F. C. Morgan Giles and the Morgan Giles Shipyard - 
Designers and builders of over 800 vessels of all classes

It has been over 40 years since the Morgan Giles shipyard in Teignmouth has been in operation and yet interest in the yard and its products remains high. This is because of the singular quality of the designs and boats produced and because of the number of boats still in use today.

Francis Charles Morgan-Giles was born in 1883. He became a keen and competent sailor and a boat designer and builder of note. Even before he started up the Morgan Giles shipyard in Teignmouth in 1920 he was a household name in the dinghy world, particularly in the West of England and West of England Conference classes.

F.C. Morgan Giles, CBE, M.I.N.A

It is no surprise that Morgan-Giles chose Teignmouth for his successful boat building yard in Devon. Teignmouth and its smaller neighbours, Shaldon and Ringmore, have long been known for their shipbuilding yards and it is here that Morgan-Giles acquired a fee-paying pupilage in 1896, at the age of 14, with the Ringmore-based company, Pengelly and Gore. When this partnership ended he joined the Teignmouth-based company of Gann and Palmer whose shipyard operated on the site on which the future Morgan Giles shipyard would also operate during the years 1920 to 1969.

In 1901, after some years of practical experience in the yachting world interspersed with private lessons in mathematics and science, he moved to London where he established a small design business in Hammersmith which specialised in small wooden cruising and racing craft. In 1909 he was joined by Harry May and together they ran Morgan Giles and May, Naval Architects and Yacht Builders from their offices off the Strand in London and a boat building yard by the Thames at Hammersmith. The latter was known as City Yard. In 1911 the partners took over the old Popham yard at Hythe. The partnership was dissolved in 1914 and once again Morgan-Giles became an independent yacht designer.

Perhaps another reason for choosing Teignmouth as the site for his yard was that it is where he met his future wife, Ivy Carus-Wilson of Shaldon. In 1908/9 she had ordered a 14 foot racing dinghy from Morgan Giles and May who together delivered the boat. Ivy was a very able sailor and she and the dinghy, Myosotis, were a very successful team in their class.

The 1914-18 war effectively put a halt to pleasure sailing and Morgan-Giles volunteered for the Royal Naval Volunteer Auxiliary Patrol Service where he commanded coastal patrol craft. He left the service a Lieutenant RNVR in 1920. By this time he had become a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights.

During these early years Morgan-Giles had established himself in the yachting world but it was with the purchase of the yard in Teignmouth, which became known as Morgan Giles Ltd., that his name and the boats he built gained worldwide repute.

The site of the Morgan Giles yard had been used for centuries as a shipbuilding yard and Morgan-Giles continued this tradition with the purchase of the site in 1920. He had much to do before he could begin his own business as by now the site was derelict. However, the business was kept busy with the building of dinghies, rowing boats, motor launches and small cabin cruisers. The Dart One Design Dinghy class, 12 foot 6 inches in length with a single lug sail, was designed and built at this time as was the National 14 foot Dinghy class which later became the International 14 foot class. The 18 foot Jolly boat class was also introduced.

Morgan Giles continued to produce boats both for racing and for leisure. The yard built boats to International Yacht and Racing Union Rules such as the two six metre yachts Margaret and Whimbrel in 1921 as well as the passenger launches White Heather, Lady Cable, Nomad and Springfield in 1922/1923. Lady Cable took part in the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940. Nomad is still operating in Torbay today as is Springfield in the Scilly Isles. Between 1924 to 1930 fine yachts such as Black Raven, a seven ton yawl, were built, as were Sirus 1 and Sirus 11, Emily and Hispania V1, all 8 metre yachts. Hispania V1 was built for King Alfonso X111 of Spain. She raced in the Solent but was damaged while being shipped back to Spain. She is currently being lovingly restored to her former glory by her new owner. Several yachts were also commissioned specifically for racing in the Salcombe Estuary, this class were known as the Salcombe A Class, Wiluna II and Atalanta being the only two known remaining Morgan Giles yachts of this class, they are still based in the West Country today.

The 1930s saw further well-known yachts being built such as Ailanthus (later renamed Myosotis), Alyth and Ortac. Ailanthus is lying ashore in California while Alyth is in Australia. Orders from abroad were also being received including six yachts built of galvanised mild steel for specific use on the River Nile at Khartoum.

Yet again war intervened with the pleasure side of boatbuilding. The yard was extended in 1939 with new sheds and slipway, mould loft, steam kiln, drawing office and administration offices. The Admiralty chose Morgan Giles Ltd. as one of the firms that could carry out construction and repair work to naval craft and with the improved premises the order for six 35 foot motor pinnaces, two slow-type motor pinnaces and four 72 foot defence motor launches (HDMLs) was soon placed by the Admiralty. Five 60 foot pinnaces were built for the Royal Naval Air Service, but by far the most important work for the yard during these years was the order for eight Vosper-type 70 foot Motor Torpedo boats. The yard was kept extremely busy throughout the Second World War years and well over 100 MTBs, Anti Submarine Motor Launches and smaller craft were built for the Admiralty. Up to 150 men and women were employed during this busy period.

Morgan Giles Shipyard - circa 1951

With the advent of peace the building of pleasure craft was once again undertaken although the yard continued to do work for the Admiralty. In the early 1950s an order was placed for two Vosper-designed, 71 foot ‘Gay’ class, fast patrol boats, Gay Charger and Gay Charioteer, while refit work was also being carried out. Orders for two 106 foot wooden inshore mine sweepers, Tresham and Polsham as well as orders for two 70 foot ‘Dark’ class fast patrol boats, Dark Intruder and Dark Invader, were also placed by the Admiralty.

The Admiralty commissioned Morgan Giles Ltd. in 1958 to build five sailing boats for its training facility in Dartmouth, the Royal Naval College. A sixth yacht was commissioned for its Royal Naval Engineering College at Manadon, Plymouth. The 43 foot, 13 ton yachts, Pegasus, Wyvern, Gryphis, Martlet, Leopard and Galahad are still in use today. Interestingly they were the only complete squadron of vessels ever delivered to the Royal Navy exactly on time.

The company also built canal cruisers at their Teignmouth yard but their boats were moored at and operated from Aynho Wharf near Banbury in Oxfordshire.

A number of motor launches had been built at the Morgan Giles yard through the years but its name became particularly well-known in this field with the launch of the Monaco cruiser. These boats ranged in length from 35 feet to 52 feet. Again many of these cruisers are still in use today.

The yard continued to build a variety of boats but times were changing for the company. Francis Charles Morgan-Giles, OBE, died on the 19th March 1964, at the age of 81. He had remained an active director of the firm until his death. Below is an apt quote taken from his obituary in the Times newspaper:

“With the death of Morgan Giles, the world of yachting has lost one of its best known characters. He was perhaps the last survivor of the almost legendary band of great English yacht designers from the early years of this century - from the days of Fife, Nicholson and Mylne.” 

His son, Captain Michael Morgan-Giles, became Managing Director on his father’s death and the yard was run by him for a few more years. The yard closed in 1969. The name of Morgan-Giles however, lives on in the many superbly crafted boats which he and his highly skilled staff designed and built.

Teignmouth and Shaldon Museum holds an extensive archive of the many boats designed and built by the Morgan Giles yard as well as other items such as photographs and tools.