We very much welcome comments from friends. Please click on the 'Comments' link at the bottom to see comments or add your own.
Note: There is a anti-spam check and comments are moderated before approval.
Author: Neil Pickford | Date: 16th October 2019
David ‘Stan’ Collingwood
Cancer has claimed all too many of our rowing friends and colleagues lately. Sad to relate, therefore, its latest victim, Stan Collingwood, who died on Saturday, 12th October, at the age of 72, in St Theresa’s Hospice, Darlington.
Rowing is all about characters and one person who amply fitted the mould was Stan Collingwood. Many clubs can claim an association with Stan, but, at Cygnet, we like to think we got in on the ground floor, electing D.S.Collingwood as an active member in January 1973. Although his birth name was David, to the world of rowing he will always be remembered as ‘Stan the Man’.
Stan’s stay at Cygnet appears to have been brief and the club annals do not record him rowing in any competitive crews. Perhaps more surprisingly, he avoided any committee or organisational entanglements, although he would later return as an impressive finishing coach and organiser of the Business Houses Head in the late 1990s.
Stan would grace many Tideway clubs in his time, but no club could truly contain him, and he was always destined for greater things in the guise of umpiring, coaching, commentating and organising. Chairman of Thames Region was but one of the many posts he would hold in the rowing universe. One medium that was tailor-made for Stan was Regatta Radio at Henley Royal Regatta and he would spend many happy hours regaling listeners with ‘tales of the riverbank’ in between races before the drone took over.
Stan always brought experience, enthusiasm and bonhomie to all he did. In 1998 he accepted an assignment to coach an aspiring Cygnet entry for the Thames Cup at Henley, professing that it would be unrecognisable by the time his ten weeks were up. Walking over Barnes Bridge late one summer evening and watching a technically near perfect Vlll passing beneath, I can confirm that in this, as in all things, he was as good as his word.
Later in his working life, Stan was delighted to inform us that he had again become a Civil Servant and might even consider rejoining Cygnet. Although he never did, there was always a space at the Cygnet bar whenever he cared to stop by. He will be much missed.
Stan donated his body to science, so there will be no funeral. However, a Service of Celebration and Thanksgiving for the life of Dave ("Stan") Collingwood will be held at 10.30am, Saturday 16th November at Holy Trinity Church, Hounslow. Dress code: Colourful, as befits a celebration! RSVP to Linda Collingwood
Paul Rawkins, 16th October 2019
Author: Neil Pickford | Date: 6th September 2019
1966 - 2019
Ian Stephenson passed away on Friday 30th August following a long and hard-fought battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 53.
Ian, known to most of his Cygnet friends as Geordie, started his rowing career at Cambois Rowing Club in Northumberland, a few miles from his hometown of Morpeth. Having migrated south, he joined Cygnet for two years in 1988 before returning in 1997 via Curlew RC and Staines BC. On his return, he rowed in the Cygnet Thames Cup VIII at Henley Royal that year and remained a stalwart of Cygnet crews until 2013, when he slipped up-river to join the Quintin BC Veterans ‘Barflies”. Geordie continued rowing with Quintin throughout his treatment, only stopping in July, just a couple of months before his untimely death.
During his time with Cygnet, Geordie spent almost as much time at the bar as he did in a boat – and he was in a boat a lot – often combining the two activities, seemingly without ill-effect, as his collection of pewter will attest to. In retrospect, it may have been his fondness for socialising that accounts for his notorious reputation of always being late for outings, despite moving closer to the club.
Even after he stopped rowing for Cygnet and in a true demonstration of the club adage ‘Nobody ever leaves’, he could still often be found at the bar, getting a round in and talking to anyone that would listen; about the Glory Days; fishing; his latest eBay bargain; or his beloved Toon. Perhaps drawn there because it was in the boathouse bar where a particular Barnes Bridge Lady caught his eye and it wasn’t long before yet another boathouse ‘tradition’ was being observed: Geordie and T’s Wedding in September 2008 was well attended by members of both Cygnet and BBLRC.
During the early ‘noughties’ Geordie joined the Cygnet Committee as Social Secretary. This position combined his love of rowing and socialising and also formalised, for a while, his role as organiser of unconventional club events. These included an infamous and dangerously enormous bonfire one November, complete with a Guy made from kit abandoned in the changing rooms; an inter-club welly-wanging competition during Club Day; and the inception of the Cygnet darts team – which won its only match against the local pub team. He is also responsible for the gallon pewter tankard in the bar, from which many a-winning crew was required to take their victory drink – hard work for those winning in singles and pairs, much to Geordie’s amusement!
