Sunday, 24 October 2021

Master boatbuilder who passed on skill to generations

JOHN COX, the master boatbuilder at Eton College, has died, aged 81.

JOHN COX, the master boatbuilder at Eton College, has died, aged 81.

He was mentor to Mark Edwards, who built the Queen’s diamond jubilee row barge Gloriana, which has appeared at Henley Royal Regatta for the last three years.  

Mr Cox joined Eton College boathouse as an apprentice when he was 14 and remained there for most of his professional life.

He worked almost exclusively on wooden boats for the boys and masters and for many of its famous alumni, such as actor Hugh Laurie.

He also constructed most of the racing skiffs now used by the Thames skiff clubs. 

John Jesse Cox was born on December 18, 1933 in a house in Eton, only 50 yards from the college boathouse. His father, also John, was a carpenter.

In 1956, he was called to National Service at RAF Upavon. 

On demobilisation, he returned to Eton, where he worked for the next four decades. Mr Cox helped set up the Thames Traditional Boat Society in 1980 to promote the use and conservation of traditional, non-powered craft, mainly skiffs, dinghies, punts and canoes. 

In 1990, he co-proposed the building of the first Thames wherry for 150 years which resulted in The Rose, a reconstruction of an 18th century wherry used as a water taxi on the tidal Thames.

Mr Cox retired from Eton in 1998 on a college pension. He took commissions and began tutoring a new generation of boatbuilders.

He passed on his knowledge to other Thames boatyards, which resulted in Gloriana, the first royal row barge for 250 years.

In 2006, Mr Cox teamed up with Hambleden boatbuilders Henwood & Dean to help one of their young craftsmen, Will Howard, build a traditional Thames rowing skiff.

It was called Sweet Chestnut after the local sustainable timber that was used and won Will the Transport Trust’s award for young preservationist of the year.

Mr Cox also carried out restoration commissions for private clients such as the vintage boat collector Bill Rose.

He advised on the traditional rowing exhibits during the foundation of the River and Rowing Museum in Henley and was present when the Queen opened the museum in 1998.

He travelled to the opening by rail. “You’re very smart, are you going to meet the Queen?” asked the attendant at his station. “Yes, actually I am,” replied Mr Cox.

He finally retired in 2011. John Cox’s first marriage was dissolved. He married again in 1996 to Judith Kristina Walker, who survives him with a daughter from his first marriage.

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