Punts were originally used as cargo boats or as platforms for fowling and angling. The construction of the punt differs from that of other rivers boats in that the front and back ends of a punt are square without a keel, stem or sternpost and the base of the punt is very flat. They are equally not propelled by oars but by using a long pole that pushes off from the riverbed and is, as such, unhampered by reads and higher rising stones.
Punts became very popular on the Thames between 1860 and 1880 but their unique shape meant that they were very practical for use on many of the small rivers around England, and particularly the fens of Cambridge as they would draw by only a few inches even when fully laden and were ideally suited for shallow waters. Equally their symmetrical design meant that it was not necessary for them to be turned in order to perform a return journey, the direction of propulsion simply needed to be altered, which was ideal on narrow water ways where turning could be challenging, if not impossible. The punt therefore increased in popularity very rapidly and they were quickly taken up by local tradesman throughout the country.
The idea of punting solely for pleasure slowly evolved alongside the more practical use and similarly began it’s life on the Thames, but it was in Cambridge, during the early nineteen hundreds that the pleasure punting craze was really to take off. The first company devoted to providing Punting Tours for pleasure was set up by Maurice ‘Jack’ Scudamore in 1910. As the years went by punting fell into disfavour as motorboats were introduced in the 1950s and 1960s, but in Cambridge, Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon and other popular and traditional tourist destinations it remains as popular as ever. A sight without which the river Cam and the river Cherwell would simply not be that same.