Westel Canoe Club dates back to 1970. The original founder, Jeff Simmons was an active club member until the very end of his life, sadly he died in 2016. He and his wife Barbara were pillars of the club for more than 40 years
The original club building on Platts Eyot
First the club was part of the Sports and Social Club of the London Telecoms Region, West Area, of the Post Office (in those days, telephone services were provided by the Post Office.)
The first boats were Jeff and Babs’: made of lathe and canvas, they included doubles and singles. The club soon had 15 members, and together they built 15 PBK Waverider wooden canoes on the top floor of the Chiswick Telephone Exchange, at a cost of £12 each. Around this time a KW4 mould had been donated and the club’s members were producing GRP (fibreglass) touring kayaks. Over the next 30 years some 40 boats were produced from that single mould, at a cost of £13 – 14 each. Two doubles were also produced from a borrowed mould.
These ‘Westellies’ (as club members were called) were adventurous. They hardly considered it a club run unless there was a weir to be shot, and numerous capsizes showed both their enthusiasm and their inexperience. One of the founder members attempted to paddle up some rapids five times before concluding that paddling downstream was a lot easier! Most Sunday runs were with the Canoe Camping Club or Isleworth Canoe Club. Westel had a team in several slaloms with reasonable success. A baths session was run with coaching from Dennis Stanton, a BCU coach, and continued for 20 years.
From an early stage long distance touring was a main focus for Westel: daily distances of 25 miles were ordinary, with a maximum of 40 miles. In 1978 the Surrey and Hants Canal Society asked the club to publicise the Basingstoke Canal, which was then being renovated. The Westel Tourist Trial was the result, achieving 500 entries at its peak (the largest paddling event of its kind at that time) and continuing until 2004.
In September 1973 someone chanced on an entry form for a long distance race on the River Wey: six Westellies paddled and achieved creditable results. This started an interest in long distance racing which continues today. In the days when clubs gave trophies for top scoring clubs in races Westel had several good wins. The Devizes to Westminster canoe race has always held a fascination for the club. The 125 mile course passes in front of the clubhouse in Hampton and over many years many club members have competed. The singles in 2012 were runners-up in the team event. Jeff did it in 1979 and Babs in 1988. One member completed the DW 11 times in various classes. See here for a list of past participants.
Starting in the mid 1980’s, the club organised touring holidays on distant waters: France has been the most popular destination, with Scotland, Germany and Belgium also figuring on the list of the club’s holiday spots. These trips have been all about enjoyable canoeing, convivial company and good food.
Also in the 1980’s the two Yuletide traditional trips were established: Boxing Day from Hampton to the London Apprentice at Isleworth (one way); and New Year’s Day on the Wey to the Anchor at Pyrford, and back to New Haw or Weybridge.
From its formation in 1970 until 1987, the club operated from a garden in Ashford, Middlesex; then they had an offer to join up with Thames Canoe Club at its base on Platt’s Eyot. Joining with Thames CC brought new members, and a clubroom and boatshed on the river. Shortly afterwards developers took over Platt’s Eyot and put up the rent by a factor of 20, so the club was forced to move out.
Club members building the concrete apron in front of the new club premises at Bell Hill
Jeff Simmons in work overalls taking a break from the building work
It took a lot of work from some very dedicated members to find a new site. The club was by this stage known in the community and was able to get support from the Sports Council and the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. The old pumping station at Bell Hill made a perfect waterfront site in the centre of Hampton. Since 1990 this has been the club premises.
The official opening of the Bell Hill club building
Thames Canoe Club
Thames Canoe Club was founded in the mid sixties. Led by Brian and Sue Pluthero the club’s ethos was to introduce young canoeists to the world of marathon and sprint racing. The club ran an annual marathon race on the tideway from Eel Pie Island to Ravens Ait and back turning at Richmond. The event attracted more than 300 entrants each year and was a feature of the racing calendar in the seventies and eighties.
Thames also welcomed members who raced for fun in touring classes and like at Hampton there was a strong social element. The location on Platts Eyot was idyllic.
The club started to decline as Brian and Sue retired and there was noone to take over. So it was with open arms that the remaining members welcomed the energy, enthusiasm and commitment of Jeff and Babs Simmons and other leaders of the Westel club.
Westel changed its name to Hampton Canoe Club in 2011 mainly to give the club a local flavour and also to avoid explaining to everybody the origin of the name Westel. The activities continue to flourish with an emphasis on distance paddling on placid water, with some interest in placid water racing. There are other local canoe clubs which specialise in serious racing. We take a gentler approach to our paddling!