CJB Boatyard

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Sutcliffe Boats

Chris's Battleship

The 12" 'Hot Air battleship was J.W.Sutcliffe's very first production toy boat; it was introduced in 1920 and was a 'modern' Dreadnaught style battleship, the type which featured heavily in the very recent Great War.

Francis Christopher Willans (Chris), was lucky enough to get one of these 'new' Sutcliffe boats. Chris was born in 1918 so would have been very young when he received it as a gift from his mother, Edith, but in 1922 'health and safety' wasn't what it is today, so a toy boat, fuelled by methylated spirits, was just the sort of thing that a 5 year old would have played with (with a little help from Mother or Father of course).

It can be seen that Chris's boat is a very early example of J.W.Sutcliffe's 'Hot Air' battleship. It is in a single colour of very dark green and has a small round rudder; very soon the boat would be  painted in two colours (red below the waterline) and the rudder would become much bigger and more effective.


Chris played with the boat, but only ever in the bath, and afterwards it was alway dried out and placed back in its box, nestled in a peice of 1920's curtain material!  Chris made sure that everyone knew the boat was his; he wrote his name on the lid!

The box differs from later Hot Air Battleship boxes in that the lid is made from a single piece of card; later box lids, though showing the same label on the front, are made of three separate pieces of card.


Time pased by and Chris grew up, and the toy boat was stored carefully away. By the time the Second World War started, Chris would have been 21, so he joined the Royal Air Force and went to war. Very sadly Chris was killed in action; the aircraft he was in was shot down over Malta in 1940. Chris was just 22 years old.


Fast farward to about 1949.  Chris's battleship is now almost 30 years old, but toys were still hard to come by just after the war, so Chris's mother, Edith, gave the small boat to her great nephew Michael.  The boat was just as it was when Chris had played with it, and Michael did excatly what his Uncle had done some 30 years before; he played with it in the bath and then put it safely back in its box.

The card above was written by Edith Willans in about 1949 when she gave her son's old toy boat to her grand nephew. She would have been in her late 60's when she wrote this note.


This lovely boat is now in the CJB collection and was obtained from Michael, who is now in his 70's. When not on display, it will sit nestled in the small piece of curtain that has looked after it so well for almost 100 years. Thankyou Chris, Edith and Michael for taking such good care of her.

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