The first fifty years

B.H.E. Coates - October 1987

This account has unavoidably been written at short notice and, as a necessity, much detailed history has had to be left out. My apologies for this.

Much of the text of the first half of the history came from an earlier account written to celebrate the first 25 years of the club's life, my thanks to past committee members who contributed to that account. My thanks also to Richard Saxton who word processed this new account and who generally helped to get the text ready for printing.

Brian Coates.

The year 1987 marks the Golden Jubilee of the Medley Sailing Club, for it was in 1937 that the original club was founded with Prof. A.G. Ogston as Commodore, J.C. Trenchard as Secretary and about twelve members. The racing was on handicap between two Norfolk sailing punts, one International 14, one 14 ft. Dinghy and other (including hired) boats. The handicap at this time consisted of a percentage deduction of the time taken for a race. Racing was therefore possible only when one of the three members able to use a slide rule was present. The club continued on these lines until 1940, when other events intervened. 

At a meeting in late 1946, following an advertisement in the local press asking for people interested in sailing, the club was re-formed. Officers and a small committee were appointed and a constitution was drawn up. Racing took place on a handicap basis at Medley on Sundays. The club fleet consisted of about a dozen boats ranging from a 19'6" Sharpie down' to a little 8' Lugsail dinghy. It is also interesting to note that the fleet had one of the first hot-moulded ply boats (it looked rather like a walnut cracked in half), an early British Moth and one of the original Norfolk punts. 

The club premises consisted of a very small boat shed, some river moorings and a strip of river bank, all the property of the local boat builder. Membership was about 25 but everyone was enthusiastic, Good racing resulted and, without realising, these members provided a very solid foundation for the years to come. 

The first big step forward came in 1950 when the club members decided to adopt the British Moth class of boat for club racing. Six were ordered and the club fleet was split into two classes, Moths and Handicap. The membership was still not large, about 40. Under the guidance of the Commodore and Secretary, the club slowly began to expand, increase its fleets and, more slowly, its membership. 

Members of the club started to take their Moths to Open Meetings elsewhere and Medley held its first Open Meeting for Moths in 1952. This was well attended. Also at this time the foundations of the club racing team were laid, a team which was to have a remarkable and successful run for the best part of seven years. At one time the team did not lose a match for two and a half years. 

By the A.G.M. of 1953 the club had completed the early stages of negotiations with Oxford City Council and Christchurch with a view to renting of its own land at Medley. At this meeting the club finances were put into the firm hand of a properly appointed Club Treasurer. Autumn of that year saw the negotiations for land completed, a fence erected and a slipway built. 

April 1954 saw the erection of a large club boathouse, a small portion of which was fitted out as a clubroom. It is worthwhile recalling that all this work was carried out by the members themselves and financed by members' private loans. 

During 1955 the National Moth Championships were held at Medley and the club continued to expand both its Moth and Handicap fleets. This year the club managed to acquire one boat for general club use which was a great help to non-boat-owner members. The Committee now began to consider seriously trying to interest members seriously in adopting a second class of boat. This class, it was hoped would slowly replace the rather unwieldy Handicap class. 

1957 saw a rather unexpected development. A group of members asked the Club Committee to consider the erection of a clubhouse and the acquisition of more land. In November of that year this was put to an Extraordinary General Meeting. A Building Committee was set up and the meeting decided to take the original suggestion much further. 

Early next year at the A.G.M. the Building Committee presented to the Club plans for a new site further up the river, roughly three times as big as the old, a new boathouse large enough for present and future needs, and a £1000 clubhouse. Members agreed to this and realised that, as the most generous of private loans could not cover the cost of the new project, a bank loan would be needed. By the winter of that year the new site had been leased and fenced and a slipway built. 

1959 saw the erection of the new boathouse and the following year the clubhouse. The bank overdraft was reduced somewhat by the sale to the 0.U.Y.C. of the old boathouse. The new clubhouse was designed by a club member, built in sections by Messrs. Powells and erected, like the boathouse, by working parties of club members. 

All this time the club fleets had continued to grow. Individual club helmsmen had given the club a good name at other Open meetings and Medley seemed to be lucky in producing a succession of first-class teenage Moth helmsmen. The club team, by now needing a little re-blooding and rebuilding, could still hold its own. Only the problem of a second class remained. The Committee had unsuccessfully tried to back the Light Craft Graduate, there was a fair collection of Herons but no firmly adopted second class. It was therefore decided to hold a referendum at the 1960 annual dinner in order to try to resolve the problem of which boat was most likely to produce a second class. Unfortunately, this resulted in a victory for a class of which there was none in the club and which it was later discovered none of the members had the slightest intention of buying! 

