Uffa Fox was born in 1898 on the Isle of Wight and grew up on the Cowes waterfront. After an apprenticeship in boatbuilding, shipbuilding and design he set up his own boat building business on an old 'floating bridge' that had previously connected West Cowes and East Cowes.
Uffa spent much time on the design of the planing dinghy and designed the successful International Fourteen Footer Avenger. Before the second world war he established his name in the world of dinghies where his designs dominated the National Twelves, Fourteens and Eighteens. During the second world war he designed the Airborne Lifeboat which saved the lives of many aircrews.
After the war he was closely associated with Fairey Marine of Hamble who built hot moulded boats to his design including the International Fourteens, Firefly, Swordfish, Albacore, Jolly Boat, Duckling and the cruiser Atalanta. The Flying Fifteen, a 20 foot keelboat was one of his most successful post-war designs. The Javelin, a 14 foot dinghy designed in 1960 was in production until 1984 with over 5000 dinghies produced mainly in the US and Japan.
Uffa died in October 1972 while he lived at the Commodore's House overlooking Cowes Harbour.
We've been hugely influenced by Uffa's classic dinghy designs and have named some of our rooms at Firefly House after these classic dinghies.
The Firefly Sailing Dinghy
The Firefly was designed by Uffa Fox in 1938 and is a two-sail, one design sailing dinghy, built in wood or GRP. The first four boats were named Fe, Fi, Fo and Fum. Designed as a double handed sailing dinghy, it has also been raced in single handed classes.
The Firefly Class continues to hold national championships at sea venues and attached competitors from all over the country, and is very popular for the British Universities Sailing Association teams.
History of Firefly House, Mill Hill Road, Cowes
(previously known as Lerwick)
Back in 1871 in Whippingham just outside of East Cowes, young Harry Ernest Sheath was born to parents Thomas Sheath (1840-) and Emma Eliza Sheath (nee Jolliffe Mursell) (1835-). Thomas, the eldest son of blacksmith (George Sheath) followed his father’s trade, whilst his younger brothers worked as shipwrights. Emma, from West Cowes, had married Thomas in December 1860.
By 1881 the Sheath family had moved to West Cowes and lived in Arctic Road, but they moved to Mill Hill Road and by 1991 they lived at 2 Yarborough Villa. Thomas was a foreman blacksmith, and Harry then aged 19 was a boiler maker apprentice.
Harry married Elizabeth Emma Farmer from Medina Road, in the summer of 1893. She was the daughter of a French polisher George Farmer from Carisbrooke. By 1901 they had moved to a newly built house, Lerwick in Mill Hill Road, West Cowes and Harry continued to work as a boilermaker (plater).
They had three children, Mabel Lilian (1894-), Thomas George (1895-) and Marjorie Annie (1900-) and in 1901 a lodger Frank Mason, working in insurance also lived with them.
Elizabeth just a year younger than Harry, died in 1901 aged just 29.
Harry continued to live at Lerwick and on 21 Dec 1905 he married Ethel Louise Meech (1877-), a dressmaker from Pelham Road. They continued to live in Lerwick with the three children and by 1911 Thomas was working as an electrician apprentice on-board a ship.
In 1908 aged 36 whilst working as a plater for J B White & Co Ltd, Harry signed up to the Territorial Force and joined the 8th Hampshire regiment, he had served in the volunteer forces since 1888. As a Col. Sgt. & later a Warrant Office Class 1 he served in the Mediterranean including Egypt where he spent some time in hospital and was decorated with a War Medal. His discharge papers describe him as fair with blue eyes and dark brown hair working as a foreman boiler-maker.
Harry and Ethel later moved to small bungalow in Park Road, Cowes where he died on 22 January 1953, Ethel died just three years later in 1956.
J Samuel White
J. Samuel White and Co (J.S. White) was a British shipbuilding firm prominent in the Victorian era. It specialised in building destroyers for both the Royal Navy and export customers, but also built yachts, pinnacles, cutters, small sailing ships and composite paddle steamers, turbines, boilers, steam and diesel engines.
The company, originally from Kent, moved to Cowes in 1802 and worked at the Thetis Yard between Medina Road and Artic Road in West Cowes and also on the opposite bank of the River Medina at the Falcon Yard in East Cowes. In the 1850s they employed around 500 craftsmen and continued to expand as they became a world leader in the design and construction of small to medium sized navel and merchant ships as well as building lifeboats for the RNLI.
In 1911, an order from the Chilean Navy for six destroyers meant expansion for the yard and the purchase of a large 80 ton hammerhead crane from Babcock & Wilcox of Renfew, Scotland. Installed in 1912 it survives today as a Grade II listed feature of West Cowes.
During and after WWI the company produced aircraft including a number of seaplanes, during WWII they manufactured parts for the De Haviland Mosquito and refit destroyers and in post WWII amongst other work, they built ferries, refrigerated ships and survey vessels. The yard closed in 1964 and was bought up by an American producer of turbo-compressors in 1972.
Firefly Coastal Destroyer
Whites built a number of Cricket-class coastal destroyers between 1905 and 1909. In practice they were not strong enough for open ocean operations and were reclassified as 1st class torpedo boats. Firefly, launched on 1 September 1906 was completed in February 1907. It was one of the first twelve which were given names but it was later known as TB3 (Torpedo Boat). Other J Samuel White destroyers were Cricket (TB1), Dragonfly (TB2), Sandfly (TB4), Spider (TB5), TB13-16 and TB25-28.
It is likely therefore that Harry Sheath worked on the production of the Firefly whilst he lived in Mill Hill Road.
HMS Cricket (TB1) built by Samuel White, Cowes in 1906.
One of the sister ships of Firefly.
Photograph of HMS Cricket from Wikipedia