In 2000, Dieter Jebens wrote this article for the Royal Thames Society, tracing the history of the Thames Motor Yacht Club
“Seventy Years Strong”
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Thames Motor Yacht Club located just above Hampton Court Bridge opposite Molesey Lock.
Inaugurated on June 4, 1930 as the Thames Motor Cruising Club, it is one of the oldest on the river. The club was conceived by Steve Broderick with three or four fellow members of the Motor Boat Association who had boats on the Thames. Broderick had a riverside home, next door to the Magpie Hotel at Sunbury, where he kept his 33ft Gibbs cruiser Nanette.
From the founder members, Mr. E.W. West was elected the club’s first commodore. Another founder member, Mr. E.G. Baxter became one of the club’s most influential officers. Appointed commodore in 1932, he went on to combine the posts of secretary and treasurer in 1933 for 16 years until 1949, seeing the club through the difficult war years and ensuring its survival.
The club’s early fitting out and laying up functions were held at the Thames Riviera Hotel. It was originally named ‘Karisino’ after its founder Fred Karno, who made his name as a comedian before the First World War. After the war the hotel failed to recover its popularity and lead to Karno’s bankruptcy in 1926. The hotel became the TMCC’s headquarters in the 1930s probably because of its extensive river frontage for mooring. At the end of the Second World War the hotel was substantially renovated and re-named ‘The Casino’. The club continued to patronise it for special events but the hotel failed to prosper and was eventually demolished
In the early days the club entertained lock-keepers at an annual dinner held at the Thames Hotel, East Molesey, as a means of fostering good relations with the navigation staff.
Formation of TMCC was an immediate success. In its second year the club had 153 members including 37 associates and four honorary members.
From the outset the club has had strong spirit of altruism. In 1932 members took 150 disabled First World War veterans on a cruise of the Hampton reach which became an annual event until the numbers dwindled. The hospitality was revived after the Second World War and later extended to take under-privileged children, selected by The Variety Club of Great Britain, on an annual outing aboard members’ boats. In the same year the first rally was held at the Lensbury Club, Teddington, followed by a procession upriver which was a precursor to the annual ‘salute to the commodore’ sail past which officially marks the end of the boating season.
Three years after its formation the club moved its headquarters to the Hampton Court Hotel which had good moorings following bankside improvement works undertaken as part of the Thames Conservancy Waterways Improvement Plan. In the same year, the Prince of Wales opened the new Hampton Court Bridge on July 3, 1933. Among the VIP’s present was J. Chuter Ede, then Chairman of Surrey County Council, who became Home Secretary in the Labour government, 1945-51, and was raised to the Peerage in 1964. He joined the club and was regularly seen on the river at the helm of his boat ‘Brown Duck’.
Boat handling competitions have always been an active part in the club’s activities. One of the earliest was participation in the Holehaven Reliability Trials and the Rochester Rally organised by the Motor Boat Association. The Holehaven competition was always concluded at the ‘Lobster Smack’ on Canvey Island. One of its attractions to yachtsmen was a PLA pier, which was swept away in the Thames floods of 1953.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, the club’s headquarters at Hampton Court Hotel had to be vacated when the building was commandeered for the Bearsted Memorial Hospital. The club was offered a derelict room on the premises, which members renovated.
The war took its toll on membership and boats. River craft were requisitioned for the Auxiliary Fire Service and later for ‘Operation Dynamo’, the historic evacuation of troops at Dunkirk. TMCC members Steve Broderick, Archie Malcolm, J.R. ‘Nobby’ Pearce and Tim Cox were among those who helped run the Upper Thames River Patrol. At the time Steve Broderick declared that “no German craft would ever get through Teddington Lock.” The club organised a War Charity Rally in support of the Lord Mayor of London’s Red Cross Fund but, as the club’s Jubilee Year Book records: “the day was not entirely successful as there was a succession of alerts from morning until teatime.”
Despite food rationing and a shortage of alcoholic drinks, members managed to keep the bar open and used their ingenuity to organise what passed for two annual banquets. Even the 1944 Annual Report had to be severely edited owing to paper rationing! TMCC members also helped the war effort by delivering craft from builders and repairers to their naval bases. ‘They were enrolled by the Small Vessels Pool which later became known as the Royal Navy Craft Ferrying Service. Among them were J.E. Pearce, the club’s commodore in 1944, Nobby Pearce, Tim Cox, Archie Malcolm, S.B. Evitt and J.P.B. ‘Pop’ Shasy. The last three named members went to America and ferried Fleet tenders to Malta: Evitt and Shany were mentioned in dispatches.
Having successfully survived the war years, TMCC’s membership started to rise again, by 1949 it totalled 358. Nobby Pearce was commodore and saw the need for an association of Thames boat clubs. TMCC members were dissatisfied with the Thames Conservancy’s ‘daily’ lock tickets which required boaters to return the same day. Members wanted a 3-day pass so that they could stay overnight and return through the same lock next day without having to pay again. The Thames Conservancy refused to change the regulation which prompted TMCC member Chuter Ede, to suggest enlisting the support of the Upper Thames Motor Boat Club at Sonning and the British Motor Yacht Club at Teddington. Nobby Pearce called a meeting which led to the formation of the Association of Thames Motor Boat Clubs in 1949 – now the ATYC.
