Our History

H.J. Mears & Son Boat Builders was founded in 1945 by Harold Mears. Harold was to be found around boats from an early age and prior to World War II he worked for H. Lavis & Son at Camperdown Terrace, Exmouth, and then moved on to work for Dixon & Son at Exmouth Dock. With the onset of War and his boatbuilding experience Harold then started as a Chief Shipwright building 65 foot carvel MFV’s (Motor Fishing Vessels) at Topsham, used for both minesweeping and fishing. With the desperate need for such vessels he continued doing this valuable work throughout the War. Then in 1945 experience and opportunity came together and Harold started building fishing boats in a disused grain store at the back of Pioneer Haulage, Causeway Road, Beer. In the days before TV there would always be plenty of people about but with Harold around they wouldn’t get a chance to be idle; “Don’t you stand around there; come here and hold on to this dolly!” Unfortunately not many photos survive of the boats built in the 1940’s but you can see some here. They Show Dougie Orley’s “Grey Goose” being timbered down Fore Street, Beer and being used for passenger Mackerel tripping, Arthur Chapple’s boat “Peter Pan”, the “Chardor” E233 for Charlie Miles the director of Players Tobacco the name coming from Charlie and Dora the two owners. This boat was launched without the aid of a tractor to slow her journey down the slipway (against the advice of Harold!) and careered into one of the oak capstans so she had to go back in for repairs without touching the water and the owner had to pay for a new capstan for Harry Abbot!

In 1957 the chance arose for Harold to purchase some land at the former Seaton/ Axmouth dump. With good access to the River Axe, a train station next door and main road, and plenty of yard space it was ideal. The extra space lead to the building of bigger boats in the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s – namely 43 feet Thames Cruisers, and fishing boats up to 35 feet. Many of these can be seen in the photo gallery pages for 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s. To build these size boats required manpower rather than the power tools of today. A significant workforce of eleven men were employed: Sam Searle, Clive Lee, Philip Lush, Alan Wakely, Tim Dack, Peter Chapple, Graham Rolands, Alan Baker, Derek Jones, John Scott and Rabbit Parish, a fair few still pop by today. There was also the infamous “Steve the Tramp” who would live at the boatyard on occasion and provide some weird and wonderful decorating with whatever paint was lying around! It was during these busy days that Paul Mears (the Son) began boatbuilding in 1961. Growing up in Beer he was always around boats through choice and environment. Being the boss’s son did not afford Paul any luxuries though; long hours, physically demanding work and a constantly changing style of boat to build galvanised Paul’s love for building boats, and his passion continues today.

Beer Beach circa 1955 - no tupperware in sight!

During the 1970’s the most popular designs were 18 – 24 feet clinker boats. Towards the late 1970’s and early 1980’s these swayed towards the 21 – 25 feet carvel boats due to ease of maintenance. All vessels were designed by Harold and Paul using half moulds scaled one inch to one foot, and once on the stocks were built by eye so they looked right. A practice we still employ today. The boats went all over the UK as strong, practical, long lasting working boats for Fishermen. The majority of working, hire and Beer Lugger boats on Beer beach were Mears boats and still are Mears boats today. To contend with beach launching and retrieving day in, day out for decades is testamant to Harold and Paul’s build quality. Other harbours and beaches such as Lyme Regis, Axmouth, Sidmouth, West Bay, Exmouth, Dartmouth and Salcombe still provide safe havens for Mears built boats.

In the 1980’s Paul developed several GRP moulds despite the brass plaque that hangs over the boatyard door! These were an 8’6” tender, a 10’ rowing dinghy and 14’ Spuddler. All have been, and still are, very successful; the Spuddlers still being used as 7 person maximum hire boats from Beer beach fitted with inboard engines. Many were also sold to private individuals who ran them with outboard engines. It was during the 1980’s that the demand for GRP increased and since then many different types of fibre glass hull have been fitted out from scratch: Cygnus GM 33, GM 32, GM 21, GM 19, Cyclone 32, DS 25, Cygnus 15 Oyster Dredger, Island Plastics 24 and 21, Holton 24, Offshore 105, Drascombe Lugger, Mitchell 23, Gerald Smyth GM 7 and the semi displacement hull Mitchell 21, Kingfisher 24, Alaska 600, Treeve 16, and Saltram 24 (now Plymouth Pilot 24) amongst others. The loyal and longstanding client base meant Paul weathered the recession of the early 1990’s with ease, and continued producing small clinker vessels up to 18 feet in length and fitting out various GRP hulls. The vast portfolio of boats built in the past allows for a lot of routine repairs and more involved restoration work to continue alongside new builds. The flexibility of fibre glass brought in new lines of work from lining ponds to fibre glass flat roofing. If you can build a GRP boat then you can handle most jobs with GRP.

In 2004 Alex Mears (the Grandson) joined the firm following a 5 year MEng Hons degree in Structural Engineering. This degree gave Alex a common sense approach to the anatomy and configuration of structures and how they work; crucial when applied to working boats. Alex and Paul work together on all new build and restoration projects and continue to build boats the proven old fashioned way; by eye with common sense, since 1945.

Paul and Alex Mears during the build of ’Tarka’

Paul Mears and Harold Mears in a 14’ Mears Spuddler, 1982

Alex Mears and Paul Mears with "Tambourine" destined for Norfolk

The new (GRP) and old (mahogany carvel) Mears boats arriving at Beer beach


H.J. Mears & Son Boat Builders

The Harbour
Seaton, Devon
EX12 4AA

Telephone: 01297 20964