By Marcus Gohar
Published on the occasion of the club’s 50th Aniversary in 1994
Richmond Canoe Club was originally the idea of Frank Luzmore, a clerk at Toughs boat yard, Teddington. He was a prolific paddler, especially in touring canadian canoes. His exploits included sea trips in decked-in touring canadians. In 1941 he put the idea of a canoe club at Richmond to John Dudderidge, a competitor at the 1936 Olympics, and British Canoe Union secretary. Due to the war, nothing much happened until October 1944, when a meeting was held at the Three Pigeons Pub to start a new canoe club. It was resolved to “Lay the foundation for a club which will foster and encourage the interest of canoeists in the London area.”
The first AGM was held on 11 February 1945 at 10.30 am at the Orange Tree Pub in Richmond. By this time membership stood at around thirty five paid up members. The club motif was decided and premises were discussed. Despite not being affiliated to the British Canoe Union the club received help and support from John Dudderidge. The first touring activities took place in a motley collection of craft, including a canvas kayak owned by Daphne White, which had been used to ferry refugees across the channel from France.
By December 1945 membership had already risen to over 100. Among the early members was F.O.D. Hirschfeld. He had arrived in Britain in 1933, having fled from Germany, and was given permission to stay on the condition that he started a business. He started Tyne Folding Boats, making kayaks with collapsible wooden frames and canvas skins which could literally be packed into a couple of bags and carried on the train. In 1936 he joined the Canoe Camping Club and caused something of a sensation with the then little known Eskimo roll. He was briefly interned as an enemy alien at the outbreak of war, but was quickly released, and joined the club in 1944. With few people owning cars, and petrol scarce, his folding kayaks were the best way of getting afloat. His demonstrations of the Eskimo roll at Richmond baths undoubtedly contributed to the early success of the club.
In 1946, the club took up residence at Landsdowne Boathouse, where the Three Pigeons car park is now. Membership cost 7/6d, and 3/6d for juniors. The club constitution was approved at the AGM. Accommodation, however, was a major issue in 1946, for which a most unlikely solution was temporarily found. The ever expanding club needed somewhere large as a base, so someone suggested one of the many redundant Tank Landing Craft (LCT’s) left over from the D-Day landings. Extensive negotiations between club secretary Richard Smith and the Admiralty followed, and eventually, a deal was reached on an LCT3, 175 feet long with a 38 foot beam and a 150 by 25 foot hold.
Unfortunately the craft was in Lowestoft. Under the command of civil servant Richard Smith, the prospective new clubhouse was sailed by the members down the North Sea and up the Thames Estuary to Isleworth. (It was to big to go through Richmond Bridge). The 60 hour trip was something of an epic. They used coastal half inch road maps and at one point found themselves in a gap between charts. When they reached the Thames the masts had to be cut away to get under the bridges. On reaching Southwark Bridge the Daily Mirror reported on their progress;
… A pleasure steamer decided to make for the same arch and LCT1162 had to make violent turns to port and starboard. So close did the two vessels pass that the steamers pennant was in reach from the deck of the tank craft.
Somehow they made it as far as Isleworth. The Daily Mirror continued…
Thames watermen could hardly believe their eyes when they saw the LCT1162 the next morning. Now that they know the full story they can’t believe it at all.
The club members set to work converting the craft, which was moored at Isleworth. However, there were objections to the mooring, and an alternative site was sought without success. The Port of London Authority (PLA) ordered the club to remove it, but before they could comply the PLA did the job for them, and towed it to Kew, and reported that the engine room was flooded. The craft was made safe, and handed over to Tideway Canoeists.
At first the clubs main activity was touring. Regular trips away from Richmond were held, favourite venues being the River Arun and the Rother in Sussex, and the Bedfordshire Ouse . Often these trips would be for a weekend so food and camping equipment was carried in the boats. There were also some sea trips, including a channel crossing. In August 1947 Charlie Renshaw, Leslie and Robert Dixon, and Albert Floate made the trip in seven and a half hours in rough seas and poor visibility.
