Steam launch Consuta

Consuta is owned and managed by The Consuta Trust,  registered charity 1076505

Steam launch Consuta at Beale Park




Fast open launch built 1896/8 by S.E. Saunders at the Springfield Works Goring. LOA: 51' 6",  Beam: 7' 8", Draft: 1' 10". Four mahogany wood veneers three of 1/8" thick, the outer layer is 3/16" thick, stitched together with 16 gauge copper wire. Wire stitches about 1" long  and set into the outer wood veneer to give a smooth surface.

The hull had a straight stem, rounded tunnel stern, and hull topside painted white.  Two steering wheels were fitted for umpire duty, one at the front cockpit for the umpire and the other behind the engine compartment.





Twin high pressure engine built in 1896 by G.F.G DesVignes, Chertsey is 6" bore 6"stroke worked non-condensing, puffing up the funnel. The engine has D type slide valves fitted with Stephenson link reverse gear. The cylinder block is mounted on 6 turned columns, with a cast iron main bearing base plate. The engine is directly coupled to the propeller shaft.


Locomotive type built  by McEwan Ltd in 1985. Coal fired with a grate of 5 sqft, the firehole is on the backhead. There are 43 fire tubes of 1" diameter.  Boiler is 7' long fitted with two safety valves. Auxiliaries steam fittings are:- a inch  steam injector, a inch  steam injector, a bilge ejector, a whistle, a blower and a Windermere Kettle. 

Propeller 3 bladed propeller 30 " diameter by 40" pitch fitted on 1.5/8" diameter Stainless Steel shaft.
History of Consuta

H.S. Clutton who lived at Cleeve Mill commissioned Consuta for duty as an umpire launch for the Henley Royal Regatta.  The hull used a completely new way of providing a very lightweight plywood monocoque structure. Sam Saunders was granted a patent for the construction method in 1898 which was commercially known as Consuta Plywood. 

Consuta is an important historic vessel for two reasons; first it is the only surviving steam powered umpire launch, and second Consuta is the first boat design using the monocoque construction principle which gave a very light boat hull. Consuta has no ribs and the small frames fitted are only used to spread the load of the steam machinery. This method of construction not only provided a very light hull but one that was extremely strong as well. Consuta's all up weight was about 3 tons, which was much less than any other comparable boat of the period. Saunders demonstrated the strength of the build technique by placing one of his completed launches on two trestles, one at the bow and the other at the stern which was sustained without any damage. Lightweight hulls were important for providing best speed with low wash for a displacement type boat.

On trials (on the Thames) Consuta reached a speed of 27  mph and was reported to produce less wash than earlier umpire launches. The engine was capable of producing 100 hp for sprint runs.

Consuta continued as a steam umpire launch until the steam plant was removed at Taylor Bates yard, Chertsey in 1923, to be replaced by a Wolseley petrol engine (this was the first of several petrol engines). The steam engine was then retained at Tom Taylor's yard at Staines until late 1970's. Graham Lindsay purchased this engine from Tom Taylor in 1980 but at the time did not realise that it was the original steam engine removed from Consuta. James Taylor told us this engine was last used to drive plate bending rolls making up steel sections for large cement mixers, and that on a visit to the yard with his father in the late 1960's they had been reminded by Tom Taylor that this was the engine that his father had removed from Consuta in 1923 at the Taylor Bates yard in Chertsey.

Consuta continued on umpiring duty after WW2 and in 1949 carried a BBC television camera and transmitting equipment to allow the whole course of the boat race to be covered live by TV, this was the very first live TV broadcast of the race. The event was reported in the Mechanical Engineer. Consuta continued as umpire launch until the early 1960's. It was now fitted with a Gray Marine petrol engine.

In 1975 Consuta was purchased for restoration by Graham Lindsay. Restoration was completed by the Consuta Trust in 2001. The Trust have operated and displayed Consuta every year since restoration at events on the Thames  from Oxford  to Putney. Consuta has also worked successfully carrying umpires at the Henley Royal Regatta, The Reading Town Regatta, the Henley Womens Regatta and the Twickenham Regatta.

About Saunders

S.E. Saunders was one of seven children of  Cornelius Saunders who owned a boating business at the Swan Inn at Streatley. Sam Saunders first started his boat building business in 1870's at Streatley, then moved the business to Goring opposite the Swan and then by early 1890's to a new works just above Cleeve Lock. The boatbuilding works here were known as the Springfield Works and were able to handle boats up to 30 tons.machinery

Following the success of Consuta, Sam Saunders obtained a patent for the hull plywood construction method which was then known as Consuta Plywood.

Saunders built another umpire launch Maritana  which at 56' LOA was slightly longer than Consuta. The company also built many small 30ft and 40ft launches using Consuta Plywood at the Springfield Works, some of these are still in service today.

Sam Saunders formed the Saunders Syndicate in 1904 and expanded the business onto the IoW developing the use of Consuta Plywood here as well as at the Springfield Works.

In 1908 Sam Saunders left the Syndicate and formed S.E. Saunders Ltd, using premises located at East Cowes IoW (the site of the former Liquid Fuel Engineering Company). This Company soon employed a large workforce building boats and amphibious aeroplanes.

S.E. Saunders Ltd merged with A.V. Roe in 1929 to form Saunders Roe Ltd., then after WWII Saunders Roe become part of GKN.

Consuta Plywood was still being used after the 2nd world war. This plywood was reported as the strongest plywood available and was made in large sheets, some as long as 70ft. The stitching was with flax thread, made by special machines based on leather sewing machines, but very much larger. Once water proof glues became widely available by the late 1950's the market for the waterproof Consuta Plywood construction method disappeared.

Copyright The Consuta Trust      -    charity number 1076505