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The home of model yacht sailing in central London since 1876


The Round Pond in Kensington Gardens, overlooked by Kensington Palace, is the home of the oldest model yacht club in the country – the Model Yacht Sailing Association (Est. 1876) and the London Model Yacht Club (Est. 1884).

There is a long and rich history of model boat sailing in London Royal Parks, which our past Commodore David Keay  researched and summarised below. The London Model Yacht Club is proud to continue this tradition and to entrance visitors to Kensington Gardens .


Today, the club focuses on the racing of radio controlled 10-Rater, International One Metres, DF95s and Vintage yachts. We have one of the largest 10-Rater fleets in the world.



Model yacht clubs in the London Royal Parks


David Keay, Commodore MYSA 2003.


As an island race, interest in boats & their models is an integral part of our heritage. Regattas were being held on the Serpentine from the 18th century. Yacht Clubs were also being formed (the Royal Cork was founded in 1720) & model boats were sailed on the ponds in the Royal Parks soon after they were opened.


During the 1820’s a group of enthusiasts – including Cooper the Gunsmith, shoemakers & other mechanics – met on Sundays to sail small boats, up to 2’6”, on the Green Park Pond; finishing in time for a glass of ale at the White Horse Cellar in Piccadilly before public houses closed for Church Time at 11 a.m. {they could stay inside until reopening at 1 p.m.}. Cooper is credited with introducing external lead ballast; it is tempting to picture him discussing his designs in the cellar.


When the Green Park Pond was altered & surrounded by railings in 1834, sailing moved to the Serpentine where they had to stop for bathing time at 10a.m. A monthly sweepstake was introduced on Monday afternoons, organised by the ‘Serpentine Sailing Society’.

The Serpentine was used for other events, such as blowing up of a fleet of model warships in 1814 to rival a similar French spectacle at Versailles. There was a defined area for bathing with a pavilion for changing. Rowing boats were available for hire which were a considerable hazard for free sailing yachts. Wealthy yachtsmen occasionally sailed models of their yachts out of season, during the winter.


Rules were necessary for the sweepstake & to avoid conflict between other activities.
These were drawn up by Tom Davis in 1838 & accepted at a Meeting of the Serpentine Sailing Society, later adapted by the Yacht Racing Association  in 1881.


It must be appreciated that at this time class distinction was paramount


Sailors were considered ‘artisans’. Further the Royal Parks had carefully regulated access (one had to be respectably dressed) & Kensington Gardens was closed until around 1840.


In 1845 W. Gilbert promoted a formal club, with one class  -  big boats, 6 feet long, weighing over 50lb and requiring at least 2 boys to carry!


This first London Model Yacht Club was founded in 1846, with Flag Officers, trophies & ambitions for a Clubhouse. Membership soon rose to nearly 80 with new members who were definitely not ‘artisans’. These were the full sized yachtsmen who introduced new classes – 1/12 scale models or prototypes, also a 12 foot experimental class.


The actual sailing was undertaken by professionals, of whom W.J.Daniels was to later become the most successful, who had to accept getting wet.


These newcomers effectively hijacked the club with elaborate rules designed to exclude any element of trade, & specified uniforms, both for dress & for sailing. They also rigged elections & invited Commodores from clubs with a Royal Warrant.


Unsurprisingly dissensions arose. Model sailing declined, newcomers returned to their River Clubs, & the London Model Yacht Club faded away in spite of a ‘reconstruction’ in 1871.


The Serpentine Model Yacht Club was founded in 1872 with Dixon Kemp as Commodore (he was Editor of The Field). The Committee included a couple of baronets & some senior army officers, plus Rob Roy McGregor. The Serpentine was a big boat club, sailing model 20 & 40 Tonners, weighing 60 lb or more, to the 1720 Rule.


Applications to erect a clubhouse had been refused but permission to store boats under the bandstand, where there was room for about 20 boats (limiting membership), had been obtained. However, in 1884 the bandstand was demolished so a direct appeal to the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) resulted (1886) in a site being granted by the Serpentine for a peppercorn rent of one shilling per annum.


The club raised £100 to erect a boathouse (putting the boys out of work!). Membership was limited to 30 (boathouse capacity) & racing commenced in difficult conditions due to the rowing boats. Sailing became impossible when the Office of Works closed the path at the eastern end.


The boathouse was pulled down in 1930 & the Club removed to the Rick Pond, adopting the A & 6M classes, to enjoy the excellent clubhouse (about 40 x 30 ft) provided by T. B. Davis (owner of the J-Class Westward) & designed by W.J.Daniels.


Incidentally the secretary of the 6M class was J.G.Feltwell whose daughter in 1928 designed the charming logo for Model Yachtsman, later adopted by the Vintage Group. Feltwell died in 1949.


