Rex Haylett

Boatbuilder and Broadland businessman Rex Haylett, who died aged 85, on Septmber 5, identified a gap in the market to design and make a highly popular line of wooden craft.

Boatbuilder and Broadland businessman Rex Haylett, who died aged 85, on Septmber 5, identified a gap in the market to design and make a highly popular line of wooden craft.

A highly-skilled craftsman, he launched his career by building small craft for members of Hunstanton Sailing Club. His paying hobby, making 12ft Nationals, laid the foundations of a highly-successful boatyard in Wroxham.

With a partner, Ernie Porter, they started the business, Porter & Haylett, with just £350 in 1951. As joint managing directors, they were a highly effective team and remained great friends. Mr Haylett's boatbuilding skills alongside his partner's financial acumen, drive and broad engineering background were a formidable combination.

They took over land close to Wroxham Bridge where some shops had been sited just before the first world war. For almost 30 years, the land, often under water, had been of little value.


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One of the Porter & Haylett's first orders was for a Broads cruiser for a local publican, which was rented to holidaymakers through the Hoseason's agency. Other wooden craft soon followed and in 1955, they built their first boat to start their hire fleet.

Mr Haylett designed and built dozens of the highly-regarded Peter Duck sailing cruisers. This rather dumpy 28ft version of a yawl was a notable success and was cherished by sailors on the open seas. While competitors adopted new materials and used fibre glass moulding, he continued to enjoy success by building traditional wooden craft and by the late 1960s, the company employed about 40 staff.

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Born and schooled in Wroxham, Mr Haylett was a Wroxham lad through and through. He was also a devastating centre forward for his local football club, Wroxham Town. Later, he became a loyal supporter of the Canaries and a season ticket holder.

A very good carpenter, he volunteered for the RAF after the outbreak of the second world war but failed a crucial test as a navigator. With the demand for boatbuilders, he was soon hard at work in Wroxham making wooden MTB (Motor Torpedo Boats) and their sister craft, Motor Gun Boats. He was then transferred for further service, constructing the Mulberry (artificial) Harbours used after the D-Day landings in Normandy.

He met his wife, Violet, who was sent by the Women's Land Army from Harrow, London, to work on the land for Edward Trafford, of Wroxham Home Farms. They met at a dance at Hoveton and recently celebrated 62 years' marriage.

But as his health declined, it became harder to maintain active control of the business and he retired in the early 1980s. Although no longer directly connected, he followed the fortunes of the business, which went on to become part of Europe's largest boat hire operation, Connoisseur.

He leaves a widow, Violet, three children, Sylvia, Wendy and Colin and many grandchildren.

The funeral takes place on Monday at St Faith's Crema-

torium, at 2pm.

Michael Pollitt

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