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Most people are surprised to discover that Tottenham had its own small thriving sailing club back in the fifties, sixties and early seventies. It wasn't based on the Lordship 'rec'. Paddle boat lake as some past 'humorists' have said - but on the River Lea at Tottenham Marshes !

It all started in 1957 when a group of predominantly North London based friends who enjoyed 'mucking about in small boats' decided to form a sailing club. A ‘slight’ stumbling block to their plans was in deciding exactly 'where'!! Apart from the Lea Valley's [untouchable] reservoirs there were no reasonable sized expanses of water available to them in this part of North London, so thoughts turned to rivers.

Many of the clubs founder members such as Roger Fillery, Rowland Joslin and Ron Parsons have now sadly sailed on and this means that much of the finer detail of those very early days is now lost. It is known however that they decided to base themselves on the Lea - their local canal - at Stonebridge Lock. Naming themselves 'The Lea Valley Sailing Club', a shed was 'acquired' on the Walthamstow side between river and reservoir banking just below the lock to use as a club house

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The River Lea, [I prefer that spelling] was a convenient choice. It ran across Tottenham Marshes, was quite local to most of the group and had ready access along Marsh Lane from the Northumberland Park railway station level crossing. It was also an easy cycle ride along the tow path from Ferry Lane and Tottenham Lock for any new members coming from the Walthamstow area.




As an aside, the Lea and 'the marshes' here-a-bouts were not really an unusual choice in-so-far as recreational pursuits of many kinds went. From the 1860's to the late 1930's a great many local people had used its tennis courts, football and cricket pitches or walked, fished and hired rowing boats from Paige's Boats, then situated just above the lock.

[Paige's, later Hewitt's Boats carried on the business until the '70's. On its site today is the Stonebridge Lock Waterside Centre where canoes and cycles can be hired.
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Locals looking for recreation also had 'The Tottenham Marshes Swimming Pool' that was situated just below the lock and filled from the river. It had opened in 1905 and was finally demolished in 1939, two years after the Lordship Lane Lido opened. Many of these activities continued after World War 2, whilst gravel extraction and household waste dumping also took place there between 1947 and 1960.

Within its first year however the new club received some bombshell news. The latest of the many rolling Lea 'improvement' schemes that had taken place in past decades was shortly starting at Tottenham Lock to be followed by Stonebridge. It was certainly major engineering works as it included enlarging the existing lock and excavating a second chamber at each with full electric operation, plus new modern houses for the lock keepers.

Access to the clubs stretch of bank that the club used would soon disappear but fortunately, a member with good local contacts obtained for them use of 'the old Paint Factory' at Edmonton. A recently closed paint manufacturer, these small riverside premises were situated upstream of the Edmonton Angel Road Viaduct. The clubs new next door neighbours - as an occasional 'aromatic' presence proved - were the settling beds and tanks of the Deephams, [Edmonton] Sewage Works!!

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The building’s owners, also looking on the clubs occupancy there as a good security measure, generously offered it for free for a couple of years and the club moved there in 1958.This was never more than a temporary measure however and by 1960 their 'welcome' was coming to an end.



                                         EDMONTON 1959



Fortunately it appears that the same member[s] also discovered that the now disused 'The old Refreshment Hut’ on Marsh Lane was empty and available. Tottenham council who owned the building were willing to rent it to club and they moved back down river during the Spring/early summer of 1960. I joined at this point, having up to then had a weekend job at the boatyard above the lock.

Membership continued to grow steadily at Marsh Lane and soon a larger boat storage compound than the club house surroundings could offer, was needed. This led by 1962 to another triangular piece of land some forty or fifty yards away along the club house 'side path' being leased and wire fence enclosed.