There’ll be very few people indeed that didn't like or get on with Geordie. Row hard, play hard appeared to be his philosophy yet he was a man who tried not to take life or himself too seriously. He was as comfortable taking the rise out of the venerable older members as he was the new novices, his closest friends or himself. And he had a lot of friends, most of whom will remember him as the unconventionally dressed northern bloke in the tight jeans and well-worn Led Zeppelin T-shirt, with a beer in his hand and a heart as big as his hair. His generosity knew no bounds and he will be sorely missed all along the Thames Tideway.
He is survived by his wife Tracey and young son, George to whom we extend our sincerest condolences.
Marjorie Israel & Neil Pickford, 6th September 2019
Ian's funeral will take place on Friday 20th September at 12:40 at Mortlake Crematorium, with a wake after at Mortlake Anglian & Alpha Boat Club. There is no dress code and faded rock band tee-shirts are optional! Please leave a message on Ian's Facebook page if you intend to be there. Failing that, please post a comment here and we will pass the message on for you.
Author: Neil Pickford | Date: 3rd July 2019
1933 – 2019
Richard Hext wrote to Cygnet recently to inform us that his father, Ronald Hext had died on 25th June, only days after his 86th birthday.
Ron joined Cygnet in January 1954 while working as a clerk in the Admiralty. Although he had no previous rowing experience, he quickly developed an affinity with the sport and soon found himself rowing in one of the most successful Cygnet crews of the 1950s, a Junior Vlll coached by Bill Peer and John Bull.
The crew made its debut at Chiswick Regatta on 26th May1956. Eric Wale, author of ‘Cygnet Rowing Club: The Fifties’, recalled that “The Vlll, meanwhile, had developed into an extremely effective crew – indeed good enough to win at its first regatta beating Westminster School in the final of Juniors by one length. This was an excellent result bearing in mind the large entry (17 crews) and clearly demonstrated that Cygnet again had a crew of considerable potential”.
That potential was amply borne out in the successive weeks and months of 1956 and early 1957. Thus, the crew won Junior Senior Vllls at Walton on 9th June, Kingston on 13th July and Staines on 28th July. These results continued a successful run of regatta wins since the early 1950s, echoing the ‘victory years’ of the Thirties.
C.H. Genever Watling, an earlier club history scribe, recalled Ron Hext "as a 'perpetual student' because of the number of years and different courses undertaken with various local authorities, to see him through from extra mural at Ruskin to a degree course at Keble". Ron subsequently taught economics at the local Further Education College in Rugby for many years.
His rowing career appears to have come to an end in 1957, but not before he rowed in the 1957 Head of the River Race, coming 34th in a time of 20.29, a very creditable performance. As luck would have it, Maurice Hart, who also rowed in the crew, recently sent the Club a batch of regatta and HoRR printouts from that period, along with a photograph of the crew. The crew was steered by Colin Dominy; both Colin and Maurice still appear from time to time at Leander lunches.
Ron was one of the longest standing members of the Cygnet 300 Club and continued to follow the Club’s activities with interest.
Richard Hext adds “Dad had a long and happy life, was a loving and generous husband to Judith, and father to Richard, Neil and Alison. He very much valued his time as a rower with Cygnets and his continued association with the club. He passed his love of rowing to his son, Neil and at least one of his nine grandchildren. He was very much loved by his whole family and will be sorely missed.”
Ron's funeral will take place at 3pm on Monday 15th July at Rainsbrook Crematorium in Rugby. Cygnet members would be very welcome.
Ron is seated first left in the front row.
Author: Neil Pickford | Date: 11th May 2019
1931 – 2019
Peter Jeffs, who has died at the age of 88, was a member of Cygnet Rowing Club for more than fifty years. Tall, charming and debonair, his energetic demeanour defied his years, inviting the description of an eternal Peter Pan. Indeed, on hearing of his death, one fellow Cygnet aptly summed up his demise as “Peter Pan returns to never-never land”. Others have lamented the passing of “a real gent” whose evergreen attitude to life set an example to us all. He will be sorely missed.
Born in 1931, Peter was always proud to relate how he grew up on a council estate in north Barnes, little more than half a mile as the crow flies from the then newly built Civil Service Boathouse, opened in October 1930. Little did he know it at the time, but this institution and its occupants would come to play a significant and enduring part in his long and active life.
As a school boy, growing up during the Second World War, he witnessed Battle of Britain ‘dogfights’ in the skies overhead and would proudly recount the day he stood and watched in awe as a German Messerschmitt skirted the roof tops over Barnes in 1940.
