The History of the Royal Southampton Yacht Club

Origins

The origins of the Royal Southampton Yacht Club go back to the 'West Quay Amateur Regatta Club' which is recorded as existing in 1858, and which was renamed the 'Southampton Amateur Regatta Club' in 1862. Frequent races were held under its auspices in the waters opposite the old West Quay, in the era before the extensive commercial development of the Southampton waterfront.

In 1868 a substantial group of Members however split from this club to form a new 'Southampton Regatta Club', and in 1875 the Club voted to change its name to the 'Southampton Yacht Club', and was awarded the right to use the Town Arms of Southampton. These form the centrepiece of the Club's 'belted' Crest, the belt and buckle being a heraldic device denoting membership of a group, as in a Scottish clan badge. Two years later permission was granted, by Royal and Admiralty Warrant, for the new club to style itself the Royal Southampton Yacht Club. As a 'Royal' club RSYC Members have the privilege of being permitted (subject to issue of a warrant letter by the Club) to wear on their boats a 'defaced' blue ensign, bearing a crown in the centre of the Union flag. Additionally, the Club Crest is surmounted by a crown, indicating its royal status.

Earl Mountbatten of Burma was Admiral of the club from 1965 until his tragic death in 1979. RSYC is currently privileged to have as its Admiral, HRH Prince Michael of Kent.

There had formerly been a Royal Southampton Yacht Club, founded in 1837, but in 1844 use of the name lapsed when this club, based at the old Town Quay, decided to broaden its membership base by altering its name to the 'Royal Southern Yacht Club', which still exists, now based in Hamble to the south east of Southampton.

Premises and Activities

The 'Southampton Regatta Club' initially based itself in the premises of the George Hotel in the town centre. However this burnt down a few years later, so they moved to the first floor of 32 High Street, where it is reported they had a Club Room and two billiard rooms. This was above a tobacconist's premises, which in 1875, unfortunately also caught fire! At this point Members decided to raise the necessary investment for a purpose-built headquarters.

A very imposing building was accordingly constructed in the characteristic Victorian 'Domestic Gothic' style at 79 Above Bar, Southampton. The Foundation Stone was laid in 1885 by the Marquis of Ailsa, the Commodore of the Club. It was said that the building apparently could, from its external appearance, have been mistaken for the Town Hall, had it not been for the four brass cannon outside. The arms of the Club, modelled in terracotta, were above the door. At this time the Club had 400 Members, approximately half of whom lived in or near Southampton. To cover the costs of the land, building and furniture — a total of £7,200 - £2000 was raised from club assets, £2,500 through sale of Bonds to Members and £2,700 by mortgage. It included a high 'Lookout tower'. Facilities also included dining, smoking, billiard, pool, reading, chess and card rooms, as well as a library and dressing rooms, plus kitchens and stewards' rooms. It was very much a Gentleman's Club, in an era when yacht racing was the preserve of large, very expensive yachts, and their affluent owners' lifestyle reflected their status. Ladies were little in evidence at the time. The Club was a notable landmark in the city, and continued to flourish in these prestigious premises up to and through the First and Second World Wars. WWII took its toll, but the building miraculously survived the 'blitz' on Southampton of the night of 30th November 1940.

It was some 72 years after the construction of the Above Bar building that the then Membership decided on a move to new premises, rather than addressing the extensive repairs which were by then needed. Also land for shop development in the area was by then in great demand, so it made financial sense to accept a good offer — of £106,000 - for the building, which was subsequently demolished.

As by now there was virtually no yachting activity within the City itself, Southampton having developed into a major port, the so-called 'Gateway to the Empire', premises were accordingly found further inland, at Northlands Road. This was conveniently just across the road from the Hampshire Cricket Club ground, and just down the road from the Dell, then the home of Southampton Football Club. But racing activities, in the more numerous, smaller boats that had replaced the latter-day grand yachts, continued on the Solent, and also at the Club's principal Regatta, held off Cowes on the first day of Cowes Week. It was also was agreed by Members prior to the sale of the Above Bar building that a sum should be reserved from the proceeds for the purchase of a waterside site, in addition to the city-based Clubhouse, to continue to foster the yachting activities of the Club.

The Club moved to its new premises in the extensively refurbished former Court Royal Hotel in Northlands Road, Southampton in 1957. This provided two bars, one strictly members only, a large dining room, a snooker room and Admirals Room, plus offices and several flats, which were let. It had the additional benefit of being surrounded by pleasant gardens, and there was a large car park. The day to day running of the Club was in the hands of the Chairman of committees, Charles Hiscock, father of Eric Hiscock, famous for his accounts of cruising around the world in Wanderer and Wanderer II and III.

In 1964, with the funds reserved from the sale of the Above Bar premises, the Club additionally purchased land at Gins Farm on the Beaulieu River, 18 miles west of Southampton, one and a half miles downstream from Bucklers Hard and a couple of miles from the river's mouth on the Solent. A clubhouse was constructed at the site together with a 270 foot walkway leading to a shore pontoon, allowing yachts with a draft of six foot access from half tide. Club moorings in deeper water are also available and tenders and dinghies are able to operate from the pontoon at all states of the tide. Gins shore pontoon has recently been extended to provide more berths and a mid-river pontoon has been added. Gins is the centre for the Club's cadet dinghy sailing, while the Clubhouse offers showers and changing rooms, a bar and dining room and a terrace with spectacular views. The Royal Southampton Yacht Club is one of the few UK Yacht Clubs to have two clubhouses, and the only Royal club to have two on the Solent.

Over time Northlands Road proved uneconomic to maintain, and despite, or perhaps inspired by, the purchase of Gins, Members opted for a location adjacent to the water for their main clubhouse, in the city. In 1987 the decision was made to construct a purpose built headquarters at the new Ocean Village Marina, which was being created around Southampton's old Princess Alexandra Dock, the former cross channel ferry berth, at the head of Southampton Water. As there were two massive reinforced structures which could not easily be demolished at the chosen site, it was decided to make a virtue of necessity by building out over them, resulting in the spectacular commanding position over the marina held by the Clubhouse today. The foundation stone was laid by the Admiral, HRH Prince Michael of Kent, in September 1987 and the new Clubhouse, with bar, dining rooms, function rooms and offices was opened by him on October 7th 1988. The new location breathed fresh life into the activities of the Club, with many new members with yachts in the marina, Town Quay and other nearby locations attracted to the weekly racing activities as well as the outstanding shore facilities. Both the Gins and particularly the Ocean Village Clubhouse are popular venues for functions for many leading City businesses and organisations. Both Clubhouses have been extended over the years. The cruising and racing programmes have been further developed and enhanced. The Royal Southampton Yacht Club today has the privilege of jointly running the first three days of Cowes Week. In 2012 the Club was selected to host the spectacular J-class racing in the Solent and several of the Club's team of experienced race officers assisted with the management of 2012 London Olympics at Weymouth.

Over 25 years after the opening of the Ocean Village Clubhouse, over 50 since the opening of Gins and 150 years after the founding of the original Club, it is clear that the dual attractions of a city waterfront location and idyllic riverside premises on the beautiful Beaulieu River have proved to be a winning combination for the Club, providing outstandingly attractive facilities for members enjoying the Club's extensive cruising, racing and social activities.

Angela Rice — Nov 2012


Sources:

  • 'Yachter' archives — Articles by Tony Porter and David Robertson
  • Southern Evening Echo 15 May 1975
  • 'British Yachts and Yachtsmen' — pub. 1907
  • Royal Southern YC website