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The London Borough of Haringey, my new employers and the clubs new landlord, was formed on the 1 April 1965 as a result of the London Government Act, and very soon, things started to change. The new council now required that building and fire insurance be taken out and there was also talk of a rent increase and changes to the clubs lease

As the months passed by, by all accounts the relationship between the club and council appeared to become rather strained. As one past ex committee member from then told me in 2011: "After the change over in 1965, it appeared that as far as Haringey was concerned, we were outstaying our ‘welcome’ there as well"!!

                           PICTURED LEFT: L.V.S.C WEEKEND REGATTA

                           RIVER LEA - TOTTENHAM 1969

Due in part to these 'difficulties', sometime during 1966 the club decided to move again. This time it was to a large steel 'dumb' barge that the club purchased with help of a grant from the, [as was] 'National Playing Fields Association'. A bank side mooring was obtained approximately half a mile upstream from the boatyard on 'Wild Marsh East and the task of turning a rusty lighter into a comfortable club house commenced.

The club continued to flourish and the barge conversion continued. During 1971 however, news broke that the Lee Valley Regional Park, [who took over Tottenham marshes ownership in November 1972] was opening up the King George V Reservoir for water-sports the following year and that a sailing club would be established there.

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The news meant that not only did new membership enquiries quickly stop - but a new club and its huge expanse of sailing water also proved irresistible to most Lea Valley members once it opened in 1972.Sadly, restrictive canal sailing rapidly lost its appeal and as far as most recollections go, the Lea Valley Sailing club simply faded away as the months passed by.

I was long gone from the club by that time but I understand that it was eventually wound up - believed either in late 1973 or early 1974 - by its last two members; a husband and wife team who were both committee members.


They had the unenviable task of dealing with Haringey over this matter, but the council ended up taking over the barge club house 'as was'!

They had the [admirable] intention of turning it into their own canoeing centre but this idea was sunk before launch by funding and other issues.

It was all over!!

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Just over 10 years since the original article was written by Ray Warren, we received some interesting information from another former member  of the L.V.S.C informing us that one of the Club members had designed and built a completely new Class of sailing Dinghy  called 'the 'FLY' Class.  This presented a unique opportunity for would be sailors because it could be easily constructed using very basic materials. It was therefore very economical to build and ideal for newcomers to learn the art of sailing,

We received this information from a gentleman named Peter Tottman, and you can read Peter's explanation and background to this new type of sailing dinghy  by pressing
Peter also provided some splendid photographs of the 'Fly' Class dinghy in operation at the Lea Valley Sailing Club on the River Lea.


(Note: The Barge on the left was part of the Clubhouse)


MARCH 2023

Anyway, I think that I can pad out the Lea Avon [Valley] Sailing Club/. Roger Fillery/ Fly dinghy, names and story a bit however: Roger lived in the Leytonstone-ish area and he, together with a small group of friends, were the Lea Valleys founder members back in the mid-fifties. He was an accomplished timber worker and in fact worked at a big London Hospital shaping wooden artificial limbs. [Remember, this was the post war fifties!!]. However North London was a touch short of large expanses of sailing water so Roger, Ken Ford and the other 'embryo boaties' ended up on the Lea, just below Stonebridge Lock on the central land strip between reservoir and river.

Sometime during this time, he had also designed the 'Fly' dinghy and he actually built/helped build a number of the early ones, no doubt egged on by some of the new club's younger members who were attracted to the fun of 'messing about on the river'. Roger really believed in a slogan of 'Sport for all' and to that end the ‘Fly’ (Fly Class Dinghy) must have been one of the cheapest to build and sail dinghies of all time. The hull was heavy canvas, painted coat on coat with perhaps some 'donated' Dulux gloss whilst other wood and plywood needed often 'found' perhaps 'scrounged' from Edmonton/Tottenham Locks timber wharves. The dearest thing would have been the sail!  

During these very early times, Ken Ford who was a friend of Roger's as well as also being a skilled wood craftsman, was also by association, one of the founder members.

