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Club History

Our story starts in the 1880's. The modern day lake started out as a duck pond at Paddy Freeman's farm in Heaton. The overflow from the pond filled a second pond lower down the Dene, which Lord Armstrong used to power an organ in the banqueting hall in Jesmond Dene. In the 1880's the duck pond was enlarged to form a new ornamental pond. The lake bottom was covered in puddled clay and the sides were cobbled. At this time there was an island in the lake, (it was removed in 1933).
Local modellers were quick to make use of the new lake. The picture on the left, taken in 1908 shows a young man with a yacht and 2 small steam powered models. The models were of the full size naval craft of the day i.e. torpedo boats or destroyers. They needed to be small as they had to be carried on the Tram to the park.

This interest culminated in 1910 in the formation at the lakeside of a club to be known as the'Heaton and District Model Power Boat Club' with the declared aims of fostering the interest and pleasures of sailing and constructing model boats. There were some 20 founder members and they contributed the sum of 1-13-6d

By the following year, 1911, the success of the club led to an increase in membership to around the 40 or so. Over the last century numbers have slowly risen to around 60 members. Pictures of this period show the official sailing dress code to be a black peaked cap with white top and club badge. Members generally wore a black suit, winged collar and tie, with short wellington boots.

The design of the boats became more sophisticated, steam propulsion was improved and the boats became longer to give improved accuracy. Most members were employed in the various engineering factories and shipyards of Tyneside and as such were very able to develop and improve their craft.

The type of competition held using these boats was called Straight Running. Each boat was allowed 4 runs down the length of the lake aiming at a set of flags at the opposite end of the lake. Points were awarded for hitting the target flags, 20, 15 and 10points respectively. The boat with the highest total score won.

As early as 1923 an interclub competition was set up, with an umbrella organisation, the Northeast Coast Association or NECA. The picture on the left shows a NECA regatta at Roker Park Lake in Sunderland .

This association still exists today. Over the years many clubs have come and gone from the association, only Heaton, South Shields, and Tynemouth remain today. The picture on the left shows a regatta at Tynemouth, note the Plaza in the background.

For the winners of the regatta, there followed the prize giving ceremony. Considerable club prestige was gained from winning the NECA annual regatta as it was a team event and the competition was fierce. The picture on the left shows the winner of the regatta at Tynemouth receiving his prize outside the Tynemouth clubhouse.

Whilst individual team members won prizes, the winning club was awarded the NECA flag which they then held for a year. Traditionally the flag was flown from the flagpole behind the boathouse. (The flagpole was originally one of several erected at the 1929 Northeast exhibition held in the Exhibition park. At the end of the exhibition the flagpoles were surplus to requirements, and so were moved, one placed in each park in the city) The picture on the left shows the winner of the 1958 regatta at Paddy Freemans lake.
Over the years several unusual competitions were held. In the early days balloon bursting was a popular event, with sharp pins of considerable size being fixed to the front of boats. Later towing the log competitions over a timed 75 yard course were held, and towing the punt proved popular. The boat owner sat in the punt and controlled the direction of the boat with reins as though it was a mechanical horse.
The Boathouse; now a familiar landmark in the park was built in 1923. The members originally each rented a locker as individuals. It has changed much over the years, mostly due to pressure from vandals, but it is still home to the club.The picture on the left was taken in 1928 and shows the boathouse as originally built with glass windows in the public shelter.

The punt was always a vital piece of club equipment, which had to be manhandled in and out of the lake on a trolley. Today the invention of chest waders has largely replaced the use of the punt.

The Straight Runners were never the only type of boat raced. The picture on the left shows a petrol engined hydroplane which was raced around a pole on a tethered wire. These boats could reach very high speeds indeed, and always drew huge crowds when sailed.

It was also traditional to launch new boats. The picture on the left shows the SS Ash being launched in 1957. The boat made its first dip into the lake by means of the launching ramp after being named, and then one of the model tugs was used to tow it across the lake for its first steaming of the engine and boiler.

As the years have passed we have seen many members come and go. The 4 gentlemen on the left were all founder members from 1910, pictured here in 1960 at the clubs Golden Jubilee celebrations.

Today the club is very different from the club of the 20th century. Modern technologies and the changing times mean that today's competitors are more likely to sail radio controlled scale models or race fast electric boats made from thermoset plastics,

Nearly 100 years ago when the first Club rules were written, rule 2 described the purpose of the club, it said:

"The bringing together of those interested in the construction and manipulation of model power boats and in such kindred subjects; the reading of papers and the discussion of topics relating to model marine matters and generally increasing the knowledge of members by mutual assistance".

Today that rule is still valid despite the passing of the years and the changes in technology and lifestyle.