Arthur Beale’s talk: the history of Whitstable block and yacht fittings maker Barton Marine

RSJ Barton Ltd of Whitstable

The history of East Coast block makers Barton Marine of Whitstable is the subject of next month’s talk at Arthur Beale Yacht Chandlers in Shaftsbury Avenue, London, from 6:45pm on Thursday the 5th March 2015.

The talk is to be presented by  Barton Marine sales manager Christian Brewer.

Barton Marine is well known for making blocks. The company was established as RSJ Barton in 1948 by Whitstable shipwright and boat builder Ron Barton, who was was one of the first to use the fabric-based laminated plastic known as Tufnol, and also one of the first to use stainless steel to make blocks for yachting that were much lighter and stronger than previously achievable.

In the 1960s the introduction of glass reinforced plastic boats brought sailing to a larger audience, and demand for Barton’s lightweight and cost effective products continued to grow.

Ron realised that Tufnol was labour-intensive and therefore costly – so set about re-designing the entire Barton product range to become the first marine company to use a new plastic injection moulding process using revolutionary fibre glass-reinforced plastic materials.

It should prove to be a fascinating tale, and there are rumours that there may be some interesting East Coast marine engineers in the audience.

Book a place by emailing:

The entry fee is £5.00 – but you’ll get their money back if you make a shop purchase to the value of £15.00 or more. Attendees will also get a special discount voucher to use when purchasing Barton Products from Arthur Beale’s.


Blockmaker Steve Whitby tells his story

Blockmaker Steve Whitby 1 Blockmaker Steve Whitby 2

Enthusiastic wooden blockmaker Steve Whitby has been in touch to tell us about how he got into making blocks.

‘My Dad built a boat when I was a boy, and I’ve been sailing ever since. Down the years I’ve made all sorts of rig bits and bobs, mostly racing and cruising dinghy systems, a few sailing canoes, couple of dodgy International Moths… you get the idea. (Though I’m now way too old for International Moths!)

‘Somehow wooden blocks just drew me in – I got hold of a few worn out blocks, took them to bits, copied them, tried to improve them. For me its a chance to create something that I think is actually rather beautiful, but also practical and with a real heritage.

‘There are a few web resources that are helpful – a page on the Duckworks site among others, but the best I’ve found is on Traditional Maritime Skills, which is a terrific site.

‘Learning to make these things has involved quite a lot of trial-and-error too of course – I have a sizable box of rejects that I can’t bring myself to put on the fire. But along the way I have developed my own techniques – my one-piece blocks are routed from a 30in blank that makes up a set of eight, which are then cut off and shaped.

‘Initially I was very taken with a one-piece design, but they use rather a lot of wood (especially making larger ones) and I hate the router.

‘The laminated blocks are made with a template for every part (including all the holes for dowels and spindles), they are glued and doweled (or copper riveted) before being sanded on a big old linisher to get a neat oval. All the blocks are hand carved for profile and to gouge out the score (for the strop).

‘I have made a few with internal bindings, but somehow strop blocks are just so much more elegant an approach.

‘The latest developments have been roller-bearing sheaves (which I am quite pleased with as they are much easier to make than ball-bearing ones, but are better at taking load and still run very nicely).

‘I’ve been making fiddle-blocks with cleats (for mainsheets, kicking straps etc). I have just finished one with a Tufnol V-jammer “hidden” inside the swallow – I was going to just rough it out to test it, but somehow I had to finish it properly and leave it in linseed for a few days… I still don’t know if it will actually work yet but it looks nice!

‘Also in the works are swivels, specially made to take the bottom of a strop (and so make a strop block stand upright) – I will post pictures soon (that might make more sense than my description).

Steve seems to have got a bit carried away… for in September he leaves the day job to join the International Boatbuilding Training Centre to do a full year’s traditional boatbuilding course.

Thanks for getting in contact Steve, and great good luck with the course and whatever comes next!