A PUNTING champion has been memorialised with a new blue plaque placed on the Oxford home where he lived.

The memorial, placed on the house at Fisher Row by the Oxford Blue Plaques Board on Saturday, June 26, is in honour of Abel Beesley, a 'legend in the world of 19th century professional punting'.

Mr Beesley was influential in popularising the punt as a leisure craft in Oxford and elsewhere on the Thames.

He is still remembered in serious punting circles.

The waterman was born at Hythe Bridge Wharf, Middle Fisher Row, in 1851.

Oxford Mail: Abel Beesley, left, with William Grenfell in the late 1800sAbel Beesley, left, with William Grenfell in the late 1800s

The Beesleys were a leading family in the local community of fishermen and boatmen plying their trades on the canal and river in Oxford for centuries.

The punt was one of the craft used by a young Abel for his trade and he became notably adept at handling it.

Punting races and competitions among professionals had become part of local regattas along the Thames from the 1850s.

In 1878 Abel challenged and defeated Edward Andrews at Maidenhead for the title of Professional Punting Champion of England and held the title for thirteen successive years.

READ MORE: Punting and boating opportunities on the River Thames

He was persuaded to retire undefeated in 1890 to give others a chance of winning. He continued to demonstrate his prowess in other challenges, on one occasion beating a steam launch in a race from Medley to Godstow.

As University waterman Abel trained undergraduates in punting.

In 1893 the Thames Punting Club awarded him a testimonial in the form of a carved oak casket containing a substantial sum of money ‘in recognition of the impetus he has given to the art of punting, particularly on the Upper Thames’.

This was organised by Lord Desborough (W.H.Grenfell) who had been trained as an undergraduate by Abel and went on to be Amateur Punting Champion of the Thames.

He was later Chairman of the Thames Conservancy.

Abel Beesley followed his father as a Freeman of Oxford and continued to make his living from catching and selling fish, and cutting osiers and reeds for baskets and traps.

In 1886 he was appointed chief waterman in charge of a team stationed along the Thames with life-saving equipment. He spent the last twenty years of his life at the house on Upper Fisher Row where the plaque was unveiled.

The Oxford Blue Plaques Board has also recently erected a plaque at the River Hotel on Botley Road, in memory of TH Kingerlee, a former mayor of the city in the 19th century.

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