A bright young lad, Peter passed his ‘eleven plus’ examination and was offered a place at Sheen Grammar School for Boys. Having ‘matriculated’ in 1947, he had brief spells in the building trade and the Bank of Australia before joining the Air Ministry as a civil servant. National Service intervened in 1949-51, when he served in the RAF.
What followed was a remarkable ascent through the ranks of the MoD from lowly clerical officer to Assistant Secretary, Defence Sales, in 1971, ‘our man’ in Washington DC in 1976-79 and Vice President, Military Affairs in 1979-83. A mention in the 1983 New Year’s Honours List, when he was appointed a member of The Order of St Michael and St George (CMG), crowned a stellar career in the civil service. When Peter left the MoD for British Aerospace in 1984, then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher apparently let it be known in no uncertain terms that she regarded his departure as ‘regrettable’.
An all-round sportsman, in his youth Peter played football to a high standard at club level, latterly at Tooting and Mitcham, and seriously considered turning professional. He was also adept at cricket and tennis. Still, life off the playing field had its attractions, not least romantic ones: Peter met Iris and they married in 1956, before heading off for an overseas posting in Aden in 1958. Then, as now, these were unsettled times in the Middle East and Iris, heavily pregnant with their first child, narrowly escaped a bomb blast on the streets of the capital.
Word-of-mouth has often proved to be one of the most effective ways of recruiting new members at Cygnet. In Peter’s case, he was introduced to the club in 1966 by one ‘Jimmy’ Baker who he had met in Aden. Baker, who was accustomed to turning up at Cygnet on short-term leave and dropping into winning crews, persuaded Peter to try his hand at rowing.
Joining Cygnet at the relatively late age of 36 labelled Peter as a ‘veteran’ or ‘Master’ in today’s parlance. Undaunted, he wasted no time reinventing himself as an oarsman, teaming up with the likes of Len Huggett, Roy Ellison and Peter Roche. Together they carved out a role for themselves as a mean racing machine, whilst forging lifelong friendships. In Peter’s own words, “the old mans’ four had some great times” and was not without the odd piece of silverware. The high spot of their racing careers came in 1973 when they triumphed over Frankfurt, Germany and Barclays Bank to secure a win at the Vesta International Veterans Regatta.
One of the most senior civil servants to grace the ranks of Cygnet Rowing Club, Peter Jeffs always lent an air of authority to proceedings and was a natural choice for club chairman and chair of the Boathouse Executive. Regrettably for the boat club, these stints were often cut short by overseas postings: the Jeffs family decamped to Washington DC in 1976-79 and again in 1984-87, initially in the service of the MoD and latterly British Aerospace.
Still, every cloud has a silver lining and some of us were fortunate enough to enjoy the legendary Jeffs’ hospitality dispensed to any passing Cygnet stray, not least myself. Iris was always the perfect hostess.
In later years, Peter succumbed to the clutches of the “Golden Oldies” and rarely missed Henley Royal Regatta, often regaling us with tales of his long and eventful career and a life well spent, not least in the company of “the old man’s four”. Yet his grandchildren kept him young and he remained physically active, playing tennis and golf well into his twilight years. Indeed, his golfing handicap was more akin to somebody 10-15 years his junior. For many of us, our last memory of Peter will have been of him striding off to Victoria Station after a Christmas lunch in the Civil Service Club in December 2017, seemingly as ageless and timeless as ever.
Peter Jeffs’ funeral will take place at Randalls Park Crematorium, Randalls Road, Leatherhead, Surrey, KT22 OAG, at 1.15pm on Friday, 24th May and afterwards at The Royal Automobile Club, Wilmerhatch Ln, Epsom, Surrey, KT18 7EW. If you are planning to attend, please contact Sally Rawson on email@example.com.
Paul Rawkins, 11th May 2019
Author: Neil Pickford | Date: 13th September 2018
G.J.W. (Barney) Frith
1937 – 2018
The past few years have taken a steady toll of those whom many older Cygnets fondly remember as the ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ generation. Named after the TV sitcom of the same name, these aged swans would regularly gather at the boathouse on Tuesdays and Thursdays to engage in some light training followed by a lengthy period of contemplation and reflection in the Cygnet bar. One of their number was Graham ‘Barney’ Frith who died on Tuesday, 4th September 2018, following a long battle with Motor Neurone Disease. He was 81.
