The 'Launch' of the Club
J. Clement Jones
April 2nd, 1955.
The idea of the South Staffordshire Sailing Club was born on August 1st, 1950, in the columns of the Express and Star. On that date there appeared an article "Yachting in Staffordshire" by the writer of this introduction, the present honorary secretary of the club. It described the pleasures of sailing on a privately owned stretch of water, not many miles from the centre of Wolverhampton.
It also deplored the fact that here in the land - locked Midlands, too many people who loved small boat sailing had to suppress that longing for lack of facilities.
Next day Victor Gough, who was to become the club's first Commodore, rang up to ask where the stretch of water was, and what were the chances of other people using it for sailing.
Alas, there were none! The owner felt that he 'could not extend the privilege. But that telephone conversation implanted in our minds the idea of forming a sailing club.
Just at that time there seemed little that could be done except to start a list of those interested, which Victor Gough undertook to do. Then in other ways, particularly in print, the idea was carefully nursed. On the evening of June 4th, 1953 the Express and Star came out with the headlines "Why not a sailing club for Staffordshire?" asks Clement Jones.
This article suggested such a club be one of the coronation efforts on the part of the county, and that those who dwelt in South Staffordshire should have an opportunity to enjoy the healthy open air sport of sailing, if they wished. The need for sailing facilities was also emphasised by Victor Gough in a letter to the Editor of the same newspaper.
Now things really began to move! I had more enquiries than I could deal with. Stanley Gittins, who was to become the club's first vice-commodore, offered to co - operate with Victor Gough in recording the details of those interested in the idea.
Such was the response that a public meeting was indicated, and it was called in Wolverhampton on September 3rd, 1953. Forty people attended. They came from all over the county of Staffordshire, and some strayed in from Shropshire and Worcestershire.
Staffordshire Sailing Club (the restrictive adjective South came into the title later) was formed. The meeting felt it best that a small committee begin negotiations for any sailing water they could possibly obtain. The chairman elected at this meeting was Victor Gough, the honorary secretary was Stanley Gittins, and the other members were L. Heaton, W. J. Page, W. Mullaney and Clement Jones.
The meeting closed in hope, but many left that night wondering whether the committee was sponsoring a lost cause.
But the search was on. All the possible stretches of water within twenty miles of Wolverhampton were visited and negotiations were started with the respective owners. Back with unceasing monotony came the replies. There was nothing doing anywhere. At one fateful committee meeting at Victor Gough's home, when the question of disbanding was in the air, the little group even considered the practicability or otherwise of damming a stream and flooding a little valley near Wolverhampton to make its own lake.
It was in that state of frustration that I mentioned our plight one afternoon to the Member of Parliament for Wolverhampton South West. Mr. Enoch Powell listened sympathetically. He did more, he acted. Doors that had hitherto been shut and barred, creaked slowly open. We still had a long way to go, though. There were meetings between members of the committee, Mr. Powell and representatives of British Waterways. In June, 1954, just a year after posing the question "Why not a sailing club for Staffordshire," it was possible to write an article headed "Stafford-shire Sailing Club in sight of water at last."
Another public meeting was called, to which all those who had been present the previous year were invited, together with the growing number who had shown interest during the intervening twelve months.
The fact that in three months time we hoped sailing would be possible on Calf Heath Reservoir, near Gailey, was explained to a room which was overflowing with enthusiasm. Plans were discussed, class boats selected and officers were elected for the club's first year. It was then that the South was added to the Staffordshire, to avoid confusion with another group which had come into being in the north of the county, and which also was looking for sailing water.
The officers appointed at that general meeting were Commodore:- H. Victor Gough ; Vice Commodore, Stanley Gittins ; Treasurer, H. R.. Clarkson ; Honorary Secretary:- J. Clement Jones and Committee:- W. J. Page, L. Heaton and W. Mullaney.
A small group of us will never forget the first afternoon - Thursday, September 30th - when the Commodore was the first person to put a boat on the water. So thick was the jungle of brushwood, and so clinging were the brambles we had to force through, that it seemed as if even nature had taken a hand against us, and was playing a last card to stop us sailing.
For the record, those first intrepid sailors at Calf Heath were H. Victor Gough, H. R. Clarkson, W. Mullaney and Clement Jones. The two boats were "Enrhys" and "Luna II."
What has happened since, is more within the knowledge of the club's 200 members. H. F. Etchells was co-opted to the general committee to organise the building of the slipway and the clearing of the site for the club house and dinghy park. With volunteer work parties he has laboured amid snow and ice at week ends until it has been too dark to see to do any more.
Gradually the club has taken shape. To launch a boat it is no longer necessary to force one's way through bushes and drop it over the bank. It can be "walked" gently into the water down a slipway which is a masterpiece of co-operative design and effort. Those who have worked on it have in this slipway a monument to their endeavours, which should last the club the rest of its life. Their names are perpetuated on a copy of this programme, which they have signed, and which has been sealed into the fabric of the structure by our patron Uffa Fox. There is also a comfortable clubhouse and two changing rooms.
In hundreds of ways those who joined the South Staffordshire Sailing Club in its first few months at Calf Heath have helped unselfishly and with whatever seemed most necessary.
In years to come, when the club ceases to pioneer and achieves a state of ordered efficiency they will, I am sure, look back with pride to these happy, early days.
J. Clement Jones
April 2nd, 1955.