South Staffs Burgee
South Staffordshire Sailing Club
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The Early 1950's

by Nicholas Jones,
son of founder member J. Clement Jones

The early 1950s were boom years in Wolverhampton: the local metal-bashing and engineering firms had full order books and their proprietors had money to spend; war-time restrictions like the rationing of steel, sugar (and sweets) had finished, and the gloom and hardship of the immediate post-war years had been replaced by a new-found desire for sporting and leisure facilities. In the mid 1950s a twelve to fourteen foot racing dinghy, complete with sails, could be purchased for £150; pre-fabricated kits cost around £90. No wonder men like Clem were itching to get afloat.

Within the space of ten years inland sailing clubs would be opened right across the Midlands; by the late 1950s there would be fifteen clubs within easy reach of Birmingham. But those early enthusiasts faced an uphill struggle and some potential clubs failed to make it.

I was eight when my father typed out his very first article complaining about the lack of anywhere to go sailing in the Wolverhampton locality. As a family we had usually spent our weekends walking in the Staffordshire and Shropshire countryside; we often went camping. One favourite spot was the lake in the grounds of Chillington Hall, near Brewood, the ancestral home of the Giffard family.

Father must have written a story which met the Giffards' approval because one day we were invited to go sailing on the lake. This was the outing that spurred on my father and resulted, in August 1950, in that initial by-lined article which had the heading "Yachting in Staffordshire" - a headline which, like his subsequent article in 1953, should perhaps have ended with a question mark. Clem's exasperation was plain for all to see: he deplored the fact that "here in land-locked Wolverhampton, too many people who loved small boat sailing had to suppress that longing because of a lack of facilities."

His cry from the heart met an immediate response from another frustrated would-be yachtsman. Next day Victor Gough, who was to become the club's first commodore, rang up to ask Clem for the location of the privately-owned stretch of water where the Jones family had been fortunate enough to go sailing. Naturally my father was in no position to let Victor into his secret: although the lake at Chillington was not many miles from the centre of Wolverhampton, and was set in beautiful parkland, the Giffards had no intention of allowing it to be developed into a sailing club.

As there seemed little immediate hope of finding a suitable expanse of water, my father suggested that Victor, the owner of one of Wolverhampton's oldest building firms, should start compiling a list of all those interested in forming a sailing club. Three years later, in June 1953, when he wrote his second article - and actually floated the idea of forming a club - Clem had the foresight to link his suggestion to the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. He proposed that one of Staffordshire's contributions to Coronation year should be to ensure "that those who dwelt in South Staffordshire should have an opportunity to enjoy the healthy open air sport of sailing."

At long last these two early campaigners were about to get some real backing from the community! Clem started receiving more telephone calls and offers of support than he could deal with; and, after Victor wrote a letter to the editor of the Express and Star making a public appeal for help, another prominent Wulfrunian, Stanley Gittins, who was to become the club's first vice commodore, offered to assist with the task of recording the names and addresses of all those who were interested in finding a suitable location.