Commuter Services on the Thames – R.G Odell

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In the second of a series of blog posts, we take a look back at some of the most prominent attempts at operating a commuter service on the Thames from the early 1900’s to the present. In this post, we take a look at R.G Odells successful attempt to operate a waterbus/commuter service from 1946 – 1962. During this time Odell operated around 24 passenger vessels.

R.G.Odell entered the Thames passenger trade in 1933, having previously been involved in the lighterage business. Odell came from a long line of Thames watermen and had won the coveted Doggett’s Coat & Badge in 1902.

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In 1946 the  London Transport Board looked at running a water bus service on the Thames and R.G Odell set about providing suitable vessels.   The first boat to be pre-war was the Oat , followed by  Obe , Ocenia and Odelia. The vessels were wooden hulled with a square stern, fore and aft saloons and steering position central.    It appears the forward saloon could be removed as various photos show the same vessels with enclosed saloon and an open foredeck.   Photo below.

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Ohmid with forward saloon removed for summer season

The service began on 7th July 1947 operating from Putney to Charing Cross and connections to Greenwich.  The service was so successful that an additonal service was added shuttle passengers to Tower Pier.    Further boats were added in 1947/8 – Oenid, Officer, Organic.   Odell completed the fleet with Oinette and Ojonto, and also built three larger boats Zodiac, Fordson and Prefect for the Ford service.      In 1950 Ford Consul was added to the fleet with Santosy and Santina for shuttle services.

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1951 saw a particularly busy year for services on the River with the Festival of Britain on the south bank, one of odell’s vessels , the Zodiac was renamed Festival to mark the occasion.

From 1952 Odell began to run London Dock cruises and in 1958 bought the vessels TitLark I and II from County Cruises and renamed the boats Okra and Oleander.


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The water bus service ended in 1962 with the vessels being sold to Thames Cruises (R.G Odell and son Leslie both directors).   The company was bought out by Thames Launches in 1966.    Some of the vessels remained on the river, however most were sold off and many have been lost without a trace.  It is believed none except for Zodiac now survive mainly due to being wooden hulled.   Zodiac is now a houseboat at Hoo Marina in Kent.

Zodiac at Hoo Marina,Kent – Photo by Ian Boyle 2006



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