In 1946 members were invited to take part in the Royal Canoe Club regatta, which included the Paddling Challenge, the worlds oldest canoe race. Although it has long since been a kayak event, it was at that time for canadian canoes. At first progress on the racing side was slow, the club having no racing craft and having to share with Royal Canoe Club.
At the 1948 AGM it was proposed that the club should buy three racing K1’s from a company called Jickwoods, who supplied timber to make boats for the 1948 London Olympics. Objections were raised on the grounds that, “There may not be sufficient interest in the racing section to warrant the expense.” It was agreed that the racing section should have a separate subscription to be decided after the purchase of boats. The motion for a racing section was proposed, and the motion carried.
That year the clubs first regatta was held, and was attended by some of the countries best paddlers. The boats were bought, and the racing section subscription was set at £1.00 per year. By the end of 1948 there were a dozen racing members. Much had been learned from the 1948 Olympics.
1948 saw the start of another great tradition. Someone in a pub, (where so many great adventures are conceived), in Pewsey, Wiltshire, suggested going to London by canoe. The Devizes Rover Scouts completed the journey that Easter. George Flint, Mike Pay, (Battersea Rowing Club), Trevor Woodroffe, Norman Rippingham, Freddie Knee, Sid Rowe, and Frank Luzmore also attempted the trip. It was Easter weekend, cold wet windy and the canal was choked with weed, as was so often the case in subsequent Devizies-Westminsters. The first crew to succumb to the conditions stopped at Wooten Rivers, after only fourteen miles. The last survivor called it a day at Romney, (Windsor), on Sunday. Despite the early failure, much had been learned, and the bug had been caught.
The following year there were twenty starters including two from Richmond. In those days it was more of a challenging touring event than a race, and with the canal in very bad condition, heavy touring boats, camping equipment and no support, it was very challenging! Only three boats made it, including George Flint and Mick Pay, (Barnes Canoe Club), and founder member Frank Luzmore, (then fifty seven years old), with H.Ross. The winning time was 49 hours 32 minutes.
By 1949, the racing section was growing. The club hosted the national championships, and had their first national champion, Gerald Marchand in the canadian singles. Joyce Webb the clubs only racing lady was also making an impression. However, the success of 1949 was marred by the death of prolific club member Mary Frampton, in January.
The decade began with success in racing with Bob Webb, Joyce Webb and Peter Angle becoming Richmond’s first representatives at a world championships. The kayak events were dominated by Sweden, with France and Czechoslovakia winning the canadian canoe events. According to the Richmond Herald, the British won a reputation for good sportsmanship.
The cross channel record was broken by Henry Ross in a time of four hours seven minutes, and the DW record was broken in 1950 by Bob Webb and Henry Ross. In a time of 34 hours 52 minutes. In 1952, H Ross, paddling with M. Wilkins lowered the record to 24 hours 7 minutes. At that time support was not allowed, in sharp contrast to today, when the support team is a vital part of any DW attempt. In fact all outside assistance of any kind was forbidden, so all food, drink, spare clothing, and camping equipment had to be carried in the heavy canvas or wooden boats, (no modern lightweight materials then). The paddlers were expected to be totally isolated from civilisation, to the extent that crews were disqualified for accepting water from a well meaning member of the public after the long portage at Croften. There is one case where a crew was disqualified for outside assistance after being told the time difference on another crew! While Frank Luzmore took care of the finish, helped by some Richmond youngsters, Peter Begent policed the race, trying to convince competitors that there were dozens of marshals all the way down the course. Although the race is still undoubtedly tough, one wonders how many of the fast modern crews would have survived the early days.
As the racing section grew in strength, they were helped by Hans Bergland, a top Swedish coach. Help also came from nearer home in the form of Eric Farnham, from the Royal Canoe Club, who assisted in coaching, and organised training weekends at Bisham Abbey, Pangbourne, and other venues. In those days, there was no man made regatta course like the one at Nottingham, so all racing, training, and selection took place on rivers. Often canoeing and rowing events were run at the same regatta. Canoeing remained part of Richmond rowing regatta until 1954, after which it became a separate event, run until 1977. Sunbury Skiff Regatta also had canoeing events, and the national championship venues included Pangbourne, Royal, and Richmond.