However, the National "Enterprise" had been voted second and as there were already a few of these in the club, the Committee decided that the promotion of a second class would be best furthered by backing this class but little or no success was achieved until the end of 1961 when five members spontaneously decided to buy "Enterprises" and these, together with a few already in the club, made it possible to consider providing racing for a second class during the 1962 season. At the 1962 Annual General Meeting, the National "Enterprise" was formally adopted as the club's second class. 

In the meantime, the British Moth Class had continued to make steady progress and at the end of 1962 was represented by some 18 boats and the "Enterprise" class by 12. The club continued very much on these lines until 1966 when the new Oxford S.C. was formed at Farmoor. 

Committee members of Medley had been represented on the steering committee set up to form the new club and they were well aware that Medley would lose all its real enthusiasts to the wide waters of the new club, as indeed, did both the Abbey S.C. and the Oxford University Yacht Club.

It had been long anticipated that this new Club would mean a drastic change in the role of Medley as a sailing club. With the departure to wider waters of almost all the competitive racing members it meant the end of the club's racing team, it also meant the end - at least for the time being - of the many individual sailing successes that the club and its members had become used to. 

Fred Hann, as the new Commodore, had to pick up the "pieces". With some difficulty a new committee was formed. Fortunately Comdr. Gibson still remained as Treasurer. Brian Coates was persuaded to return once again to the committee in the lowly post (Brian's choice) of "Any other member”! Ted Hicks and Brig. Bagnall-Wild were still available for help and advice. 

The new committee successfully began the task of guiding the club into a new role of a "Family Sailing Club" a role in which it has largely continued to the present day. By the early 1970's the club had settled into its new position and had become well established as a proper family club. 

Again the club fleets had to change. Farmoor saw the disappearance of the Enterprise fleet - at least for some years - but a lot of the Moth fleet remained. Handicap racing returned again and, with some variations, has continued in this format to the current date. Attempts have been made down the years to give small fleets of boats their own individual starts but usually falling numbers, members changing boats and so on have meant the need for a constant handicap class divided for much of the season into "Fast" and "Slow" fleets. 

Through all of its successes and crisis the club has always been wonderfully supported by its ladies. For over 30 years the sailors at Medley have been greeted by cups of tea and coffee on their return from racing. In the early days this was prepared in the corner adjacent to a small clubroom in the boathouse. Since 1960 refreshments have been prepared in a proper kitchen. 

Down the years the ladies have catered extensively for open meetings, matches, regatta's and, in conjunction with the club's Entertainments sub-committee, parties, barbecues and so on. Since 1962 the club has held a "Ladies Race". The first event turned out to be a family affair, the contestants demonstrating their upbringing by finishing in strict order of seniority! The ladies are also represented on the main club committee by a Lady Member. 

The club spent several years in consolidating itself into its new role of a family club, but by the middle "seventies", it felt itself able to enter into a phase (which was to last for several years) of considerable updating of the club amenities for the future. 

These began in 1974 when club members felt they would like something stronger (on the odd occasion!) than the excellent tea of the tea ladies. In late 1974, at a special A.G.M., the club members instructed the committee to investigate the possibilities of a drinks licence. The Committee quickly realised that this would mean the installation of flush toilets, running water and some sort of mains electricity supply. Work started in 1975 with the building of a proper toilet block, the sinking of a well and the installation of a generated electricity supply. Almost all of the work was carried out - as usual - by club members with the help of some mechanical aids.

The work took 16 months and was funded by the members themselves ably organised by the Club Treasurer with the help of the club's very active Entertainments sub-committee. A sub-committee which, down the years has organised such events as the Annual Jumble sale, Halloween parties, Skittles evenings, Cheese and Wine gatherings, Barbecues and, more recently, the Annual Club Dinner which has been held without a break since 1952. 

The next step came in 1976 when the club had the opportunity to acquire more land from the City Council. Unfortunately this became a very protracted affair and got very interwoven with other events. It was 1982 before the club was able to add another 40' to its frontage. 

Also in 1976 the club joined forces with Bossoms Boatyard in trying to properly resolve the difficulties of a proper access to the club across Binsey Green. The Club Trustees undertook what turned out to be some years of lengthy and time consuming negotiations. 

In early 1980 the club had the chance to have mains electricity brought to the club. It was an offer not to be refused. Gone for ever were the flickering lights and noisy generator. 

