History of Whilton Marina

The construction of Whilton marina

The video clip below shows the construction of Whilton Marina.

The construction of Whilton Marina began in October 1970 and was completed in May 1971. It was built by David Steele who had a background in construction and civil engineering. The site was just a field which had been used as a cricket ground, with the canal on one side & the railway on the other. Although there was an old farmhouse and some warehouse buildings which had been used by Tate & Lyle sugar company. However David saw the business potential of it's position right next to the canal and decided to build a marina.

Sir Stanley Unwin lowered the flag for the start of construction, waving off the vast earthmoving machines which moved over 125,000 tons of earth, excavating to a maximum depth of 30ft over an area of six acres, after which it took one and a quarter million gallons of water to fill the marina. This produced the largest man-made marina on the canal system at that time. Supplying moorings and full facilities for some 500 glass fibre boats, now there are moorings for around 250 narrow boats, including at least 60 sales narrow boats.

The marina is positioned at the north end of a sixteen mile, lock free stretch of canal in the very heart of the Midland Canal System and at the bottom of the Buckby Flight of locks.

The marina is still owned and operated by two of David's sons Nigel & Richard, with the third generation Robert, Charles & Abigail also playing an active role in the business operation.

The old farmhouse and stables were demolished in 1973 and in it's place 'The Banaventa' licensed premises and restaurant was constructed, this is now Whilton Locks Carpet Company. The Banaventa was opened by Jimmy Hill the ex Fulham footballer in 1975. That year was also David Steele the cricketers' benefit year and in August 1975 he came to the Banaventa for a fund raising function which was held to raise funds for charity.

During the 1970's fibre glass river cruisers were constructed at the marina, (notibly the Buckingham range of cruisers) although this only lasted a few years, there were around a hundred built. From 1982 Whilton Marina stopped selling new fibre glass boats and in 1995 stopped selling used fibre glass boats, now the marina only sells steel new and used narrow boats.

Sandpiper narrowboat shells were fitted out on a commercial basis at the marina from 1972 until 1974.

The marina was also an Evinrude outboard engine agent, selling around 100 units per year.

A Clinker built wooden trip boat named 'The Marlin' with a Stuart Turner two stroke engine, which was purchased from Poole Harbour, ran from Whilton Marina along the canal towards Weedon and back, and Richard remembers helping to crew the boat. The fare was 10 pence for adults and 5 pence for children!

A Sunday Market was held on The Banaventa car park opposite the marina and ran every week from 1977 until 1981. Richard & Nigel both have memories of car park duties!

In 1995 more land was purchased at the southern boundary of the marina, which was used to create a caravan storage compound for 450 caravans and self storage containers which are available to rent. Later a steel & hardwood (made out of old pier boards) footbridge was commissioned and placed across the marina entrance. The original wooden pier boards have since been replaced by specially constructed galvanised steel.

The water space is still the same size as when the marina was built, although many facilities have been added over the years. These facilities include a wet dock, a floating dock, a second slipway, a toilet & shower block for the moorers and in the year 2002 a purpose built sales and administration office were built. The old office building is now a larger chandlery, stocking everything needed for narrowboat cruising and more, and the Lockgate café offering drinks and snacks to moorers and sales customers.

The marina has been enhanced over the years, many trees were planted on the banks of the marina and areas of landscaping added to soften the edges of the moorers car park and the office. Ornate brackets were placed along the entrance to the marina and during the summer time these are hung with flowering baskets.

From about 2007 for several years Whilton started importing steel narrowboats manufactured some 6,000 miles away in Liuyang, in China’s Hunan Province. They were shipped over to the UK in sealed shipping containers. Glib puns about them being ‘slow boats from China’ sprang far too readily to mind. The 'East West' boats proved very popular due to their very competitive price and robust build, being plated to a 12/6/4mm specification. During that time over 150 craft were sold and most are still cruising the UK canal network.

In 1988 Whilton Marina purchased a caravan park know as Cosgrove Park, which has undergone an extensive programme of refurbishment & development since then.

On the 1st December 2011 Whilton Marina Ltd purchased Venetian Marina in Nantwich, Cheshire. 

In the summer of 2018 a new 9,000 sq ft workshop was built at the bottom of the marina near the caravan storage compound. The brand new Wise 40 tonne motorised Hoist (which was named Hercules by our Crick Boat Show competition winner), is to be used to lift and transport widebeamed boats or narrowboats into the new refurbishment workshop ready for blacking or repair works. It is capable of lifting 40 tonnes and up to 72ft long x 12 ft wide boats, with four wheel steering. A new wharf was also constructed at the same time to allow the Wise Hoist to manoeuvre over the water and lift out narrowboats and widebeamed boats when surveys are required.

Nowadays Whilton Marina has 250 narrowboats moored in it's basin and runs a very successful narrowboat brokerage from the purpose built office, selling 300 narrowboats each year, with at least 60 sales narrow boats available on site at any one time. Whilton Marina have developed one of the best hard standing caravan storage and container self storage facilities in the area for 450 units and has been awarded the Cassoa Gold security status. The marina is a hive of activity with the two slipways, refurbishment workshop and Wise boat hoist constantly in use for narrowboat hull surveys, and on site welder and engineering staff all kept very busy with maintenance work on the sales and moorers narrow boats.

Below are some historical photographs of Whilton Marina.