One regatta not held on the river was the News of the World Serpentine Regatta in Hyde Park. International events were held there, until the event was discontinued in the 1960’s. There was a temporary revival in 1977 when a special regatta was held to commemorate the Queens Silver Jubilee. In the late 1980’s, dragon boat and canoeing events were once more held on the Serpentine, but only for two years.
In 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain a doubles event, the Turn of the Tide race, was run from Richmond to Woolwich, and back to the Festival Hall site on the South Bank. Bob Webb and Ray Parker were the favourites, but were forced to retire with a damaged boat. The distance was in excess of fifty miles, which in the canvas doubles of that time, made it a very difficult event, even with the help of the tide. In subsequent years this event became the classic London River Race, run from Greenwich to Richmond. Competitors would spend the night before the race at the Royal Navy College, then have breakfast in the historic painted hall, before commencing the twenty one mile race.
In 1952, Richmond was represented for the first time at the Olympic games, Gerald Marchand, (C1), Ray Parker, (K1), and Shirely Ascott, (K1) paddling for Britain in Helsinki.
Meanwhile, work was being carried out on the building, converting the old boathouses into a clubhouse. Under the leadership of Norman Williams, windows were fitted, changing rooms constructed, and showers planned. Somehow showers were never fitted, the early Richmond paddlers doing without until the move to the current building in 1972.
Touring continued in popularity amongst club members, Frank Luzmore remaining active. One of Frank’s favourite trips was the Tideway run, down to the Prospect of Whitby, a famous historic pub at Wapping. He spent a lot of time coaching at grass roots level, many people starting canoeing due to him. Considering that many of his former pupils themselves introduced others to the sport, he made a considerable contribution to the development of canoeing. One club member was introduced to his future wife by Frank! In the late 1950’s he founded the Canadian Canoe Association, to develop touring canadian canoes.
The clubs success continued, particularly in racing, with Richmond paddlers representing Britain at Olympic and world championship level. In 1960, the club was joined by one Peter Lawler, closely followed by his brother Roland. Peter was to prove to be an exceptional kayak paddler, representing Britain in three Olympic games, while Roland was to devote much of his canoeing career to coaching. With the influence of the Lawlers, training became more structured, as paddlers began to train in organised groups.
In 1967 two other exceptional paddlers, Doug Parnham and Mark Whitby joined the club. During his brief career as a canoeist, Mark represented Britain at the Mexico Olympics, and went to the junior and senior world championships in the same year. Doug was to become the most successful British paddler of his generation.
In the 1969 Junior World Championships, Doug Parnham, Bill Taylor, Mark Whitby and Howard Dyer represented Britain in the K4 event, Whitby and Dyer also paddling K2.
In the 1972 Olympic games there were eight Richmond paddlers in the team, with Roland Lawler as coach. This period was the most successful for racing at Richmond, with Doug Parnham dominating at national level. In 1970 he finished 6th in the K2 10km at the world championships, with Robin Avery, also of Richmond. In 1971, again with Robin, he came 4th in the world championships K2 10 km, and 5th in the K1 500m. In 1975 he was 6th in the K1 500m, but one of his most spectacular wins came on home water. In 1976, the Nottingham international regatta was attended by almost every canoeing nation. In the K1 1000m, he won the gold medal, defeating such legendary names as Helm of East Germany, Anderson of Sweden, Csepai of Hungary, and Slydievsky of Poland, all Olympic and world championship medalists. The media immediately took an interest, as Britain’s prospects at the Montreal Olympics suddenly looked like gold. However, in the following six weeks, the East Europeans found a little extra, but Doug still managed 7th in the K1 1000m, and 8th in the 500m.