The MYSA had been founded in 1876 when meetings were held in a room over the local Turkish Baths. The founder members were Tyrell Biddle, his 2 brothers, W.O. Hastings & Mr Sanderson (ex London MYC). Hastings & the Biddle brothers had earlier founded the Victoria Club in Hackney (1862) before moving to Kensington. Initially they sailed small, 1st & 2nd Class boats but soon adopted larger classes.


By 1881 monthly meetings were being held at the Clubhouse, Thurloe Square; actually the home of the secretary, W.O.Hastings. Regular sweepstakes races were organised & continued until after 1945 at which time the entrance fee was sixpence; prizes of half a crown were awarded for a 1st & a shilling for 2nd.


Sailing in Hackney was abandoned when the pond was opened for rowing boats & bathing; the Club there being wound up in 1892.


The ‘new’ London was formed at the Crown Hotel, courtesy of Mr Burgess, on September 8th, 1884. The Commodore was T. F. Drinian & Secretary H.D.Pring.


Sir Thomas Brassey, owner of Sunbeam, was invited to be President. He was an MP, a Member of the Royal Yacht Squadron & Warden of the Cinque Ports and later elevated as Viscount Hythe.


The George was founded in 1886, also based on the Round Pond, actively racing, & a Kensington appeared in February that year with a secretary in Lambeth but with no record of any activities. This could be a result of the Pond being drained in June 1886 until March 1887.


The London defined 2 Classes that year:

A: LWL * beam < 240
B: 1/12 scale to the YRA 10 ton rule of 1883 (sometimes called the 1730 rule)


Thanks to the influence of Lord Brassey, in 1887 Col Wheatley was appointed by the Dept of Works to oversee the building of a boathouse of about 30 feet by 20 feet adjacent to the Orangery in Kensington Gardens. This was a timber framed shed with small windows, clad in corrugated iron, completed during 1888.


The Initial Licence demanded a rental of £9 p.a. for an undefined term, subject to 3 months notice of termination. The Solicitors cost for this was 2 guineas.


Capt Methven & E. R. Tatchell headed a Committee of Management to transform this shed into a congenial Clubhouse. They arranged panelling the inside at a cost of £15, installing lockers with standing for boats above (£10), & erecting a coal store for the heating stove (£10). The interior was completed in time for the AGM of January,1890.


They also arranged subletting to the M.Y.S.A & George Clubs. By 1900 the rental of the boathouse was £16 p.a. The sub-letting rental was £4 to MYSA & £2 to the George. The income from lockers was £6 & the Steward (Doolan) was paid £9.


Racing Classes were redefined: 1st: 15 rater (first measurement of sail area)
2nd: 10 Ton (former B Class)
3rd: Former 240 Class


Prince Batthyany Strathman, a Hungarian Noble, Count of the Holy Roman Empire (the first Catholic foreigner to be admitted to Eton) became Honorary President of the London in 1889. He was later encouraged by Dixon Kemp to found the YRA. Sir Algernon Borthwick, M.P. for Kensington, was elected Vice President in March 1890.


It was noted in the Minutes that in 1889 sailing on the Round Pond was difficult on account of weed, which is still an on-going problem.


The boathouse was extended for the George in 1892. When this Club was disbanded the clubhouse was taken over by the London to form the ‘Junior London’ in April, 1902, popularly known as the Boys Club based in the Boys Clubhouse. The members were sons of London Members between ages 10 – 18 all attending Public Schools such as Rugby & Repton. They were expelled, hopefully joining the senior club, at age 21. A large majority voted not to admit girls!


Percy Tatchell supervised the junior racing for the single class of 24inches, later extended in 1905 to include the IYRU 30in. linear rated class designed by John Odgers. The boys were encouraged to become serious racers & were given formal tuition.


By 1912 most Members had transferred to senior membership & the section declined. The boy’s clubhouse was then used to store old boats. (The inventory of 1947 listed 47 boats, only 5 of which were registered).


The boathouse was considered to be utilitarian by the Establishment, detracting from Wren’s Orangery alongside, so during 1908 the Dept of Works moved the boathouse 50 yards to the NW, extending by 15 feet the area occupied by MYSA, & improving the flooring. The rent rose to £20 p.a.


Post 1918 the London found itself very short of members & a subscription income of only £11. Nevertheless the Flag officers funded refurbishing the boathouse, later installing gas for heating. They further planned to adopt classes defined by the YRA


Also post-war interest in power boats had developed with the establishment of specialist clubs who attracted large numbers of spectators & in the 1930’s a further extension was added to the boathouse for the West London Model Power Boat Club.


The Marquess of Ailsa was elected President of the London in 1919. Major Heckstall-Smith, later Editor of Yachting Monthly, was an active Member during this period & he further persuaded the Marquess to be president of the embryo MYA. W.J.Daniels was elected an Associate Member of the London in 1920.


The Marquess was also President of the MYSA with whom he sailed 10 raters. Sir William Burton was elected President in 1926, later succeeded by Sir Harold Kenyon. Sir William, with Sir Charles Allom & C. E. Nicholson continued as Vice Presidents of the MYSA until the 1950’s.


