On Wednesday 15th January 1873 at 8pm, eleven gentlemen met at Edward Barron’s house in Clifftown Parade. The purpose of their meeting was to discuss the formation of a club for “gentlemen of known respectability”. Clearly much thought had already gone in to the venture as George Lay, a newly qualified local solicitor presented to the meeting a draft set of rules - many of which still survive to this day. The club was to be named after the Princess of Wales, later Queen Alexandra, and to be known as “The Alexandra Club”.
It is interesting to note that only one of these gentlemen, Albert Lucking, who was also the youngest at twenty-nine years old, had been born anywhere near Southend and clearly shows how the town had grown over the past few years.
On 1st February a second meeting was held, this time at the newly built Public Hall in Alexandra Street. Two rooms had been rented there and this was to become the home of the Alexandra Club for the next eleven years. An extra eight gentlemen had now joined and this included two well known local doctors, Edward Phillips and George Francis Jones. Doctor Frank Jones as he was known to his friends was to remain a member of the club until his death nearly fifty years later in 1921.
The club was to be open from 10am to midnight Monday to Saturday but would be closed on Sundays. No smoking was allowed in the club room before 8pm. By May the club was serving wines and spirits, a bottle of Munns Champagne cost 5 /- (25p) and “Kill the Crow Tonic” 6d a glass! and at the end of the year there were sixty members. The club continued to grow over the next few years but in February 1878 a suggestion was made that would change the club and Southend for ever. William Brighten, a solicitor who had arrived in the town the previous year and had just joined the club committee suggested that the club be formed in to a yacht club. The proposal was carried unanimously and the Alexandra Yacht Club and sailing on the Southend Shore were born.
The First Commodore was James FT Wiseman of The Chase, Paglesham who was an oyster merchant and a very keen yachtsman who had joined the club in the early days of 1874. The positions of Vice and Rear Commodores were filled by John A Sparvel Bayly of Billericay and William Brighten who had proposed the idea of a yacht club in the first place. Six designs for a burgee were drawn up but the one chosen was red with the Essex Arms and all races were to be sailed entirely under the rules of the Yacht Racing Association, itself only three years old.
Yacht clubs were nothing new, but in the lower reaches of the Thames they were unheard of. there was only one other Yacht Club in Essex, The Royal Harwich Yacht Club which had been founded in 1843 and was very soon to become involved with the Alexandra Yacht Club as it had a race from Harwich to Southend every year and as early as 4th June 1878 the AYC was asked if they could time in the Harwich yachts at Southend Pier. The Royal Harwich offering to do the same if the Alexandra ever wished to race to Harwich, which of course they very soon did.
The first sailing season consisted of three races, the smaller boats had a first prize of £10 and the bigger boats £40, the £10 prize being about the equivalent of £450 in today's money! Over the next few years the club flourished and in 1880 the 20 ton match with 10 entries had the largest entry on the Thames that year. Many of the local businessmen had now joined and were enjoying racing their yachts but the time had come to look for new premises as the two rooms in the Public Hall were not large enough to cope with the increasing membership.
1883 was to be yet another milestone in the history of the club, the burgee was changed to blue with the Essex Arms, and it was proposed that the house and grounds on the Cliffs in the occupation of Mr W Chignall snr be purchased for the club. This was done and the building which was based on the design of an Indian Pavilion was officially opened on Trafalgar Day 1884.
Racing continued to flourish and by 1900 the club was holding a number of handicap races for boats from 16ft to over 60ft LOA with up to 20 entries in each class. The club is very lucky to possess many of the original race entry cards which in some cases have notes written on them by the Race Officer.
In 1911 the club decided to commission a one design boat which would be able to sit on the mud flats when the tide went out. Morgan Giles and May of Hammersmith submitted plans for an eighteen footer with a lifting keel and optional rig of up to 220 sq ft and this design was the one adopted but with the sail area reduced to 210 sq ft. At a meeting held on 11 Dec 1911 a number of members agreed to purchase new boats and the legendary Thames Estuary One Design was born. Drake Brothers of Tollesbury won the tender and ten boats were built at a total cost of £370.3.8 for the whole fleet and that included the price of the sails! Their first race took place on Sat 25 May 1912.
During the First World War the club held a number of concerts for wounded soldiers from the Queen Mary Hospital at the Palace Hotel and although sailing was not banned as it was in the Second World War only the TEODs continued to race and then on a very reduced programme. In 1919 a joint committee was formed between the Alexandra, Essex, Westcliff and Nore Yacht Clubs to try to rejuvenate a Sailing Programme for that year. By 1920 all the clubs were organising their own Sailing Programmes but it was suggested that once again the clubs pool their resources and the Interclub Committee and Southend Yachting Week were founded.
