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Byfleet Boat Club
A brief history (courtesy of Graham Vine from “Below Stairs” by the River Wey)
The present day Byfleet Boat Club Ltd is the sixth incarnation of the boat club centred on Byfleet Boat House. Until 1997 the Boat House shared this distinction with the original Byfleet Boat Club, another Edwardian building that stood on the opposite bank of the Wey Navigation, depicted in its hey-day in a tinted photo hanging on the present club room wall. It was a building redolent of the rigid social structure of those times when each social class knew its place and kept it.
The original Club had been built by local philanthropist and leading socialite, Frederick Cornelius Stoop, a Dutchman by birth, who was a leading figure in the newly merged Shell and Royal Dutch petroleum companies. He had married the heiress of the Dartnell Park estate and later became the owner of the West Hall estate on the opposite side of Parvis Road. The boat club and a tennis club as well were two social centres built by Stoop for the professional and middle class buyers of the new housing being built on his wife’s estate.
Byfleet Boat Club prospered and soon outgrew its Club House. It then comprised clubroom facilities on the first floor giving on to a wide balcony with stairs each end leading down to the boat house beneath and the boat deck in front. By arrangement with Hugh Locke-King, the owner of the Brooklands estate who was in the process of building his famous racing circuit, Stoop acquired some of Locke-King’s fringe land opposite his Boat Club and built the Boat House on to it. It was completed about 1911 or 1912.
The Club’s Boat Steward and most of the boats were soon moved in to the Boat House. Club members could then pursue their social life undisturbed by a member of the working class who was ever after summoned to perform his duties by ringing a hand-bell or simply shouting across the water.
After the First World War, Frederick Stoop, as a mark of his own gratitude to the many who had made such appalling sacrifices for their own and also his native land, decided to start a boat club for the less well off villagers within the then, Parish of Byfleet. That Parish comprised present-day Byfleet, West Byfleet and Pyrford. This new club was a trust run by trustees who were Stoop himself, two elected representatives of the Parish Council and two Stoop appointees, who appear to have been the two incumbents of Byfleet and West Byfleet parish churches. The new club was called Byfleet Village Club. It was supported financially by Frederick Stoop and was given craft no longer required by Byfleet Boat Club members. This worked out quite well, socially, as the working class boat club could be accommodated in the Boat House along with the boat steward where their, occasionally, uncouth behaviour would not upset the Byfleet Boat Club members.
All went smoothly until 1933, when two events took place that would upset the status quo for good. Our own government decided to reorganise local government and Byfleet Parish Council was one of the many that were abolished as being too small and ineffective. Byfleet’s authority was taken over by the Urban District of Woking. Sadly, 1933 was also the year that Frederick Stoop died without getting the opportunity to take the local government changes into account.
This was a serious problem because in his will he had bequeathed the Boat House and its fleet of boats to Byfleet Parish Council for the benefit of the Parish. That parish no longer existed and his Executors and Trustees were left with a headache. What should they do with the Boat House?
Despite the inexorable slide towards the Second World War, the executors did not give up negotiating a solution and with the consent of all the parties concerned, on the 13th October 1941, when most people had more urgent demands on their time, the parties all executed a Deed of Gift by which they all gave up their respective interests in the Boat House and gave it to Woking Urban District Council, who were bound by strict covenants to use it only for amateur boating and to maintain it for the benefit of the residents of Woking Urban District. Those executors, to whom we all owe a debt, were Stoop’s sons Adrian Dura Stoop and Frederick Macfarlane Stoop and his son-in-law Frederick Godsalve Ward.
After the war, neither of the pre-war boat clubs re-emerged. The Byfleet Boat Club fell into the hands of a local councillor, one Henry Cawsey, and was eventually converted into his home under the name of Parvis House. The Boat Club languished for a few years until 1949, when the council decided to re-open it and start hiring out the boats using their own staff. At first, the service was open every day but increasing costs soon forced the council to cut back as outgoing far exceeded income. They tried leasing it to individuals but none could make enough money for the upkeep of the boats, the boat house and themselves.
During Jack Grace’s tenure of the lease, the council arranged for a new youth club, run by Eric Thurman, to keep their canoes in the Boat House. At about the same time, a group of boaters, led by John Jeremy, who moored their boats at Walsham Gates, approached Jack with the suggestion that as they were using the Boat House for repairing their boats, they might as well start a boat club of which Jack Grace would be an honorary member.
This was agreed and so two new clubs, with no formal constitutions started using the Boat House. After a while it dawned on them that by combining forces they could take over the lease themselves keeping Jack on as a life member. The council saw the sense of this suggestion as it would guarantee the new lessee extra sources of income from subscriptions and charges over and above what the hire fleet could earn on its own, affording a better chance of remaining solvent.
The new club was launched under the Byfleet & District Boat Club and soon earned a name for riotous assembly when the two incompatible elements came to blows at committee meetings. These sessions eventually led to the amicable departure of the youth club element and their canoes to the Old Byfleet fire station in the High Road where they remained under the name of Woking Adventure Group.
The boaters, now in sole occupation of the Boat House, concluded a fresh lease with the council under the name of Byfleet Boat Club, reviving the name of the club that had once used both the Boat House and the Club House so many years before, so becoming the sixth body to use the Boat House. Jack Grace remained a Life Member of the new club.
Some years later the Club came under threat of court proceedings over their mooring bay which was being claimed as his by Henry Cawsey, the now undisputed owner of Parvis House. It was decided to take the precaution of limiting member’s individual liability in the event of the Club losing its mooring right by incorporation as a Company Limited by Guarantee. In the event, following Counsel’s opinion, the Club sat tight, did nothing and waited for Henry Cawsey to proceed. Nothing happened, so the Club has continued to enjoy the use of the moorings the Boat House lessees have always used since one of the, one Edgar Champness, first started the practice of using the bay, his personal ruse to prevent Henry Cawsey acquiring title to it as it seemed likely he would do in the case of the Club House. In 1977 the Club received Counsel’s Opinion that the bay was as much theirs as Parvis House had become Henry Cawsey’s.
In due course the Club invited the National Trust, the owners of the Navigation, to take over the Club’s bay themselves as it would offer an even better insurance against its loss to Henry Cawsey. That remains the position today with the National Trust the undisputed owners of the mooring bay and the Boat Club as their lessees.
Since the original refurbishment in 1996, the committee, with the support of the members, has carried out extensive further improvements. Morale is high and the profile of the Club within the waterways community has been enhanced. Club social evenings are held once a month on the third Friday, all members are welcome.