Barney Frith joined Cygnet in 1961 and rowed with the likes of Mike Arnold-Gilliat, Derek Bush, Colin Dominy, John Ellis, John Hildrey and Len Huggett to name but a few. Although the sixties were not an era of huge success for Cygnet, Barney nevertheless played his part in securing such coveted trophies as the Twickenham Cup for the third time since the war, in 1962. Derek Bush recalls rowing with him in the club regatta and Len Huggett liked to relate the story of how Barney cost them a race at Kingston Regatta because he spent more time trying to swipe a swan than ‘getting on with the race’.
Blessed with a head for numbers, Barney found his professional niche in the National Audit Office and apparently displayed a keen mathematical interest in gambling. Such attributes would later be turned to good effect playing the financial markets in retirement and picking potential winners for the Last of the Summer Wine horse racing syndicate.
Barney never allowed rowing to interfere with his social life. Contemporary accounts describe him as a ‘young blade’ for whom assignations with the fairer sex always held more attraction than ‘jugging’ it up with his crew mates after an outing. In the fullness of time, Barney met Miss Right – Brenda – and they married in the late-1960s. Rather than send a telegram, his crew mates penned an ‘Ode to A Young Swan’, which lamented the fact that Barney had hung up his blade and traded his carefree days at Cygnet for a life of domestic bliss.
Soon afterwards, the newly-weds moved away and started a family and Barney retired from active rowing. It would be some years before he resurfaced at the boathouse, having escaped the clutches of the National Audit Office, courtesy of an early retirement scheme. However, no sooner had he become a paid-up member of the Last of the Summer Wine set than he fell into the clutches of club chairman Mike Arnold-Gilliat, who dragooned him into the post of club treasurer.
Despite his accounting background, Barney was not a natural treasurer; he agonized over any expenditure, wrote a long committee paper outlining a doom scenario for club finances and concluded that the club should stop buying boats until further notice. It was not a match made in heaven and he and the post of treasurer were soon parted, much to the relief of all concerned. Doom mongering tended to be Barney’s stock-in-trade and he would later emerge as a strident opponent of a proposed merger with BBLRC, condemning it as a financial accident waiting to happen.
Shorn of his official duties, Barney was free to devote himself to managing his share portfolio, honing his skills at bridge – he played a mean hand by all accounts – and entering into the full extra curricula activities of the Last of the Summer Wine set. One high spot he always enjoyed was the annual President’s lunch at Henley Royal Regatta. The Friths had lived in Henley-on-Thames for a good deal of their married life and were well known on the bridge circuit, which continued to draw them back long after they had moved to Gerrards Cross in the early 1980s.
Barney was nothing if not a creature of habit. John Hildrey recalls that on their regular lunch time visits to the William Webb Ellis in Twickenham, Barney always brought a cushion (he suffered from a bad back) and always ordered ham, egg and chips. Many will remember Barney as a heavy smoker, but he rarely imbibed to the same extent as some of his less inhibited compatriots, preferring not to put his driving license at risk. This marked him out as an obvious taxi driver, a task he always performed with dignity and aplomb, decanting the likes of Mike AG and Len Huggett home to their respective front doors at the end of a ‘heavy’ day.
In later life, Barney fretted that most of his closer associates were older than him, presaging a lonely old age. In reality, the Cygnet social safety net was always close at hand and many older members will lament his passing. Barney’s wife, Brenda, predeceased him by some years; he is survived by a married daughter, Helen, to whom the Club sends its sincere condolences.
Barney’s funeral will take place at 11.45am on Tuesday, 25th September. Details are available here.
Author: Neil Pickford | Date: 19th July 2018
21st May 1953–1st July 2018
None of us can ever truly know when our ‘time is up’. For Noel Davison, who died on 1st July 2018, just weeks after his 65th birthday, following a long battle with cancer, that time was far too soon.
Although most of his adult life was spent in London, Noel was a proud Irishman from County Londonderry in Northern Ireland. Educated at Coleraine Inst, a local grammar school for boys, he learned to row on the River Bann, the longest river in NI, before striking out overseas to St Andrew’s University in Fife, Scotland.
Following graduation, he headed south, seeking employment with the Inland Revenue as a District Tax Inspector, and arrived in London in the early 1970s as that rarest of beings: a competent oarsman who had no rowing points – in short, a coach’s dream. As a newcomer to the metropolis, Noel wasted no time in seeking an outlet for his waterman ship skills and Cygnet RC beckoned, along with nearby lodgings at 14 Vernon Road, East Sheen, the legendary home of Mike Arnold-Gilliat, the then captain of Cygnet RC.
Life at Vernon Road was an unstoppable merry-go round of rowing, sleeping and eating with the occasional sojourn to the nearby Hare and Hounds. Noel made some lifelong friends and a taste for Young’s ‘Ordinary’, but the whole experience did little to advance his or other inmates domestic housekeeping skills.