The London League was established in 1908 for inter-Club Racing but had to address the problem that each club favoured its own designs, highlighted by a complaint from Forest Gate, after which the MYA Rules were adopted, with a reservation over protest procedure.


In 1923 the Round Pond was emptied for cleaning & Major Heckstall-Smith started refining the London Club classes in line with the YRA & IRYU. This process continued during the 1930’s, alongside that for full-size.

In 1927 the Steward, Doolan, suffered a stroke & had to stand down after 39 years.


A new threat to model sailing arose in 1937 when the Office of Works railed off the NE corner of the Round Pond as a paddling pool for children. A fierce editorial in the September issue of Marine Models inspired widespread protests & the railings were removed the following year. The area remains shallow with a pipe to trap the unwary.


There were fewer leisure activity restrictions at this time. In addition to sailing, the pond was used for large model steam warships & high speed power boats.


During a Television recording in 1939 a petrol-engine seaplane even took off from the water; while Control Line model aircraft were being flown in Hyde Park. There was a further TV broadcast from Alexandra Palace in 1947.


The Archery Club was formed in 1938, but since the emphasis by then was on serious shooting, did not become active until after the war. In 1947 an agreement was reached for them to store their targets & other gear in the Boys Clubhouse.


During the war years the membership of MYSA at £1 p.a. increased to the limit imposed by Locker Space & a Waiting List for both Senior & Junior (up to age 17) Membership was introduced. Boats owned by Members had to be approved by the Committee. Reserves in investments grew from £90 to £200, whilst fortunes of the London declined.


By 1948 within the London League MYSA were the top Club in Marblehead Racing, with Robin Redhead & Babbie to the fore, but bottom in 10R (both Vane steered). Fixtures for 36inch & 18 footers were discontinued.


Registrations of 10R started to increase, encouraged by Robin’s success with Daddy Longlegs, & soon equalled that for all other classes, but even so racing activity was declining. An inventory of boats stored in the clubhouse during 1954 showed 30 10Raters, 28 Marbleheads & 2 18 footers.


In 1955 the Minister of Works demanded an annual rent increase from £10 to £86, plus another expensive lease, & this forced an amalgamation of the Clubs in December 1972, together with a subscription increase to survive.


In 1987 notice to quit was served so the Clubhouse could be demolished to make space for more palace car parking. A new building was offered but since security was paramount it had to be ‘armour plated’ & the rental would be £4500. The income of the combined club was £300 so this was clearly unaffordable. As an alternative the totally unsuitable space under the bandstand was again offered, or an equally unsuitable parks hut near the Albert Memorial, both at a rental of £400. (The counter inflation Rent Restriction Act had been passed in 1972 but did not apply to the Crown, Parliament or Local Authorities).


A site at the top of Perks Field, which did not require enhanced security was suggested & the Club offered to buy the existing shed to be re-erected on this site (the Club owned all the interior fixtures & fittings). The boathouse had previously been moved in 1908 but this reasonable proposal was also refused.


Protests by the Commodore, Tony Gurr, pointing out that the Clubs & the clubhouses had been in existence for 100 years were ignored, as was a direct appeal to the MYA Patron, Prince Philip, by Architect Rodney Tatchell.


Reluctantly, after further negotiation, the present small shed adjacent to the Royal Household Football Club, was accepted at a rent of £400 p.a. This shed, originally housing equipment for monitoring activities at the nearby Russian Embassy during the cold war; was far from ideal & had to be shared with the Archery Club. There was no space for the contents of the former Clubhouse & perhaps 20 boats could be accommodated, compared with the 60 or more formerly.


A further threat arose after the death of Princess Diana, when Gordon Brown supported a proposal to install a fountain, with a jet to 300 feet, rivalling that of Chatsworth. Common sense prevailed after all Kensington rose in revolt at a memorable public meeting. Subsequent debacles lost around £20 million that had been collected.


The edging of the Pond had subsided & required extensive repairs as spectators had fallen in on account of the slippery edging so the proposal in 2003 was to lower the water level. The pond would then be inaccessible & too shallow for deep keel boats, ending 10R racing, by far the most popular large class, which is the backbone of the Kensington Club. The proposal was reconsidered 2 years later when it was realised that injuries could arise from the greater drop if spectators fell in.


It is interesting to observe that in 1874 the American MYC was given a splendid Boat House with space for 50 boats by the Park Commissioners in Central Park, NY, Eastbourne, Gosport, Hove, Southwold , Fleetwood & other coastal waters have had clubhouses erected by the Local Council. Clapham have a purpose built Clubhouse as does the Rick Pond at Hampton.


References: Russell Potts ‘Sporting Hobbies & Social Class’
‘Model Yachtsman’ Ed. Tom Bruce, & successive publications.
Surviving Minutes of the London & MYSA Clubs
Reminiscences of Robin Redhead, Gareth Morgan & others.

London Model Yacht Club -  LMYC

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