Now let's really dabble in nostalgia by examining some of the key
features in more detail.....
There was quite a variety. For offspring of the rich, the
lake provided a few "Yugo style" motorboats. They were
expensive and could only be hired in multiples of 10 minutes. The poor
were allowed to row for twenty. The lower numbered boats (1-8) were "single occupant" and
had fixed oars. It was amongst that particular flotilla that my
cherished "number 6" was elevated to he illustrious role of
flagship. Another ideal boat was number 4... as used here by Barbara
Photo 3: Barbara Wardlet at the Boating Lake
© Barbara Wardle
It appears to have been a sistership of No 6... but
The bigger boats had higher numbers... ranging into the 20s. They also
had proper rowlocks... at least, I think that's what they called them when the oars slipped out and the occupant disappeared into
The lake provided an opportunity for youngsters to cut their
nautical teeth on the art of sailing. Take a look at this much older
photo emailed from Australia by Derek Whorlow....
Photo 4: With thanks to Derek Whorlow
The shot reminds me of a message we received from Chris Vernon-Jarvis
of Whistler, British Columbia back in the year 2002. Writing to me about
my special relationship with boat No. 6, he said......
|"No 6, Eh? If David Nurse did not hold the boat
for you, it was probably me.
Personally, I liked No 23 - a sailboat rumoured to
have been built by Mr Scammel himself and once sailed to
Sheppey and back. I learnt to sail in No 23 and have been a
life long sailor."
- Chris Vernon-Jarvis
By the late 1950s, many of those original sailboats had disappeared
but a couple remained.... presumably, including number 23.
The existing fleet was supplemented in the mid-fifties by fibre-glass
canoes. These came in two types... long ones that stayed upright and
short ones that didn't. The latter were later modified by the addition
of stabilisers at the rear.
Until those modifications took place, it
was not unknown for upturned Marie Celestes to appear..... accompanied
later by tears, tantrums and sodden Ladybird T-Shirts. Remember,
those horizontally striped Ladybirds? Just like Channel 5..... but
At the bottom of the range, metal "paddle boats" catered
for the extremely young. You can just catch sight of one in the
foreground of photo no. 4 above. These generated a lot of foam..... but
little thrust. Were they forerunners of the Hotpoint Twin Tub or Fiat
By the time I used the lake in the 1950s, activities were totally
informal but, in earlier years, there were times when formality
reigned as John Harman points out....
summer before the war, the Boating Lake held a regatta. This
was commercially photographed - probably by Douglas West
as there are a number of post cards by him".
These tested the nautical skills of young and old alike. Anyone
remember the havoc when, on a sunny afternoon in mid-summer, half a
dozen boats converged on those narrow waterways from different
directions? ("Is this my oar or yours?").
|Photo 5: The Eastern
extremity of the lake circa 1964 - with the seafront houses of West Beach
in the background. The raised Island Wall roadway is out of
shot to the right... along with the lake's mysterious
"Dead Man's Corner".
The unmade West Beach
road hides behind the fence and the lake's easterly island is
featured on the left. The narrow channels around the islands
became traffic jams for boats on sunny Sunday afternoons and
collisions were common.
Picture with thanks to
Tim Holman. ©
It was also fun to encourage passengers to alight onto those desert
islands.... and then row away leaving him/her to face the wrath of
Of course, the lake was not a wholly natural phenomenon as John
Harman points out from his home in Sidney, British Columbia.....
Dad was an oyster dredger and cockler. When quite young, I can
recall going to The Boating Lake to see my Dad, who when not
at sea, worked for Mr. Scammel.
his thigh boots, Dad was wading in the middle of the lake,
digging mud, loading it into a large boxlike raft, and then
pushing it along to the far end to build the islands."
- John Harman
Dead Man's Corner
Lurking in the far reaches of the lake was the mysterious
"Dead Man's Corner". A place where debris, fibre-glass Marie
Celestes and metal Paddle Boats collected in a nautical graveyard.
Rumour had it that unsuspecting boats could be sucked into the
vortex and never emerge. At least, that's what my older brothers
The Lost Oar
Oh yes! We all suffered this..... the moment when an oar broke
loose and floated off under its own steam.... and the boat went around
in circles like a demented carousel.
When Barbara Wardle emailed her wonderful shots of the lake, she raised
something that I had never noticed back in the 1950s. Here is an
extract from her message...
|"Did you realise that there were many eels in
that Boating Lake? I used to try to scoop them out with
the oar - a very difficult task indeed for an 8 year
Having watched Jordan trying to remove eels from a tank in that TV
programme, "I'm a celebrity... get me out of here",
I know exactly what you mean, Barbara.
The Boat Workshop
Unremarkable? Well not totally... because it had something that
really sticks in the memory. Anyone remember that chalk board.... with
a clock set into a hole in the middle? Boat numbers were chalked up
against the time that they were due to be "called in".
Removing the numbers meant an uninterrupted day on the lake!
The Tea Garden
This was unique in that it had an arc of wind shelters - comprising
old boats standing on their sterns with bows pointing skyward.
Photo 6: The Upturned Boat Shelters
thanks to Colin Cadle for use of the photo
© Colin Cadle
The Aussies later pinched the idea for Sydney Opera House. Not a lotta
people know that.
It was a place for the family to be reunited and refreshed after
the kids had returned from the uncharted waters of those islands....
7: Tim Holman captured his mum, dad and brothers in this
shot... back in 1968. His sister is also there but not yet
delivered! With Thanks to Tim Holman
© Tim Holman
It was the tea garden that introduced me to some "modern"
confectionary. First and foremost was the Mivvy lolly... ice cream
coated in strawberry ice and marketed by Lyons Maid. Walls offered a
similar product called a Split... but, for me, it was never as
Secondly, there were Cadbury Lucky Number chocolates... sold loose
in those lovely "quarter" things rather than EC inflicted
grammes! As the name suggests, each sweet had its own number. My
favourite? No 6.... of course!