Noel always said that his novice years at Cygnet were some of his happiest afloat. Carefree days spent paddling up and down the Chiswick reach were rewarded with several non-status wins on the River Lea, where one spectator pronounced them to be a ’tasty crew’, and the Royal Naval Dockyards at Portsmouth, before losing their rowing virginity at Curlew.
Higher status wins followed. Noel was one of the anchor men of the crews coached by George Plumtree in 1977-78, which saw the participants ascend from Senior C to Elite over two years, starting with the Senior C Pennant win in the Head of the River in 1977.
Not one to stand on ceremony, Noel nevertheless felt that it was important to introduce his future wife, Eleanor, to his crew mates quite early on in their courtship. And so it was on a cold winter’s evening at the height of disco mania that the happy couple braved the dank surroundings of the Cygnet bar. Needless to say, the bar fell well short of health and safety norms, even by 1970s standards, and the company was not much better. The look on Eleanor’s face said it all. Still, all was not lost and over time she came to love both Noel and the inner sanctum of the Cygnet bar, if not the crew.
Cygnet was Noel’s first port of call, but we cannot claim a monopoly; he also rowed at Molesey Boat Club and, latterly, Tideway Scullers. Molesey provided Noel with the springboard he craved to achieve greater things: regular wins at Elite would follow, coupled with impressive performances at Henley Royal Regatta and National Championships. On a lighter note, in 1979 Noel starred in a TV commercial that featured him stroking an Vlll as it gently slipped below the waves while the cox, Ronnie Corbett, blithely puffed away on a Hamlet Cigar. The commercial can still be viewed today on You Tube.
Noel always appreciated the importance of putting something back into the sport and in late-1983 the opportunity arose to return to Cygnet in the self-styled role of Squad Co-ordinator. The experience he had gained at Molesey proved invaluable in changing the training and racing ethos at Cygnet and laid the foundations for some of the club’s most successful years in 1984-87, not least a coxless lV that he coached virtually singlehandedly from Senior B to Elite in one season.
Family and professional commitments subsequently took priority. Noel bade farewell to the Inland Revenue, joining Arthur Andersen where he obtained a chartered accountancy qualification, before moving on to Ernst and Young in 1994. EY played to Noel’s strengths and he became a much-respected international tax partner working on some of the most prestigious accounts of the day. As a devoted family man, there was never any doubt that Noel and Eleanor made a great team, while he adored son Paul and daughter Julia, encouraging them in their every endeavor; they, in turn, embraced his unwavering work ethic, carving out their own paths as successful young people, determined to maintain the Davison traditions.
All work and no play is never a good recipe for life andthe draw of the Tideway is hard to resist. Noel returned to veteran rowing in the mid-noughties, gracing one or two heads and regattas along the way. His talents as an oarsman were much in demand and he rowed at both Cygnet and Tideway Scullers, before illness curtailed activity afloat. Even so, Noel continued to fulfil his landward duties as Honorary Examiner at Cygnet and Honorary Secretary at the Head of the River Fours until just months before his demise. Indeed, he was arguably one of the few officials who managed to get his head around the new points system – for that alone he will be sorely missed.
Irrespective of which club he rowed for, Noel always brought wisdom, dedication, a certain air of authority and sheer bonhomie to the water. Prior to writing this piece, I asked, Rhodri Walters, a longstanding friend of Noel’s, how he would describe Noel; he replied “much like his rowing style – long in the water, steady on the slide and easy to follow”. Lawrence Williams at TSS recalls: “I remember a pause in one of our earlier more catastrophic outings when he (Noel) was sitting behind me and I filled a gap in conversation by informing him that we now had two professors in the crew. His immediate response was brief and typical - "Good, we need all the intellectual firepower we can get."
Appearances can be deceptive and some will argue that Noel was a man of few words. It is true that he was certainly not one for small talk. However, all those who spent time with him will know that once you scratched the surface, he was always happy to engage in debate on all manner of subjects and often held quite strong views. An economy of words, coupled with his calm demeanour, meant that whenever Noel did hold forth, the assembled company, whoever they were, always sat up and listened.
Rowing was not Noel’s only passion. He also had a great love of literature. Retirement gave him an opportunity to cast off his professional mantle of international taxation and immerse himself in English Literature, obtaining a degree from Oxford University in 2017.
Against his better judgement, Noel also partook of several canal trips organized by Malcolm Burman and his cohorts at Cygnet. Malcolm recounts: “..not sure what he made of those. He seemed to enjoy them, despite the fact that it rained most of the time - but I seem to remember he was very keen on steering, particularly in the tunnels and we had to drag him away from the tiller [for lock-opening duties].”
