Alexander's of Preston
Without doubt the finest mass-produced pond yachts ever made were by Alexander’s of Preston. Founded by John Alexander from Dunoon in Scotland, these yachts now command the highest of prices.
As a young man John Alexander worked for the famous Fairlie boat yard of William Fife as a pattern maker, honing his skills as an artist craftsman in both wood and metal. During 1907 the international rule came into being with many fine yachts being built to the rule at the Fairlie yard including “White Heather”. It was here that John learnt to fully understand and appreciate the international rule that created some of the most beautiful yachts ever built.
At the outbreak of WW1 flying boats caught the Admiralties eye as a means of chasing submarines so as part of the war effort John moved on to build flying boats.
At the end of the war England was struck by the great depression so the Alexander family headed south and bought a large rambling house at No 26, Victoria Parade, Preston. Looking for a new business that he could make use of his skills and being near Fleetwood (home of the model yachting national championships) he began building model yachts in the attic of his house for the fast growing sport of model yachting.
Knowing the international rule well he started building 6 mt class model yachts, racing them with his sons both nationally and internationally and started to gain a good reputation for his work. The two boys were not only competitive but innovative in their thinking and during the 1935 national championships they attached the bottom of the jib to the top of the mast creating a spinnaker helping them win all their downwind runs. This forced the A class rules to be amended limiting the max height on a jib stay to 75% of the rig height or max 64 in.
In 1927 the A class came into being and became the chosen class to be raced at the British Championships. John Alexander started to design and build a series of A class boats called “Heather Glen” which in 1939 won the yachting Monthly cup (the model version of the Americas cup) with his Eldest son James being the skipper. Later in 1949 the boys won the British championship with “Scamp”
Not everyone could afford an A class yacht and so John decided to introduced a range of smaller yachts from 18in to 42in, available in all states of build. These smaller yachts were similar in form to his larger 6 Mt class yachts with their beautiful sheer lines and long overhanging’s.
They were well engineered with two tone wood hulls, aluminum spars and Brane steering gear. He built his yachts using vertical lifts or buttock lines which made a strong hull and saved material. He used jigs to ensure the hull, fin and skeg were perfectly aligned so the boat sailed the same on each tack. They experimented with different construction techniques such as 3 layers of planking, two of double diagonal balsa with outer fore and aft planking in pine.
Each size yacht had a different name, the smallest at 18in “Heather Elf”, “Heather Dew” 22in, “Heather Bells” 26in, “Heather Isle” 30in, “Heather Glen” 36in and finally his largest yacht 42in “White Heather” named after her full sized sister built at the Fife yard back in 1907.
He sold them direct to the public by mail order andthrough retail outlets such as Basset and Loke, Hamelys, Gamages to name a few. Prices ranged from 1 Pound & 10 Shillings to 10 Pounds with the catch phrase “British Boats for British Boys”
Designed to race in the“overall length” classes, they made it very clear they were not toys but built to race and became very popular and more lucrative than building the larger racing class yachts.
To help him meet demand most of the ten members of the Alexander family were involved in making the yachts. His sons Alan, Eric, Ernest worked on the yachts full time. William and James had full time jobs elsewhere, but helped out with the yachts in the evenings. Mary, John’s daughter and Alan's wife Barbara made the sails.
As a team they were very productive not only producing sailing yachts but also a small range of power boats.
John retired at 74 from the business living on the ground floor of the house but he loved visit the workshop in the attic. Sadly John Alexander died five years later in 1955.
Model yachting was slow to revive after the second world war and so the company J. Alexanders & Sons slowly folded with the boys making a few yachts here and there in their spare time.