Negotiations between the Interclub Committee and the Yacht Racing Association resulted in King George V racing “Britannia” at Southend in the first Southend Yachting Week that was held in 1921. This fact resulted in a large number of entries and the King won the race. His return in 1923 was just as memorable but for all the wrong reasons, “Britannia” ran aground just inside the West Shoebury Buoy and right in front of the “London Belle” who was carrying a large number of spectators many of them local yachtsmen who were not racing that day and were no doubt saying to themselves “for goodness sake tack!” contrary to what some feared this event was not the end of Southend Yachting Week which thrived for many more years to come.
Sailing at the AYC in the 1920’s and 1930’s also thrived both at Southend and further afield. In 1920 Cyril Wright and John Maddison with the help of Mrs Wright won Olympic Gold in the 7 sq m class in “Ancora” at Ostend. In 1923 the club celebrated it 50th birthday and 1925 saw the introduction of Cadet Members and the completion of the slipway. In 1928 a special race was held to celebrate 50 years of racing at Southend and one of the boats in this race “Bluebird” lies on her mooring off the club today. In 1931 the Cambridge University Cruising Club were invited to put up a team to race against the AYC and this event was to last for many years with one race at Southend and another at Ely each year. In 1933 the club was holding a total of 42 races a season, this had increased from 25 in 1929 and gives some idea of how the sport was developing in the early thirties. Alphonse Abrahams won the Burnham Town Cup in “Melita” three times and by the end of the 1930s club members were winning prizes in the RORC Offshore Events. The start of the Second World War imposed a total ban on sailing at Southend, but the club must also be remembered over these last two decades for its charitable work, in 1921 Commodore Fred Gibb started the Children’s Christmas Parties which initially paid for 250 poor children to be entertained at the Victoria Hall, and after a short time over 1,000 children were entertained annually at the Kursaal, it also collected £600 which was presented to Southend Victoria Hospital and the perpetual “Alexandra Yacht Club Bed” was placed in Sportsman Ward.
For the duration of the war the club remained open and all officers of Naval and Military Establishments in the area were invited to become Honorary Members. By 1946 sailing was again allowed and the club set about making preparations for the coming season which turned out to be a very successful one. Sailing returned to normal very quickly and in 1953 the club decided to adopt the National Twelve in addition to the TEOD so as to encourage younger members on a limited budget. This proved a great success and the following year the club hosted “Burton Week” for the class which had an average of 110 starters in each race and boats coming from all over the country. Clearly small boat racing was here to stay and in 1955 the “505” dinghy was adopted by the club and “Little Angeline” was built by members in the bottom shed. Despite the addition of other classes the TEOD was still turning out eleven starters for most races including the port to ports to Whitstable and Queenborough and in 1957, TEOD number 57 was built. In the same year the AYC was the first club on the shore to adopt the “Enterprise” Class which was yet another great success, it also hosted the “National Firefly” Week. In 1958 Ken Trent won the 505 Cross Channel Race in “Vae Victus” and Alan and Roy Hill came 4th overall in the Enterprise Nationals in “A-B-Um”.
The 1960s were no less successful and the Fireball Class was also adopted mainly by those progressing from the Enterprise class which now numbered twenty starters itself. The club was to act as host to many National and European Championships over the next few decades including Javelin, Snipe, Marauder, Yachting World Dayboat, 470, JAVA and Solo Classes. Paul Bateman and Alan Batley won the Enterprise Junior National Championships in 1963 in “AYCE” and Ken Trent in his cruiser “Vae Victus” won the Town Cup in Burnham Week in 1962 and was twice overall champion of the East Anglian Offshore Racing Association Series. Other AYC members were also successful in EAORA events.
In November 1972 the club suffered a dreadful blow when an electrical fault behind the bar caused the most terrible fire. The steward saw smoke coming from the clubhouse and called the fire brigade, as they opened the front door the whole lot went up and it was very lucky that no one was hurt. Many of the club’s treasures miraculously survived but it was a sight that anyone who saw it will not be likely to forget.
By the mid 1970s the dinghy boom had begun to drop off somewhat but the club was still holding Enterprise Open Meetings and sending TEOD and Dayboat fleets to compete in Burnham Weeks. It also hosted a number of other National Meetings and the 470 European Championships which attracted over seventy boats was won by two identical twins.
In 1980 the club was the first on the shore to host an “Open Day” when local schools and non members were invited to come and try sailing, it was a great success. It was also the year that Commodore Dai Williams won the much coveted Velsheda Trophy in his Estuary “Alexandra” the first serving Commodore ever to have done so, he then went on to become the Jaguar 25 National Champion in 1983. With the lull in dinghy racing the Cruiser Fleet began to increase and additional racing and cruising events were introduced for them. There was also a new sport called Windsurfing which was beginning to take off and the AYC became the headquarters of the Essex Windsurfing Club.
The last twenty years have been a mixture of racing and cruising from the clubhouse but as has always been with the AYC they have been represented further afield as well, not just at Burnham Week and up the East Coast but in other places too. In the last few years the club burgee has been seen flying proudly from the mast head in Les Sables d’Olonne near La Rochelle and in Swedish waters, around Britain and Ireland and everywhere else in between.
Article kindly supplied by Caroline Gibb
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