For many Cygnet members, their last memory of Noel will have been of him sagely presenting his report at the February AGM in his capacity as Honorary Examiner, a post he had held jointly with Malcolm Burman for eighteen years. For the crew of 1977-78, a happier memory of Noel will have been of him sitting in the Cygnet bar reflecting on a lifetime afloat on the occasion of the 40th reunion of the Plumtree Vlll in March 2017. He will be greatly missed.
Author: Neil Pickford | Date: 20th June 2017
29th March 1930 – 16th June 2017
Len Huggett, who has died at the age of 87, was one of the paid-up members of the ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ set who gathered at the Boathouse every Tuesday and Thursday throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, pontificating on the world through an alcoholic haze. Collectively and individually, they were a near perfect replica of the TV series of the same name. While there was never any doubt who ‘Foggy’ was (John Bull), a number of candidates vied for the role of ‘Compo’, not least Len and Mike AG.
Born in 1930, Len Huggett grew up in Stoke Newington and Edmonton amid the urban bomb sites of World War Two and the austerity years that followed. Upon leaving school at sixteen, Len joined the Central Telegraph Office in 1946, part of the Post Office, before doing two years National Service in
Following his ‘demob’ in 1950, Len returned to the Post Office and soon started devoting his leisure hours to Crescent Rowing Club, which was based on the River Lee in East London. Like Cygnet, Crescent was allied to the Post Office and it was here that Len would strike up life-long friendships with the likes of John Ellis and Peter Bailey, both of whom remain Friends of Cygnet.
Given the limited boating facilities on the Lee, Crescent members were often invited to Cygnet to gain experience of rowing in Vllls on the Tidal Thames and to make up crews for the Head season. Crescent also competed regularly in the Civil Service Regatta and was a force to be reckoned with in the 1920s and 30s. Over time, ambitious young Crescent members often defected to Cygnet and Len duly followed suit in the late 1950s. The first photograph we have of a young Len Huggett afloat was taken in 1959 and shows him seated at two in a Cygnet Vlll at Kingston Regatta.
The 1960s were not an auspicious time for Cygnet and regatta victories were relatively few and far between. Nonetheless, the era was not without its high spots. Thus, in 1961 Len stroked a Junior Eight to victory at the Metropolitan Regatta and subsequent years often found him stroking Junior-Senior Vllls at local regattas, some successful, some not. Among the regattas he often used to wax lyrical about were the Welsh Harp and the Serpentine. Like so many of us, Len did his time as club captain, in 1966. His rowing ‘swan song’ came in 1973 when, rowing in a coxed lV with Roy Ellison, Peter Jeffs, Peter Roche and Robert Henry (cox), he won at Vesta International Veterans’ Regatta, beating Barclays Bank and Frankfurt.
Although not a confirmed bachelor as such, despite having several long-term relationships Len never took the plunge and tied the knot. His friends would probably argue that ‘no woman would have him’ and, in truth, he was a contrarian to his core, impossible to pin down to any commitment large or small. Yet, through it all he remained a dedicated member of Cygnet, immensely kind to his friends and wholly unpredictable, often turning up out-of-the-blue at regattas far from home – St Neots was one of his favourites. And, no matter where you were, Len always knew of a hostelry just around the corner or in a far-flung country lane.
A North London boy through and through, Len lived at home in Edmonton with his parents until their demise in the late-1980s. Then, in 1993, on a whim (and allegedly after a late night with Mike Arnold-Gilliat), he ventured down to Henley-on-Thames to visit the Club’s late president, Peter Sly. Sly took Len to see his late mother-in-law’s house in Greys Road, Henley, which had recently gone on the market. Much to Sly’s surprise, Len agreed to buy the house on the spot: it was probably the biggest decision he had ever made in his life.
Len would spend the remaining twenty four years of his life in this house; few people ever saw the interior and he rarely drew back the curtains. Nevertheless, living in Henley actually suited Len quite well. Friends often visited and there was no shortage of agreeable hostelries nearby. He, in turn, was a frequent visitor at ‘Old Blades’, the Sly residence, and would never tire of relating the story of how in 1977 he alerted Peter Sly to an auction of two old workmen’s cottages on the Henley reach that would ultimately be reborn as ‘Old Blades’.
Like so many of his generation, Len Huggett remained fiercely independent, living alone until the very end, despite having suffered several strokes. In reality, of course, the Cygnet safety net was always close at hand, with Pat, Pru and Oscar Sly increasingly alert to Len’s wellbeing in later years.
