A BOAT builder whose creations can still be seen on the River Wear has died at the age of 85.

Erik Whiteley, from Durham, spent his career repairing and making wooden boats at Brown’s Boathouse, where visitors to the city can still hire his creations for a jaunt on the river.

Born in 1933 in the now demolished Riverside House, on the banks of the River Wear, Mr Whiteley learned to love boats and the craftsmanship that went into them at a young age.

Learning the trade from Joseph Brown, his grandfather and the man who started Brown’s Boats, he knew he wanted to be a boat builder from boyhood.


Erik Whiteley, from Durham, who has died at the age of 85

After leaving Durham Johnston School, he started working at Brown’s Boats and after completing his national service doing an apprenticeship with the Royal Engineers, he returned to the company to work on the fleet of more than 100 rowing boats, punts and canoes which were popular on the river at the time.

Initially acting as a repair man on the Victorian boats, it was not until the 1950s that he built his first boat.

At the time, the company was run by Erik Brown, who is said to have had no interest in building boats.

“He was on holiday at the time,” said Mr Whiteley’s son, Andy. “My dad got into trouble when he came back because he said it was a waste of material.

“It was a long time until he built another one.”

In 1974 Mr Brown died and Mr Whiteley formed Brown’s Boathouse Ltd, starting to build wooden racing boats.

Mr Whiteley added: “The business he was most proud of was built up over the next 30 years.

“He built lots of bespoke high quality wooden boats. I don’t think he realised how successful he was and how many people wanted them because he couldn’t build them fast enough. He probably didn’t charge them enough either.”

“At the time they were moving towards carbon fibre boats but he was never interested in that.”


In 1998, Durham Amateur Rowing Club named a boat after Mr Whiteley

As well as building racing boats, he replaced many of the small hire rowing boats, and as a young man he was a familiar figure on the river as he piloted the mahogany Dunelm Motor Boat, a precursor to today’s Prince Bishop River Cruiser.

He was also a member of the Durham Regatta committee for around 20 years from the mid-1970s to 1990s,a committee member at 1st Durham scout group and was an avid sports fan, particularly ice hockey, and was a season ticket holder for Durham Wasps.

A staunch European, he had a keen interest in politics (his other grandfather was chief whip to Clement Atlee) and was also a lover of cats travel, crime fiction and caravanning.

He is survived by his wife Shirley, who he married in 1958, children Val, Andy and Jen and grandchildren Adam, Jack, Tom, Will and Dan.

He died on November 29 following a short illness. A service to celebrate his life takes place at St Cuthbert’s Church, in North Road, Durham, on Tuesday at noon, following a committal at Durham Crematorium at 11am.