 Due to the fact that the latest of the upper Lea's modernization schemes was actually starting soon at Tottenham Lock, the club had to move to new premises, the recently vacated 'Old Paint Factory' on the Edmonton bankside above the Lea Valley Viaduct and next door to Deephams Sewage Works! It was offered as a free temporary measure as security for the recently closed factory. This would have been around 1957 or '58.

According to some reports, Ken was not very happy with what he saw as the direction that the club was taking. He wanted to change things to his way of thinking and there were disagreements and arguments with the committee. Sadly, it all apparently ended with him picking up his 'bat and ball' and leaving.

I think too that it was in a fit of pique that not only did he persuade some ‘Fly’ owners to go with him, but he also quickly set up his own club on the Lea in the Lower Spring Hill area, naming it the Lea Avon Sailing Club. However, the rapid discovery of just how polluted the lower Lea was back then quickly led to a move to a small-ish lake in Highams Park in Chingford.

Roger gave Ken the plans for the Fly [very generous!] and he quickly redesigned it, giving it deeper freeboard [sides] which led to a 'proper' sit in cockpit [the original to sail was like sitting on a tea tray with knees up around ears] and a 'proper' plywood (Not canvas) hull. I also think that he may well have slightly increased its overall length as well I don't know just how big Kens Fly fleet ended up, perhaps around fifteen/twenty or so boats plus there was always a handful sailing at the Lea Valley back when I joined in 1960.  

The ‘Fly’ was never as 'proper' National class and certainly not International!! From memory I am certain that it did not have any kind of a national controlling body as far as having measurers who issue compliance/measurement certificates and sail numbers. It was simply designed to be a cheap and easily built small sailing dinghy that would introduce youngsters to sailing with odd examples popping up occasionally at more distant clubs. Perhaps I'm wrong but this is why I question some ‘Fly’ sail numbers that may show up from time to time on old, faded b/w pictures. [I can still remember one 'new second hand or so  sail'  owner who simply picked and stuck on his own!

The Lea Valley certainly held specific racing series for ‘Fly’s’ and this clearly carried on after I left in the later barge headquarters years. Ken Ford eventually closed his club down around 1972 when the news broke that the King George reservoir was to be  opened for water sports/a sailing club with the Lea Valley Eventually following suit.



 I knew the Rowing centre that Peter Tottman mentioned, a long building full of rowing fours', sixties' and eights' but I never knew that it was a council run set-up. My reason for having made a number of trips there from about 1962 onwards was that a fellow founder Lea Valley member named Rowe Joslin was building a thirty foot American designed, Bermudan rigged sailing boat over the river on Radleys Boatyard. A few of us would drop down there quite regularly from time to time to see how it was coming along.
I read somewhere in the very distant past that the Radley family, going back a generation or two, were very involved in the whole rowing scene over XX generations and in fact in more recent history designed and built competitive boats themselves. So, by association I've always simply assumed that they were behind the rowing clubs there, not the local council. [An aside; If you happened to meet Mr. Radley, who lived in the brick bungalow immediately to the left of the iron footbridge, he did like you to use his wartime R.N.V.R title of Commander!]
The boatyard itself was, on looking back, pure pre-war/post-war, fifties and early sixties. Lots of plastic or tarpaulin covered, wood framed sheds covering builds and conversions which in many instances never reached the point of putting water under a keel. I can still remember the moans when it rained, whilst winter or heavy constant rain meant mud and leaks everywhere!
As I mentioned before, Ken would have upped and moved down river only within a year or so of my becoming a full Lea Valley member during the second half of 1960. The club had just moved down to the Old Refreshment Hut on Marsh Lane on the very day that I cycled past it on my way home from a weekend job at Pages Boat Hire just above the locks. I stopped, had a chat and a cup of tea and the rest is as they say, history.
I never knew that Ken tried to use a pub or an old house as a H:Q. first off. The only pub that I remember on the riverside was a fair way below Tottenham Locks on the right bank going downstream. We actually took a small fleet of boats from the club, locked through Tottenham, then under the road bridge and sailed down to it for a pint!! It was certainly not a good place to base a sailing club though, water access or boat launching from the bank would have been murder!
I knew of no other pubs on the river stretch between Tottenham Locks and Spring Hill so if that was the one, good luck to him. This whole area, timber yards included, were re-developed perhaps 30 years ago as a very large housing scheme.
As far as using half an old house goes, I do have some very distant memories of big old houses on the left-hand side just before the sheds and river at Spring Hill. [I can certainly remember a little cafe' on the corner but sadly little else.
As far as Ken moving to Highams Park Walthamstow and setting up a club on the smallish lake there, he must have really pulled some strings back then as it was Crown land and other use is not easily obtained. Some years back I was searching online and discovered a book where the author devoted some chapters to his teenage years and introduction to sailing at Highams Park. There were several pictures that showed young members and their parents building their own two storey clubhouse at the lakes edge [boats kept below, members upstairs plus a further elevated above roof starting box] clubhouse at the lakes edge. edge
Remember, this all took place in the ‘fairly' early sixties! Some of the book's photographs showed the youngsters and their parents moving/lifting railway sleepers and other building materials and would give a modern-day H & S inspector an instant coronary! When Ken closed the club in 1972 following the opening of the King George V reservoir and the setting up of a sailing club on it. I don't know if their self-built clubhouse had been officially named - I would imagine so however - but it was subsequently taken over and used by the local Scouts back then.



