The Morgan Giles Shipyard

Francis Charles Morgan Giles (1883-1964) was an outstanding designer of boats and especially racing yachts. In 1920 he purchased the ancient Teignmouth Shipyard in Devon, and thereafter it became known as Morgan Giles Ltd. Under his name the yard gained a world-wide reputation for fine yachts. The history of the yard has been documented in a monograph produced by the Teignmouth & Shaldon Museum and an on-line account is available at the Morgan Giles Yacht Register. By a quirk of history, production of the Morgan Giles 30 mostly followed after the closure of the yard in 1969, and that story belongs here on the MG30 website.

The Genesis of the Morgan Giles 30

Morgan Giles Ltd. produced many fine yachts, including the 31’ 5” West Channel class, from which the MG30 evolved. In 1964 a new 30’ sloop-rigged cruiser-racer was designed by the Morgan Giles chief designer Kenneth ‘Colly’ Collyer (1904-1993) for his own use. A small model had been made and approved by FC Morgan Giles before his death, but he did not live to see the finished boat. FC Morgan Giles would have nothing to do with GRP, saying “God made man so he could float upon a piece of wood”. Colly’s new boat, made of course of wood, was called Genesis, and sailed in the 1964 Cowes Week and did extensive cruising of over 2000 miles.

After the death of FC Morgan Giles in March 1964, the yard was bought by John Roberts, of the firm Thomas Roberts, who owned various other boat yards including one on the Hamble, which I believe to be what was then the Stone Pier Yard at Warsash (now Warsash Marine) and also a yard for canal boats in Oxford. FC Morgan Gile’s son Captain Michael Morgan Giles became managing director, and the Hamble and Oxford yards operated under the Morgan Giles name. John Roberts introduced GRP production to the Teign yard. Roger Cox recalls that a fibreglass molding shop was established in the big shed, with air-locked doors and humidity and temperature controlled conditions for production to Lloyds A1 standard. A then revolutionary molding process was introduced, whereby instead of laying down fibreglass matting, fibreglass rope was chopped up in the spray-head and sprayed onto the mold with the resin. The top and bottom pieces were then fitted together and more mixture sprayed over the join so that it was hidden.

A GRP version of Colly’s Genesis was planned. I believe the mold was taken from Genesis herself. You can view the MG30 Genesis leaflet that was produced for the Boat Show, including comments by the designer. It had 1.6 tons of lead ballast, together with a freshwater tank in the aft of the keel. The internal layout had dinette seating to port and the galley to starboard, two quarter berths and the heads to port forward of the saloon. By 1966 the Genesis brand seems to have been dropped and the new boat was known simply as the Morgan Giles 30 or MG30 when it was reviewed in Yachts and Yachting in the 9th December 1966 issue. In this version the toilet had been relocated to a compartment just inside the companionway on the port side, together with a folding washbasin. Roger Cox tells me six boats were produced at the yard, of which I have identified Alice May (1965) Out of the Blue (1966) and Vagabond (1968). I also saw saw one in France built in 1967 but have lost contact with the owner.

The demise of Morgan Giles and the Genesis MG30

Morgan Giles yard todayThen disaster struck.  John Roberts was returning to the yard for the launch of a new boat when he was killed in a car crash.  The yard passed into the hands of its financial backers, but was, I understand, not giving adequate financial return on the large investment in the GRP process, and, without John Roberts to champion it, was closed and sold off.  See a newspaper report about the threatened closure. Boats continued to be produced by various companies, but by 1984 the site was entirely demolished.  Today it is occupied by apartment blocks, and only the old slipways point to its former glory.

The re-birth of the MG30

After the yard closed in 1969 the molds for the MG30 were purchased by the company Somerset Plastics, based at Wheddon Cross in Somerset.  The founder Len Briggs had an interest in boats and produced various craft as well as architectural and agricultural moldings.

Somerset Plastics letterhead

Len’s son David recalls collecting the two hull and deck molds from Teignmouth.  The first Somerset Plastics MG30 was commissioned by Joe Fisher, who recalls staying down in Somerset and watching the molding of his boat, which came to be called ADF.  Today it is known as Zascandil and located at Cariño in Spain.  Joe comments that when he drilled the hull for the skin fittings, the hull was an inch thick – built to last!  Unlike Morgan Giles, Somerset Plastics used the traditional layering of glass fibre matting.  You can view the Morgan Giles/Somerset Plastics brochure.

The original boat had wooden cockpit combings. Somerset Plastics created a mold for GRP combings. They also introduced 1.85 tons of cast iron ballast as a cheaper alternative to the original lead ballast.  The extra volume of this took the space previously occupied by the fresh water tank in the aft end of the keel.  All the Somerset Plastics MG30s were sold with bare interiors for owner completion, which explains the great variety of layouts to be found.

David Briggs tells me Somerset Plastics produced over 70 MG30s before the business closed in 1996, when the molds were sold to George Evans of Blakes Boatyard in Highbridge.

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