History of Punting
History of Punting in Cambridge
Punting began in the nineteenth century, originally to transport cargo along waterways, and for other river-related tasks, such as fishing. A punt’s flat base makes it a very stable watercraft, and its lack of keel enables it to pass through shallow areas of water, making it an excellent vessel for these purposes.
‘Pleasure punting’ — for passengers rather than cargo — was introduced to the River Thames during the latter half of the nineteenth century, and became a popular pursuit.
Enter our founder, Maurice ‘Jack’ Scudamore. A Cambridge native, Jack completed a boat building apprenticeship at a Chesterton Boatyard, and helped to build Cambridge’s first punt. After enlisting in the Armed Forces, and seeing active duty in the South African War with the 3rd Dragoon Guards in Natal, and the Cape Colony, he returned to Cambridge in 1903 and opened a boating station in Mill Lane. Initially, he built and hired out rowboats, and prize-winning motorboats. Soon, however, he spotted the opportunity to introduce ‘pleasure punting’ to Cambridge — well-suited to the shallow waters of the Fens around Cambridge, punts were already integral workboats for regional trades such as eel fishing, reed-cutting, and fowling. Jack began to build his own ‘pleasure punts’ to add to his fleet of watercraft for hire.
In 1910, Jack officially founded Scudamore’s Punting Company, with one boat station at each end of the College Backs. There was the original station in Mill Lane, and Quayside, which had once been an inland port, but had been rendered redundant by the swift development of railways in the mid-nineteenth century.
Jack’s introduction of pleasure punts to the College Backs was embraced by both the locals and the students of Cambridge University so whole-heartedly that by the early 1920s punting had overtaken every other boating activity in Cambridge. In addition, Jack's punts were so well crafted that they were in demand across the country within just a few years.
Jack Scudamore died in 1938 (see obituary below), but enthusiasm for punting in Cambridge lived on. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Scudamore’s Punting Company’s fleet of watercraft for hire consisted of 71 punts, and 45 canoes.
Following Jack’s death, the company was bought by George Reynolds. During the 1920s, George had begun to hire out punts on the Upper River, towards Grantchester, from the garden of his Mill Lane hotel, the Belle Vue.
After his acquisition of Scudamore’s, George moved his previous operations to what had been the site of two corn-grinding watermills (the King’s Mill, and Bishop’s Mill) in Mill Lane, until their demolition in 1928 after flour production there ceased. Here, George had the current main boat shed built, establishing our Boatyard.
Both the Belle Vue (today, The Graduate Cambridge) and Scudamore’s were bought from the Reynolds family in the early 1970s, by a multi-national hotel group. Then, in the 1990s, the hotel group sold Scudamore’s to its current independent owners.
Today, over 100 years since Jack founded the company, punting is still one of the most popular river activities in Cambridge. We now operate a fleet of 150 watercraft for hire — including punts, canoes, and kayaks — as well as 50 tour punts, and employ over 200 staff during the summer months.
Courtesy of the Cambridgeshire Collection, a cutting from the Independent Press and Chronicle: Friday, September 9, 1938.Read More