In the following year the Thames Conservancy promoted a Private Bill in Parliament. Chuter Ede, who was Home Secretary at the time, arranged for Lord Brabazon, President of the BMYC, to propose an amendment to the Bill in the House of Lords, seconded by Lord Lucas, empowering the Transport Minister to appoint a boat user representative on the Board of the Thames Conservancy. The amendment was passed and, after consultation. Nobby Pearce became a Conservator in 1950. He subsequently persuaded fellow directors to extend the single day ticket to a Monthly Journey Pass and extend 5-lock tickets to seven locks and 11-lock tickets to 15 consecutive locks. In 1970 Nobby Pearce was awarded the OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for his “services to the Thames”.
The Festival of Britain, held in 1951, coincided with the club’s 21st anniversary, celebrated by the unveiling of the defaced blue ensign, a privilege granted to the club by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty. It was presented by Admiral Hutton at the TMCC’s annual dinner held at the Park Lane Hotel, to mark the services given by members during the Second World War.
1953 saw club members representing TMCC in the Royal River Pageant, held in July, to celebrate the Queen’s coronation. The following year 40 club boats accompanied the Royal Yacht Britannia on her return from the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh’s first tour of the Commonwealth. Members also took to sea for the first club cruise to Ostend.
1955 marked the club’s Silver Jubilee Year when membership reached a record 534 including 235 boat owners. But the celebrations were marred by the unexpected resignation of the Treasurer and Secretary, Cyril Watkins, who had held the post for eight years. The precise reason is not recorded, but strong leadership can generate dissension in the ranks. The club’s Jubilee Year Book simply reflects that: “a little tolerance of their (officers) foibles might not be-amiss”.
Despite the upheaval, the club excelled the following year by winning the Motor Boat & Yachting Jubilee Trophy at the ATMBC’s rally, held at Tilbury, and went on to win the major award for three consecutive years.
Although membership was falling, the club improved its facilities, the clubhouse lounge bar was extended in 1957 and moorings were extended by 120 feet two years later.
Boating activities were also increasing with cruises and competitions. The Braggart’s Trophy was introduced in 1961 for the boat that achieved the closest time to the skipper’s estimate over a half-mile stretch of the river from Cadogan Pier. Today the club organises as many as ten club boat handling competitions for senior, junior and family entrants, as well as competing in five external events.
History repeated itself in 1968 when Stan Barnes resigned from the office of Secretary and Treasurer following questions raised about the club’s accounts. The criticisms proved to be unfounded but the damage was done and the club lost a dedicated officer.
After 39 years known as the Thames Motor Cruising Club, the name was changed in 1969: it was felt that the word ‘cruising’ now had wider connotations, being associated with aircraft speed and ‘cruising around’ in cars. So it was decided to adopt the name Thames Motor Yacht Club.
In the same year the club negotiated a longer, 21-year lease and a more affordable rent with its landlord, the Crown Estates, which took effect in 1973.
By 1971 the membership decline had been reversed and climbed to 450, including 168 boat owners – the highest for 15 years. The commodore, Leslie Westbrook led 25 club boats, accompanied by six from the Upper Thames Motor Yacht Club, on a cruise to Belgium where crews were entertained by the Liberty Yacht Club of Antwerp and the Yacht Club du Nord at Calais. Back home Sir Alec Rose visited the club to talk about his single-handed voyage around the world aboard Lively Lady.
But inflation was looming: membership fell and, consequently, income from subscriptions and mooring fees. The situation was exacerbated by the death of the club’s treasurer, Tommy Dilks in 1973 and Ted Jackson, secretary, the following year.
Michael Shefras was asked to become Secretary and Reg Barnard, a past commodore, Treasurer in 1974. They brought a new management style to the club which not only addressed its financial problems but also helped future development. Boat owning membership was made more attractive by the provision of an additional 1,000 feet of moorings with electricity and water services. Michael Shefras introduced a club newsletter to provide a means of communicating with members regularly and promoting events.
By 1976 membership had risen to 410 and income exceeded expenditure by nearly £3,000, an all time high. In the next year Shefras was elected commodore while retaining the post of secretary. He also found time to skipper ‘Barbarina K’ and win the Taras Award in the Senior Watermanship Competition and put in the best overall performance at the ATYC rally at Raven’s Ait,
1979 saw the opening of a new clubhouse replacing a ramshackle converted outbuilding. To save costs the work was done by direct labour and materials, under the technical expertise of Bert Lancaster and the overall management of Michael Shefras. Completion was well timed for the club’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in 1980, a memorable event organised by Michael Shefras.
The next two decades saw more stability and further development. A new riverside bar was built in 1991 at a cost of £75,000. Five years later the clubhouse was extensively refurbished, costing £100,000, which makes an attractive and profitable venue for a variety of functions. Mooring pontoons were refurbished in the mid 1990s. A development of another kind, was the election of the club’s first lady commodore, Maria Bradley, in 1997 and again for the following year.
Looking through this year’s Commodore’s Programme, events range from informal riverside bistros to a black-tie Boaters Ball, a barbecue on Cookham Island and a shopping trip to New York. Boating events naturally figure prominently among the activities, including boat handling competitions and informal cruises on the river and across the Channel. The programme is aimed to appeal to both experienced boaters and novices for whom there are practical training sessions run by Vice Commodore Kevin Connelly and, as a recognised RYA teaching centre, Yachtmaster and Day Skipper Courses.
Membership is not restricted to boat owners: ‘social’ members are also welcomed and offered a reduced subscription rate. The club encourages family membership which is reflected in events aimed to appeal to all ages.
This year’s programme includes a special event. On September 24th the club celebrates its 70th anniversary which promises to be another spectacular occasion.