Last winter, while Exmouth Museum was closed to visitors, the old tack room into the new reception area was revamped. 

This time they are eyeing up other things to renovate ready for next season. Two options; renew some of the displays in the stables, and update dock and boatbuilding displays. One volunteer, Sam Searle, who did the varnishing of the newly opened staircase, worked and completed his apprenticeship with Dixon’s Exmouth boat builders back in 1958, and worked for the company right up to its closure, ending up as foreman. 

Sam was employed by the second generation of the Dixons, the three brothers, George, Reg and Henry, who was more commonly known as ‘Turps’ as part of his weekly duty was to collect the yard’s turpentine spirit from the pier.

Sam is always happy to show off the cabinet in the museum relating to Dixon’s nationally recognised boatbuilding presence in the town. In the early 1970s, Dixon’s moved to larger premises at 1 Dock Road, Exmouth. The company needed more room as its builds got bigger. When the third generation of Dixon’s, John and Peter retired, the premises at 1 Dock Road were taken over by The Exmouth Dock Company.

Many of the boats built by Dixon’s, some the best part of 50 years old, are still going strong and working commercially. There aren’t many ports along the south coast between Salcombe and Newhaven, or in the Isle of Wight, that haven’t had a boat built by Dixon and Sons of Exmouth working out of them. The classic 32ft Dixon encapsulated everything great about wooden boatbuilding in the 1960s and 1970s. Everything was ‘just right’ with a Dixon boat. They carried a beautiful freeboard and were sheared to the bow. Their fullness forward allowed for plenty of good deck space to stack pots or store baskets of crab, and the trimmed waterline allowed them a good turn of speed.

Over a period of 29 years, between 1950 and 1979, Dixon and Sons built over 35 commercial fishing boats, along with numerous clinker-built punts, sailing dinghies, harbour launches and gentlemen’s yachts.

The family company was started by Sam Dixon at the turn of the century in a small yard near Exmouth seafront. Soon after, it also took over a slightly bigger second yard in St Andrew’s Road. St Andrew’s Road was a walk from the foreshore, so each time a boat was finished and ready to be launched, a mammoth operation was undertaken. A set of timber tramline, 25ft long were set up, and all the staff were tasked pasting them with tallow. The boat was then

towed by tractor along the greased ‘skids’ to the slipway and launched. This was an early morning operation, as arrangements with the police and council meant the road had to be clear for passing traffic again by 8am.

The company employed at least 17 men in its heyday and provided a good source of local, well-paid, skilled jobs. A lot of Dixon’s staff went on to start out on their own, when Dixon’s closed, taking fine traditional wooden boatbuilding knowledge with them.