet, offering guests the opportunity to experience the Thames in an even more immersive and luxurious way. We then acquired a local boat hire company, Rivertime, in 2006, making us the largest boat fleet operator on the Thames.
A Journey Beyond Expectations
In 2009 we closed our marine store, which became the Boathouse restaurant two years later. This is now run by chef Shaun Dickens as ‘Bistro at the Boathouse’. From participating as the official river transporter for the GB Rowing Squad during the London 2012 Olympic Games to launching the luxurious holiday cruiser Jacqueline, we have continuously diversified on and off the water.
Expanding Horizons: Luxury Cruisers and Exclusive Memberships
Continuing to enhance our luxury holiday fleet, Hobbs of Henley welcomed ‘Midsomer’ in 2015. This Linssen cruiser joined the ranks of an already impressive holiday fleet. Around the same time, we acquired six Olympic Class Launches that had served as VIP transport during the 2012 Olympics. These esteemed vessels now form part of Hobbs’ self-drive fleet, providing an exclusive option for discerning river users.
The Henley Boat Club – A World of Privilege
Jonathan Hobbs launched ‘The Henley Boat Club’ in 2014, a luxury membership boating scheme that opens the doors to a world of privilege on the Thames. Members can enjoy access to a curated selection of launches, offering unparalleled freedom to explore the river’s beauty and charm. With an annual fee, this exclusive membership scheme embodies the essence of Hobbs’ commitment to exceptional experiences on the water.
Embracing the Spirit of Henley
In 2017, we proudly launched Mr. Hobbs Gin, based on an old recipe from Harry Hobbs’ time at The Ship Hotel in 1870. Our commitment to excellence was further recognized with Jonnie Hobbs being appointed as a Royal Waterman to Her Majesty the Queen in 2018.
Celebrating 150 Years of Excellence
In celebration of over a century and a half of continuous business, Hobbs launched Mr. Hobbs 150 in 2020: a classic London Dry Gin. This exceptional spirit garnered several awards including a silver medal at the International Spirit Competition I.W.S.C and London Spirits. Mr. Hobbs 150 is now stocked at Waitrose.
In 2021 we introduced five state-of-the-art electric class launches to our fleet. These elegant boats, manufactured in Holland, mark a significant milestone in our ongoing commitment to sustainability and environmental conservation: the first of their kind here on the Thames.
Embracing Change, Honouring Legacy
2023 marks a significant turning point for Hobbs of Henley, as our company enters a new era of change and expansion. With a heavy heart, we bid farewell to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2022 and welcomed the reign of King Charles III. In recognition of this transition, Jonathan Hobbs, our Managing Director, was appointed a Waterman to King Charles III. This prestigious appointment honours Jonnie’s dedication to the river and his commitment to serving the royal family, following in the footsteps of his forefathers. He was one of 18 Royal Waterman to form part of the Kings Bodyguard in the Coronation procession.
Hobbs of Henley proudly unveiled its latest addition to the fleet in 2022: the magnificent ‘Lilibet.’ This stunning 40ft luxury motor cruiser is named in honour of our late Queen and represents a tribute to her remarkable reign. Built by Piper Boats in Staffordshire, ‘Lilibet’ stands as a testament to British craftsmanship and excellence. She is a hybrid vessel and can cruise for five hours on silent running electric power; another investment in sustainable boating, and the future.
As we reflect on our rich history, Hobbs of Henley remains dedicated to upholding our legacy of excellence, innovation, and environmental responsibility. With the largest fleet of boats on the Thames, we invite you to join us in creating extraordinary moments on the water while we navigate towards a sustainable future. Join us at Hobbs of Henley, where tradition meets innovation, and experience the legacy that has made us the trusted name on the River Thames for over 150 years.