A short history of the Little Ship Club

The Club owes its formation to a letter to a yachting paper suggesting that during the winter months, then the dead season, many keen sailing people would be glad of an opportunity to get together and swap yarns. So on 5 November 1926 at the Ship Restaurant in Whitehall, 27 enthusiasts met and the Little Ship Club was formed.

"I should like to put forward the proposal that during the coming winter a yachtsman's study circle be arranged to meet say in the evening once a fortnight in London, for the purpose of improving our knowledge of seamanship and navigation. Papers with practical instruction might be read on the following kinds of subjects: splicing of ropes and wire, sail mending, coastal navigation, construction of the hull of small yachts, kinds of timber, its uses and defects, rigging purchases, etc., small yacht cookery and numerous other subjects."

'Keen but Ignorant' were the words that appeared in Yacht Sales and Charters, 6 October 1926 and started it all. 'Keen but Ignorant' turned out to be Robert Gibbon.

The following extract appeared in Yachting World on 13 November 1926:
The next meeting of the recently formed 'Little Ship Club' will be held... Meetings are held at the above address on every alternate Wednesday throughout the "laid up" season; their object being the furtherance of knowledge of seamanship and navigation of small boats, also interchanging of ideas, combined with social gathering.

Plans for social activities and a chance to learn from fellow sailors about the sea in preparation for the following season were developed. The founder members were all men but since 1927 women have been welcomed as full members.

In 1928 the Club moved its meetings to the Old Ship Tavern, Ivy Lane, in the City of London and gave classes in seamanship and navigation plus a fortnightly lecture.

By 1932 membership had risen from the original 27 to over 500 and it was decided that the club should have a permanent office and a paid office staff. Arrangements were made with the Hudson Bay Company and the Club became tenants at Beaver Hall. This very successful arrangement lasted for 30 years during which time membership increased from 500 to 4,000.

The training classes became so successful and highly regarded that in 1936 these facilities were used by the Admiralty to train members of the Royal Naval Supplementary Volunteer Reserve, many of whom were also Club members.

In recognition of this, the Admiralty, in the person of the First Sea Lord speaking at the Club's annual dinner in 1937, invited the Club to apply for the privilege of having its own blue ensign defaced with the club emblem. This is the only known instance of such an invitation being made.

In 1960 it was decided, not without some opposition, that the time had come for the Club to have its own home. A long lease was granted on an old coal wharf downriver from Southwark Bridge on the north bank of the Thames. On the 15 February 1962 the Lord Mayor of London laid the foundation stone of the Clubhouse in Bell Wharf Lane with a lecture hall, restaurant, bar, cabins and club office. At the end of that year Eric and Susan Hiscock gave the first lecture in the new building.

By 1986 the Clubhouse had become less suitable for the Club's requirements and an offer was accepted to redevelop the site. Between 1986 and 1991 whilst the original site was being developed, the Club found a temporary home with the Naval Club in Mayfair, establishing a close connection with that Club with which Little Ship Club members now enjoy reciprocal membership.

The new building was completed in May 1991 and the Club returned to Bell Wharf Lane when the Lord Mayor opened the new Clubhouse.

2001 saw the Club's 75th anniversary celebrations which included a Dinner in the Painted Hall at the Royal Naval College Greenwich, and publication of the Club's history.

In commemoration of the Club's 80th anniversary, it launched the Round Britain Baton Relay, leaving the Club in 2005, and returning in November 2006, in aid of the RNLI. The new riverside entrance was also opened in early 2006.

Links: Archivist Ian Stewart on the Club's support for Dunkirk here

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