It is believed that Francis Calense Amos founded the Gosport yard in 1782. Born in London in 1748 Amos completed his shipwright apprenticeship there in 1781 and moved to Gosport. By 1792 he had taken over the whole lease of Charles Fort on the present site and was building small commercial vessels. Amos had no children of his own but in 1809 he took on his great nephew William Camper, a young London shipwright. Their first documented vessel was the 12 ton smack COMMERCE built in 1821. Camper took over the yard in 1824 when Amos died.
The first recorded Camper vessel ELIZABETH was built in 1829. When the 41 ton BREEZE won the Kings Cup in 1836 it consolidated Camper’s position and led to him becoming known as “Yachtbuilder to the Royal Yacht Squadron”. The NANCY DAWSON, a 120 ton schooner, built in 1847 took part in the search for John Franklin and was the first yacht to round Point Barrow and circumnavigate the world.
In 1842 Benjamin Nicholson had been apprenticed to Camper and by 1855 he was clearly responsible for much of the yard’s design work and management. In 1860 he launched the 216 ton schooner ALINE which was probably his greatest creation as she outclassed all the opposition and set the standard for schooners for many years.
Another very successful yacht was the 135 ton yawl FLORINDA built in 1873 and called a “standing miracle” by G.L.Watson but known locally as the “Gosport Mistake”. She ended her years as the clubhouse for The Royal Motor Yacht Club in Poole in the 1930’s.
William Camper died in 1863 but just before that the yard had become Camper & Nicholson. Three of Ben’s sons, Benjamin, Charles and Arthur joined the firm from the early 1880’s and by 1895 it had become Camper & Nicholsons.
Charles E. Nicholson started designing in the 1880’s and in 1891 his ½ Rater COQUETTE was a sensation and was followed in 1892 by the 5 Rater DACIA which really launched his career. The 1899 building of the 153 ton yawl BRYNHILD saw the yard return to building large yachts to ‘in house’ design and was followed by such significant yachts as NYRIA in 1906 and the first 23 Metre BRYNHILD II in 1907. The 380 ton A Class schooner MARGHERITA in 1913 was probably the fastest sailing yacht he ever designed and helped to secure Sir Thomas Lipton’s order for SHAMROCK IV for the 1914 America’s Cup.
Also built at this time was the 396 ton PIONEER which was the world’s first large motor yacht, this was such a success that no more steam yachts were built after that.
During the first World War, apart from much repair work, many M.T.B’s and steam pinnaces were built and towards the end of the war there was a growing requirement for flying boats which were beautifully built like enormous multiskin mahogany racing dinghies by a subsidiary, The Gosport Aircraft Co., on Beach street.
When yachting recovered in the 1920’s the years leading up to World War II marked the heyday of Camper & Nicholsons. The America’s Cup campaigns of 1930,1934 and 1937 brought international fame with the design and build of SHAMROCK V, VELSHEDA, ENDEAVOUR and ENDEAVOUR II. In addition over 12,000 tons of motor yachts were built as well as many notable sailing yachts such as ASTRA, CANDIDA and the 699 ton CREOLE and two similar three-masted schooners, fourteen 12 Metres and many smaller yachts. It was during this time that the third generation of Nicholsons joined the firm. John Nicholson, (Charles’s son) in 1920 just as Ben Nicholson retired and in 1925 by Arthur’s son, Charles A. Nicholson.
When war came, a vast array of M.T.B’s, M.G.B’s and M.F.V’s were built together with the fast ball-bearing vessels for the Skaggerak run, tugs for the Mulberry harbour and canoes and surf boats for the Special Boat Squadron, all despite the yard being severely bombed in 1941. Charles A.Nicholson had designed the first YEOMAN for Owen Aisher in 1936 and after the war designed many ocean racers such as the JOLINA class and the 19 ton trio YEOMAN, TAISEER IV and FEDALAH. In 1946 the yard built the last steam powered Gosport ferry VENUS and in1948 was commissioned by the Admiralty to install the worlds first marine gas turbine in an M.G.B.
The Coastal Minesweeper programme in the 1950’s helped the yard over the years when there were few new yachts but by 1957 the 50 foot G.R.P. motor yacht EMGENT heralded the arrival of the G.R.P. revolution. Shortly after C.E.Nicholson died in 1954 John’s son Christopher and C.A.Nicholson’s sons Peter and George joined the firm. Peter taking over from his father as Chief Executive in 1961 and being keen on racing, he designed and built a number of cutting edge ocean racers such as NORYEMA III, IV and V, QUIVER III, IV and V, various YEOMAN’s, ROCQUETTE, PHANTOM, PACHA etc.
In 1961 the NICHOLSON 36, the first of 26 different types of G.R.P. yachts was introduced. The range between 26 and 70 feet became the principal production until 1989 when it was decided to concentrate on larger one-off yachts. In the 1990’s, apart from some great re-builds such as the classic motor yacht ATLANTIDE about one large new yacht per year was completed with the 92’ G.R.P.GEORGIANA in 1990 to the 121’ aluminium OUR BLUE DREAM in 1999.
The merger in 1972 between Crest Homes and Camper & Nicolsons Ltd was the beginning of quite an expansion with many other companies being acquired which included C&N Electrical employing 1500 apart from other firms such as Dialled Despatches, Smiths in Southampton, Canpa Yacht Equipment etc.
The yacht design offices were based in Southampton (at the yard now named Shamrock Quay) where they were building large steel sailing and motor yachts whereas Gosport was building G.R.P. yachts with a workforce of about 150.
In April 1981 there was a Management Buy-out of the Gosport Yard, partly funded by a number of the yacht owners, this then becoming Camper & Nicholsons Yachts Ltd. It was immediately decided to return to building larger yachts starting with the Nicholson 58 and then a stream of large custom yachts in wood, composites and aluminium.
In 1999 there were financial issues which resulted in the Gosport yard being bought by Cammell Laird who were also at the time converting their Gibraltar dockyard to yacht servicing. This was a difficult period for the business as it coincided with increased competition from around and the world as the dawn of the Super and Mega yachts began.
In 2001 Nautor Swan acquired the yard from Cammell Laird with the aim of providing a service centre to prepare their increasing range of large Swan yachts that were being built in Finland. This was a successful venture but perhaps thwarted when Nautor Swan were themselves sold to an Italian fashion house owned by Leonardo Ferragamo. Not so long after this the marine business was relocated to Italy and Finland to build the new Endeavour Motor boat range.
The future of the yard was then in question as the doors were locked and all the staff made redundant. However a private investor purchased the site in 2005 and before long afterwards a deal was signed with Marina Projects, a locally based company to manage the yard. The yard was renamed Endeavour Quay and many of the former workshops were converted and let out to marine related business and before long the yard was thriving again with many of the former employees starting their own businesses on the site. Over the next three years, many of the yachts that were built in the yard in years past have returned together with many of the more modern lightweight race boats such as Open 60 Volvo 70, and many other 30 meter maxi yachts.
In June 2014 Premier Marinas Limited acquired the land, water and business assets of Endeavour Quay and today the site continues to serve its regular customers alongside offering additional boatyard facilities for Premier Marinas’ berth holders, many of whom own large sailing and motor yachts.
The last 50 years have seen many changes within the yard, but the story continues and the traditions of world class yachting is still very much alive!