In 1977 he again narrowly missed a medal, finishing 4th in the K1 10km. He then retired, but made a comeback, and in 1980 was again in the Olympic team. After a brief period coaching canoeing, he took up the post of national junior rowing coach. After some years, he set up the Women’s Rowing Centre on the Thames Tideway, a organisation for starting women in rowing. After years of leading British kayak racing, his main contribution as a coach has been in rowing.
In the early 1970’s The club was joined by two paddlers from Welsh Harp, Trevor Wetheral and Francis Bereton. Trevor and Francis were soon married, following a stag night for Trevor which went down in history as one of the great social occasions in the clubs history,
Francis, meanwhile, began her international career on the start line of the world championships. Her career was to span numerous world championships, two Olympic games, and finals at world championship and Olympic level. Trevor also paddled at the world championships, but his main contribution was and still is in coaching. He has been coach of the national ladies team, and the national junior men’s team, but most of all he has coached at the club, particularly the juniors. Such is his enthusiasm for the sport, it is inadvisable to ask him about canoeing if you are in a hurry!
In marathon, Richmond had as much success as in racing. In the DW, there was a victory in the team event in 1971. In 1977, Andy Duncan and Jack Blake won the junior DW. Many club members won national championship medals, or gained international selection.
The outstanding marathon paddler of the 1970’s was Tim Cornish, particularly on the DW, which he won on three successive occasions with Brian Greenham of Reading. In 1979, they set the record of 15 hours 34 minutes, a record which stands to this day. He was also one of the few non Spaniards to be overall winner of the Sella Descent in Spain. As a result his name can be found carved on the bridge at Ribadesella in Asturias. In the early 1980’s he emigrated to South Africa, and is now head of the South African Canoe Federation.
In the early 1970’s the old clubhouse was demolished, and the club moved next door into its current premises. The building at that time was in many ways very different to its present layout. It was one story higher, and shared with University College School Rowing Club. Facilities were far from satisfactory, and the building was in a poor state of repair. The main improvement was that for the first time the club had a shower!
The condition of the new premises went from bad to worse. In the late 1970’s the rowers moved out, and plans were submitted for renovation. The whole building was to be lowered by one story as to renovate the whole building would have been to expensive. Grants were applied for, and with the help of the Sports Council, the Borough of Richmond, and club members, the money was raised. The builders moved in January 1980, and the structural work was completed by the summer.
At first the building had no facilities, and paddlers changed in a tent at the back of the boathouse. Led by the Lawlers, and Bob Grimes, club members worked to turn the empty building into a clubhouse. By Christmas the building was completely transformed.
The decade began with a newly refurbished building and high hopes for the Moscow Olympics. Despite the government boycott, six Richmond paddlers representing Britain, with Martin Bosher as coach. Francis Wetheral and Leslie Smither were Britain’s only finalists, finishing eighth in the ladies K2. The following year Francis, this time paddling with Lucy Perrett again made the final at the world championships held that year at Nottingham.
A cloud on the horizon appeared in the form of dramatically increased rent on the Clubhouse. Tim Gould and Charlie Collett investigated the rents paid by other boat clubs, in order to compare them to the sum proposed by the landlord, Watneys the Brewers. After some negotiation a very low rent was agreed, saving the club a considerable sum of money or possibly extinction.
In 1981, the Lawler family left, ultimately starting Elmbridge Canoe Club, but with enthusiastic instructors, membership grew and the club flourished. A growing number of members competed in slalom, and white water races. Although never strong in slalom, the influence of white water racing paddler John Handiside (JH) attracted specialists in this discipline from other clubs. Some Richmond racing paddlers competed in white water races in the winter, with some good results.
Some touring activities continued, the most adventurous being Peter Barton, who attempted to paddle down the Ganges. He made two attempts, the first one ending before he wetted his boat, when his equipment was stolen. On his second trip to India, he finally managed to paddle some of the river.
