In the beginning . . .

It was Jock Henshaw's search for a challenge that started the whole success story
Shirley Henshaw recalls the first years of Tinker production

‘What are you doing, Jock?’ I asked one day in 1976 when I found him deep in wooden boat construction.  He was trying to build a dinghy in which he could teach our two small daughters to sail but which would also act as a tender to our cruising boat.  The dinghy he produced that time was built in two halves but it was heavy and awkward so the search went on.

In 1978 Jock sold the poultry farm he had developed over 15 years and was keen to take on another challenge.  At about this time a friend had introduced him to Fred Benyon-Tinker who had been designing and building small inflatable dinghies.  Jock could see great potential in developing a market for them.

Fred was an excellent designer and Jock had business acumen; he recognised that they could work together and they set up a small factory at Hatchett Gate, outside Lymington, with a manager and a couple of employees.

Soon it became obvious that the accommodation was limited and production of ‘bits and pieces’ began in the barn at home in Verrington Lodge, Wincanton.  The tubes were made and the wood cut to shape at Hatchett Gate; all other boat work - rigging, varnishing, and painting of floorboards - was done at Verrington.  Tinker dinghies are still hand-made.

By this time sales were improving to the extent that a larger factory and more workers were needed.  A small trading estate was starting up in Wincanton and Jock rented a unit of 1,000 sq ft.

Mary Lipscombe had helped on the poultry farm; now she stepped into the role of secretary at Henshaw Marine.  The office was a small room at Verrington Lodge.

We had also known Rene Hansford as a neighbour for a long time as her husband Vic had run our poultry farm and they lived in a bungalow at Verrington Lodge.  Rene was co-opted to help out at busy times and joined us on boat production.

In the office at Verrington Lodge, 1988
In the office at Verrington Lodge, 1988 (photograph: Brian Pilcher)

Jock's business thrived and other ideas were explored. He produced an inflatable device to lift downer cows back onto their feet; inflatable pipe-stoppers for underground oil and water pipes; inflatable chimney liners round which concrete could be poured to line a flue; an inflatable bath seat.  All these projects were embraced with enthusiasm.

The expertise gained in the development of boat tubes made the company interesting to the makers of rigid inflatable boats (RIBs).  Soon Henshaw's were making tubes for a range of companies.  Expansion led to Jock taking another factory on the Bennetts Field site.