The story of a major Littlehampton boatbuilder

The story of a major Littlehampton boatbuilder is told in Hillyard – The Man, his Boats and their Sailors (Lodestar Books, £20).

Nicholas Gray
Nicholas Gray

It is available from Amazon or at and comes from Nicholas Gray, who is 78 and lives in Sandwich, Kent.

Nicholas said: “2022 is 100 years since David Hillyard started building yachts in Littlehampton. I suggested to the Hillyard Owners Association that this year would be an appropriate time to produce a new book about David Hillyard’s life and achievements. Some 20 years ago a Dr Balchin had published privately a book on this topic but it has long been out of print and is now unobtainable and for years owners of Hillyard boats have been clamouring for a new updated history of their boats and the yard.

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“The new book has been written with his full approval. The HOA gave me much help in the writing of the book, throwing their archives open to me. The name Hillyard has become almost a generic term for a certain type of wooden sailing vessel known the world over. Of the 800 or so originally built, half are still in commission, loved and cherished by their owners.

“The book celebrates Hillyard’s life, describes how he built from nothing in Littlehampton, where he moved in 1906, a boat-building business which became one of the most prolific in the country and known the world over. It also describes some of those who have owned them and some of the many voyages undertaken by them, which include several circumnavigations.

“I have always been fascinated by the man himself, whom I met when very young, who demonstrated the highest ethical qualities and a degree of honesty rarely seen nowadays all driven by his Christian faith.

“Stories abound of this, like the fact that customers would often leave blank cheques with the yard to be filled in on completion of the work. There were never any written contracts and many customers went back to the yard year after year for new boats. Whilst he built up a substantial business he was not interested in the trappings of success but was more interested in the wellbeing of his workforce – which numbered 140 at its peak in the 1940s – and customers. His men in turn became intensely loyal and prided themselves on the quality of their workmanship.

“This was a story waiting to be told and I hope I have done it justice.

“I have sailed all my life and my first sailing exploits were in Chichester Harbour in a small Hillyard yacht owned by my uncle Richard Henty, who lived in Chichester and who owned and ran the well-known brewery of Henty & Constable which had public houses all over West Sussex.

“Later in life I sailed on many Hillyards and have owned several. At one point in my career I owned a boatbuilding business in West Wales which restored classic boats, including several Hillyards. All this gave me the inspiration to tell this story. I enjoyed writing it and in particular meeting a large number of Hillyard owners and enthusiasts and I hope I have got across the amount of time, dedication and love these people put into keeping this unique fleet of yachts afloat and alive. This book follows on from two previous books I have written about sailing and voyaging in small vessels in the 20th century.

“This is my third book, all of which explore various aspects of maritime and yachting history. I am a member of the Association of Yachting Historians.

“My first book, Last Voyages (Fernhurst Books 2017) describes the lives and tragic loss at sea of eleven remarkable sailors none of whom returned from their last voyage. All the sailors featured were known to me, some were good friends and some I had raced with or against.”

They include such well known sailors as Eric Taberly, Rob James, Bill Tilman, Philip Walwyn and Donald Crowhurst. The book has a foreword by Sir Chay Blyth.

“My second book is titled Astronauts of Cape Horn (Conrad Press 2018). It tells the tale of the eleven sailors who rounded Cape Horn alone in the time before the 12 astronauts landed on the moon. The book compares and contrasts the achievements of these two sets of travellers and features such well known sailors as Sir Francis Chichester, Sir Alec Rose, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Sir Chay Blyth.”