For many of us, our abiding memory of Len Huggett in his twilight years will have been of him ‘holding court’ on the patio at ‘Old Blades’ on Henley Regatta Friday – he would never commit to going, but he always turned up, contrarian to the last, and invariably pronounced it to be ‘a lovely old day’.
20th June 2017
Please feel free to share your memories of Len using the Comments box, below.
(Len is at 2 in this VIII from Kingston Regatta 1959)
Author: Neil Pickford | Date: 19th May 2017
Dame Di Ellis, who died on 18th May 2017, was a giant in our sport. Instantly recognisable to all in British Rowing, Cygnet always felt that it could claim a special bond with her by virtue of her marriage to John Ellis, who has been a life-long member of Cygnet since the 1950s.
Di and John met at the Civil Service Boathouse when she was rowing for St George's and he for Cygnet. Di subsequently went to on to represent Great Britain before becoming an umpire, an official, team manager and Chairman of British Rowing (then the ARA) in 1989.
Deservedly described as 'The First Lady of British Rowing', Di served on unnumerable committees and organising bodies in her time, finishing her career in 2012 as Executive Chairman of British Rowing after 52 years in the sport.
Di's huge contributioin to the sport was recognised in 2013 when she was named a ‘Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire’ in the 2013 Birthday Honours List.
The last Cygnet function she attended was in October 2013 when she was proud to pose with her medal and Cygnet was able to bask in some of her reflected glory.
Author: Neil Pickford | Date: 24th June 2016
Michael Augustine Arnold-Gilliat
30th April 1935 – 16th June 2016
Michael Arnold-Gilliat, variously known as Mike AG, MAG, the Dowager Chairman or just plain Gilliat, passed away peacefully on 16th June in Charing Cross Hospital, London, after a short struggle with pneumonia. He was 81. On hearing of his death, Lawrence McVeigh, one of his contemporaries remarked that ‘it would take a little time to get used to not having Mike there’. It will indeed; Mike AG was part of the very fabric of Cygnet RC, a quintessential administrator who always had his ‘ear to the ground’ and one who never missed an opportunity to network.
Born in Kennington, south London on 30th April 1935, Mike was a child of the Blitz. Bombed out of Kennington in 1941, the family moved to Bournemouth, where Mike secured an education at St Peter’s School before passing the Civil Service entrance exam in June 1953. No sooner had he joined the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) than he was whisked off to the RAF to do National Service. Not an obvious candidate for airborne duties, Mike was dispatched to Signals on and around Salisbury Plain where it was felt that he could do relatively little harm.
Returning to MAFF in 1955, Mike was initially assigned to the Legal Department where he made the acquaintance of John Bull, a coach at Cygnet who introduced him to the club in 1958. Little did the rowing world know what it was letting itself in for. Over the ensuing half century or so, the name MAG would become synonymous with civil service rowing in all its administrative guises on the Tideway.
Mike enjoyed his rowing, but he was not a natural oarsman and never won his Novices or Maidens as they were known in his day. Maidens were hotly contested in the early 1960s and Mike often recounted events like Evesham where thirty or more entries were not unusual. Still, he could always console himself with the social side of rowing and in 1972 he and a number of other Cygnets featured in a priceless advert for Double Diamond Bitter under the slogan ‘I’m only here for the beer’. This billboard still enjoys pride of place in RG Benrath, Dusseldorf, an inter-club link first established by Mike together with Gordon Burden and Lawrence Mc Veigh in 1965 and one that remains very much alive to this day.
Rowing boats were one thing, but the labyrinthine committee structure of civil service rowing was quite another and Mike revelled in it, swiftly making his mark on the Cygnet committee. Having filled virtually every committee post in the 1960s, Mike would subsequently serve six years (1970-73 and 1980-81) as club captain and 18 years as club chairman. Civil service rowing thrived under MAG’s first stint as captain and he was immensely proud to put his name to the entry form for Cygnet’s first ever entry (under its own name) at Henley Royal Regatta in 1972 and again in 1973. Later, in 1980, he would rally to the cause again, stepping in as captain when the club was at a very low ebb.
Never one to take a back seat, when not commanding the higher echelons of Cygnet RC, Mike took up the reins first as boathouse secretary and subsequently as boathouse chairman, while also becoming involved in the broader Civil Service Sports Council, where he served on the Management Committee and as London Region Secretary. Mike became a vice president of Cygnet in 1978, while his services to civil service rowing and the CSSC were formally recognized in 1982 when he was awarded the Civil Service Merit Award for services to sport and recreation.