Racing had a temporary decline at elite level, the clubs sole representative at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 was Trevor Wetheral as ladies coach. However, in 1983 the club won the National Club Sprint Racing Championships, and National Club Marathon Championships in the same year, a feat they were to repeat in 1989. On the marathon side there was a bit more success, Wendy Clapham won the World Cup in 1983 with former member Ann Plant. Paul Wells won the World Cup 1984, with Duncan Blythe of Royal. In 1983 Mary Garrett, partnered by Sheila O’Byrne from Ireland set the ladies record in the DW with a time of 21 hours 47 minutes. The following year they broke their own record with a time of 20 hours 46 minutes.
In the mid 1980’s the elite racing section began to improve, and soon Richmond paddlers were back in world championship teams, Paul Wells, with Grayson Bourne, finishing fourth in the K2 10 km in Duisburg. In marathon Paul Wells and Marcus Gohar both won medals in world cup marathon races. In the 1988 world marathon championships, the club was represented by Marcus Gohar, Britain, Donal Macintyre and Nick Garner, Ireland and Arne Istanes, Norway.
Sadly in 1988 the club lost one of its most colourful and dedicated members, with the death of Ken Periera after a short illness. K.A.P. as he was sometimes known, began paddling in the 1950’s at the Royal Canoe Club. He then moved to Lincoln and paddled there for a while, before returning to London and joining Richmond in 1963. At first he raced marathon in class three and four, later moving to racing kayak. His exploits included the Liffey Descent, Ireland, the Sella Descent, Spain, and the DW. In the early 1970’s he began paddling racing canadian, almost the first person to do so seriously since Gerald Marchand. Despite already being in his thirties, he mastered the technically difficult craft, and paddled it faster than his kayak! He made the British sprint team, trips including Bydgoscz regatta, Poland, and the marathon team for the Tour de Gudena, Denmark, and the World Cup, Luxembourg. Although never world class, he caused many a red face amongst aspiring internationals, who found it very difficult to see him off.
A major factor in the growth of racing at Richmond at this time was the arrival a number of paddlers from Ireland, some of whom were of a higher standard then any of their British counterparts. In 1988, Patrick Holmes and Alan Carey represented Ireland at the Soeul Olympics. For some years Patrick Holmes was the fastest paddler in the British Isles.
There were many successes in the DW, in all classes. Marcus Gohar became the first person to compete in a C1, finishing seventh overall, but the most spectacular effort was by the Wells brothers, who in 1989 made an attempt on the record. They were well up on their schedule on the canal, but with a weakening current, lost time on the river, missing the record by only four minutes.
Assisted by enthusiastic coaches and a regular influx of juniors the club has continued to grow. On a hot summers day there can be more than seventy paddlers out in various types of boat. 1991 saw Trisha Davey make the junior and senior world championships in the same year. in 1992 Steve Jensen reached the final in the K1 1000m in the junior world cup in Hamburg. The same year, Sandra Troop, a paddler originally from Lincoln, and Maria Blumentahl a Dane won a silver medal in the world marathon championships in Brisbane, Australia. Forty two years after club paddlers first represented their country at this level, theirs was the first world championship medal.
In 1994 Gary Mawer finished fourth in the World Marathon Championships in Amsterdam, and three weeks later made the final in the 1000m in the World Sprint Racing Championships in Mexico. These were the best ever results by an Irish paddler at this level.
Touring as ever continued, club commodore Peter Venus going the furthest afield with Norman Archer on a trip to Canada. Other more local trips continued on rivers and the sea, while Devizies to Westminster is still a regular event for club members. In 1993 Steve Jensen won the junior event with Tony Richardson of Royal, in a record time of fourteen hours nine minutes. In the fiftieth anniversary year the club won the team event with the second fastest time ever. One of team was Brian Greenaway, (who also won the mixed doubles in record time with Danielle Selwood), who was in the record holding Royal team in 1977, and the last victorious Richmond team in 1971!
(This is the unrevised 1994 text of Marcus’s book. Obviously a lot has happened since then. An updated version is in preparation)