Boating on the duck pond

Blackheath Model Boat Regatta 1956

A good few months ago, I vividly remember seeing a load of little boats pootling around on the pond next to The Princess of Wales pub, up on the heath. I think it was a weekend, and they were remotely controlled sail boats. Not noisy remote control Gin Palace style boats… These little beauties were genuine tiny sail boats – the remote controls were only used for pulling on the rigging to adjust the positions of the sails relative to the wind – so they were completely silent.

It was a really delightful sight to behold, and they had quite an appreciative little crowd building up around them. And it reminded me of sailing boats across a pond with my dad and his dad a long time ago.

Anyway, a little googling revealed that the most likely candidates were the Blackheath MPBC (which stands for Model Powered Boating Club). So I called their organiser (Phil Abott), to try and find out when they will be there next, so that you could all come and admire them too.

No powered boats, blackheath bylaw sign

I got a very simple answer. Never.

Or at least, not in the near future. The reason for this is that a sign has been put up next to the pond banning the use of powered boats, and they don’t want to take the risk that their boats will be considered as powered. They used to run some steam powered boats (which also sounds like it would be a lovely sight!), and a small number of powered boats.

Land management of the heath isn’t run by the council – it is outsourced to a company called Glendale Grounds Management, who have to give their permission for any “event” to take place. They said that the boating could go ahead, but only if the club could stump up £75 for the privilege of sailing their little boats on the pond… I could start banging on about the corporatisation of public spaces, but I suppose I didn’t plan for this to be that sort of blog…

Model boats on the pond in Blackheath in the 1960s

So the people that you might see with their boats on the pond aren’t members of the Blackheath club (Phil said two elderly gents take their boats down there on Sunday mornings). The Blackheath club had been sailing on the pond since 1928, but now they’ll be casting off in Hackney’s Victoria Park instead.

  • The black and white photo above is of model boats on the pond in the 1960s – photo by flickr user paolotich.
  • The photo at the top shows the Blackheath Model Boat Club Regatta in 1956.
  • Blackheath Byelaws Blog.
  • Contact details for the model boating club can be found here.
  • Googlemap here.


Filed under blackheath, politics, things to do

11 responses to “Boating on the duck pond

  1. How absolutely and utterly ridiculous! What possible excuse can Glendale come up with for this?!

  2. I agree with Kate, how absolutely and utterly ridiculous. Even if the club stumped up the £75 they would probably then be asked to take out £2million public liability insurance.

    On a lighter note, the post did take me back to my early teenage years when we had some amazing boats powered by miniture jet engines, called ‘Jetex’ I think. Incredibly fast and inaccurate they would probably have decapitated an unwary swimmer but never did, as far as I’m aware. Went out of production way back and being potential terrorist material certainly wont make a come back.

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  4. The byelaws blog was one of my attempts at creating an online conversation about how we wanted to have the heath used. As you can see it wasn’t entirely successful, probably because I didn’t do any marketing.

    One tiny correction. The Blackheath Joint Working Party is the holders of the keys to events on the heath. Glendales would find it uncomfortable doing anything without their say so. Or at least that was the way it was when I sat on it.

  5. Confused

    The byelaw seems to say that “power driven” means anything emitting vapour / fumes:

    (3) In byelaw 35(2), “power-driven” means driven by the combustion of petrol vapour or other combustible vapour or other combustible substances.

  6. Pingback: A sundial? Nothing so useful… « The Blackheath Bugle

  7. M.R.Field

    Blackheath has been one of the most important and significant model boat ponds in the land. John Cobb used to attend and used many model boat ideas in hsi full size record breakers. My friend mike karslake used Blackheath to develop his british record holders. The great ED company used Blackheath to develop their products which were from a company employing a fair few people in the days before Chinese occupation.

    For some faceless company acting on behalf of a bunch of worthless penpushers and backside crawlers to stop our birthrights is unacceptable and should be fought.

    Is anyone doing so?

  8. John Wallace

    I grew up on Blackheath and spent maby an enjoyable sunday morning watching the many different types of models that would be on the water.
    Does the new bylaw exclude electric powered craft?

  9. Robert Kibblewhite

    Fifty years ago, I took my sailboat, and my friend Johnny his electric-powered tin-plate and solder ship, on the Pond. I wouldn’t take a child there now: it’s filthy with Canada Geese bird droppings. Why doesn’t the management company do something about that?

  10. Bob Land

    A few years after the end of the Second World War, my Grandad, used to take me the Princess of Wales Pond, I think it was on Sundays, to watch the model power boats, I remember that there was a weighted down tripod in the centre of the Pond, the boats were attached to it by use of a long steel cable, the boats then raced around in a circle at a very high speed . I also sailed my model yacht, which Grandad had given to me. Happy Days !!!

  11. Bob payne

    Jetex jet motors powers by solid pellets for fuel only run for a few seconds at very very low power and could not knock a skin off a rice pudding you could only use balsa wood to make the model as any other wood would be to heavy and would be very very slow .might not move at all the Jeter 50 was mainly used with model planes ,that only weighed one or two ounces.

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