Back on the Tideway, Mike became a qualified umpire and officiated at many local regattas and heads in the 1970-80s, as well as becoming entrenched in the organisation of Hammersmith Amateur Regatta (as Treasurer) and the Head of the River Fours (as committee member and Entries Secretary). Mike could be a very canny operator and was instrumental in securing long-term sponsorship from Fullers Brewery for both these events. Nearer to home, he transformed the Cygnet 300 club into a 600 club, greatly aiding the club boat buying programme, which would subsequently see not one, but two boats named Mike Arnold-Gilliat.
MAG’s enduring commitment to the wider world of rowing was recognized in 2002 when he received a British Olympic Association Award, by which time memories of the grass-roots revolt Mike and his Division 18 colleagues had led against perceived ARA misrule in 1976 had presumably been forgotten. However, arguably, the honour Mike coveted most was his election to Leander Club as a ‘full pink’ in 1998, a rare achievement for somebody who had never won his novices, yet one whose rowing CV ranked with the best of them in so many other respects.
No obituary of Mike AG could omit mention of 14 Vernon Road in Sheen, his home for almost fifty years. Countless Cygnet members came to regard Vernon Road as tantamount to a second home and, in a good many cases, a first home, as an army of club members became paying tenants at one time or another. Indeed, the early 1970s found the whole of the captaincy residing at Vernon Road and an invitation to a drink or dinner was a little like an audience at the White House.
No deserving body, often ‘under the influence’, was ever turned away from Gilliat Towers: the back bedroom was always on hand for the ‘tired and emotional’; while kitchen cupboards full of canned food and drink from the local cash-and–carry mitigated the risks of starvation or dehydration. Conversely, inmates were expected to ‘muck in’: Norman Cowling, one of the 1970s alumni, recalls ‘Mike’s next door neighbour was highly amused to see that the tenants were expected to paint the house’.
But perhaps the institution that personified MAG best was the ‘Gilligram’ – hand-typed or written reminders penned by Mike, first as captain and later as boathouse and club chairman, these appeared with unerring regularity in the club letter rack, the forerunner of e-mails as we know them today. Often, these missives would be a summons to the White Hart or the Hare and Hounds to discuss the issues of the day. All the big decisions were thrashed out in one or other of these public houses, infused by the Aaaaabl – the absolute b***dy last – as Mike liked to refer to the last pint(s) of the day.
After an extensive career in MAFF, Mike’s administrative skills were unleashed for one last time on the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew (an outpost of MAFF). Not one to hog the spotlight, he was nonetheless proud that under his stewardship Kew Gardens won an award for some of the cleanest toilets in the land! The trail of destruction wrought by the Great Storm of 1987 presented an altogether different challenge. Sometime later, ananonymous benefactor presented the club with its handsome gavel, made from a Kew Turkey Oak which had fallen victim to the storm!
Following early retirement at 55, Mike became a fully paid-up member of the Golden Oldies, which met at the boathouse every Tuesday and Thursday under the tutelage of John Bull. Mike also took up globe-trotting, ably abetted by his travelling companion Andy Rawkins, visiting virtually every continent on the planet. Ever the socialite, many an unsuspecting co-traveller would return home only to find themselves on Mike’s electronic rolodex for ever more. Less well known were his annual pilgrimages to Hosanna House, Lourdes as a hands-on helper: religious faith was always very important to Mike.
Mike never tired of telling his GP that ‘he was easily led astray’ and, in truth, we were all complicit in his antics which were legendary, particularly at locations like the Flower Pot and Henley Royal Regatta. Gracious to a fault, Mike always dismissed these as apocryphal. Yet he remained an administrator to the last, helpfully penning notes for his own obituary. At Cygnet we are fond of proclaiming the demise of club grandees as the ‘end of an era’; with the death of Mike Arnold-Gilliat, that epithet is amply justified, Gilligrams and all. He will be greatly missed by his multitude of friends and family.
24th June 2016
Mike's Funeral will take place on Wednesday 13th July 2016 at 12.30pm
St Mary Magdalen Roman Catholic Church, Mortlake, 61 N. Worple Way, London SW14 8PR.
After the service the family and close friends will accompany Michael to the Crematorium.
By Michael's request a small floral tribute will be provided.
“Reach the Unreached” was founded by Brother Lionel, a teacher at Michael’s old school, and helps poor village people in India. If you wish please make a donation, please send a cheque made payable to “Reach the Unreached”, c/o Holmes & Daughters, 461 Upper Richmond Road West, East Sheen, London SW14 7PU.
The wake will be in the River Room at the Bulls Head in Barnes.
Please feel free to share your memories of Mike by using the comments box below.