A lot of water has sailed beneath the bridge since those early days sailing on the River Lea-Tottenham)


You asked if I sailed when I first came to Oz, yes, I did fairly soon after arriving. I bought a two-man racing dinghy, sailed at a small club in Sydney and had it shipped across here when we moved to Perth. I joined a club here, the South of Perth Yacht Club. It is quite huge and has various categories and divisions of membership ranging from those owning 30/40 foot plus powerboats, large racing sailboats and finally us in the centreboard dinghy section. For all of its size it was a great, friendly club with a huge clubhouse, restaurant, and bars plus various evening functions throughout the year.

I sold my dinghy as it wasn't a class that was raced at the club and bought a Flying 15 from a fellow member, a two-man racing keelboat approximately 15 foot long and although an older 'Classic' Fleet boat it was fast, fun and wet to sail. [It’s generally agreed that at one stage our club had the largest fleet of Flying 15's - 35 plus boats - than any other '15' sailing club globally! Anyway, to cut my long boring story short, my crew and spare skipper Peter and I stayed together for some years and raced quite successfully both at our home club and away at Open Meetings with the boat on tow behind.

It would be some seven perhaps eight years ago that I finally pulled the plug! What with working all week and perhaps spending some four or five hours out on the Swan River on the Sunday hanging halfway out of the boat with just toes just hooked under a two-inch-wide length of terylene webbing slowly ceased being fun!! As did the Monday mornings, a hands and knees crawl into a hot as possible shower, trying to free joints off. Also, to be honest it wasn't fair on Jan either as I would be out most Sunday's during the racing season.

Anyway, Peter wanted to keep on sailing. As he was a really good friend who had often helped me out with boat expenses I sold 'Bumble-Bee Too' to him for peanuts as my thanks to him for it all and that was that. And yes, of course I still miss it!!

Interesting your comments about the many recollections and memories of those early River Lea days that exist now. Perhaps for many, including myself, it triggered 'a something' in us in those grey post-war times that never completely went away.

 I think that for many of us - and for many different reasons, those post-war times could be quite 'grey' in many ways. Perhaps the Lea Valley and its stretch of industrial canal offered a new freedom that is perhaps, best summed up by Kenneth Grahame in 'The Wind In The Willows' :  

 “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats”.

Just a thought,


Article writen by Ray Warren ( Now resident in Perth, Western Australia)

December 2012

Updated following receipt of Peter Tottmans' recollections - March 2023

 Alan Swain


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