Late 1980 saw the club with a large problem. In the course of normal public health inspections relating to our drinks licence, it was discovered that our well water was contaminated. The club was fortunate that a scheme was quickly arranged, with the help of Oxford City Council, to get mains water brought to Bossoms Boatyard, the local Sea Scouts and ourselves. Special mention has to be made of the Club Secretary at that time, Major Charles Higgins, who took the brunt of the water negotiations with the Council. The water was quickly installed and only the cost (well over £1000) remained. This had to be met in the usual Medley manner by loans from club members and fund raising. 

By 1982 the negotiations, started in 1976, concerning our access and other matters were, at long last, complete. A complete package had been put together giving the club a new 50 year lease with proper right of access across Binsey Green. The Club Committee and Trustees felt they had secured the clubs future for a long time. 

During these years of updating and negotiation sailing had not been forgotten. Turn out of boats was not particularly vast but it was at least constant in numbers and enthusiasm (as in the early years) was high. Membership with "dips" and "highs", varied from 60 - 70. 

For a number of years a group of members made an annual visit, with boats, for a few days sailing at Mudeford Quay. Members also began to hire larger boats for sailing on tidal waters. A considerable number of members have attended and qualified at Evening Class Navigation Courses and then gone on to practice their skills in the waters of the Channel, foreign parts and the remoter waters of this country. 

To give in the space of this history a full list of the achievements of the club and its members, particularly in the early years, would occupy a deal of space but it is worth recording the main ones.

Members have won the Moth National Championship twice, the successful member in 1962 winning every race in the Championships. The club team won the Moth Transom Team Trophy three times and members (in the period prior to Farmoor) won between twenty five and thirty Open Trophies. 

Not all the successes have been in sheltered waters, some members have ranged further, four sailing in the 1960 Fastnet race as skipper, mate or navigator. In 1974 a Medley member - Ted Hicks - received the highest accolade of all - "Yachtsman of the Year". A past Cambridge University Captain was a club member and he represented the Universities in the U.S.A. and Scandinavia. Lady members have represented London and Cambridge Universities in bygone years. A Medley Member was in the British Moth Boat Association team in the 1962 European Championships in Belgium. 

It is not, of course, by successful racing only that members have judged their enjoyment over the past 50 years and to many the most pleasant times are spent sailing quietly on a summer evening. Nor must it be thought that the waters of the Thames are unadventurous. Anyone who feels so should try a westerly wind gusting through the bushes or trees or the rare experience of sailing on a flooded Port Meadow, as on the famous occasion when the order of the day was "Swans to Port"! 

As in 1962 (the first 25 years) it is difficult to predict the future of Medley in 1987. On the plus side the club is well settled into its new role (now 20 years old) of that of a family sailing club. Membership is not high but at least seems constant at about 60 - 70. The club has a secure future with a long lease, proper road access to its premises and all amenities. It also has a satisfactory organization that can work well when required. 

On the debit side it has proved a difficult task to get any proper fleets re-established at Medley since Farmoor. Various boats - O.K.’s, Mirror's, Solo's, Enterprise’s, Moth's, Laser's, Topper's - have all waxed or waned. Handicap racing is obviously still the order of the day. Turn out of boats for racing can be good to poor, vary rarely (these days) completely constant. The Club Racing Team never recovered its former glory but there are signs - just - that we may be able to start one or two team races against other clubs in the near future. 

Persuading members to take part in the running of the club seems - at the time of writing - particularly difficult. The real problem is that the original club members who built the club up are now very much older indeed some have already taken their boats to the great Valhalla where one hopes they can sail for ever. The Medley Committee must have help from new, preferably younger, members, to carry the club on for its next 50 years. There should (as in 1962) always be the need for a club at Medley but what sort of club that is will depend entirely on the enthusiasm of a new generation of members. The old generation built the club up and made it second to none in the Oxford area for almost 20 years - they did their best. Now it is up to new members, new boats and new opportunities. 

B.H.E. Coates.
October 1987

This little book covers the doings at Medley Sailing Club
for the past 50 years. Hopefully it will be the
introduction to the centenary celebrations.

The Committee manages the Club, and strives to keep it
going, but remember - the Committee is formed from
MEMBERS JUST LIKE YOU! And like you, they rely on support
and encouragement!

Unless Members now are willing to give their time and
talents, following unstintingly in the footsteps of those
who have gone before, the Club won't last another five
years, let alone fifty.

We enjoy a beautiful stretch of sailing water at Medley.
Long may MEDLEY SAILING CLUB thrive there!

L. N. Dutton