The Dittons Skiff and Punting Club was formed on the 24th October 1923 at a meeting held in Long Ditton Parish Hall. The initial club premises were at Hammerton’s boathouse in Ferry Road.
At a committee meeting on 10th December 1923, it was agreed to hold a scratch regatta on Boxing Day, a fixture that continues to the present day. Competition on the river was serious with local regattas held at various points on the river. The local regattas were Hampton Court and Dittons, Kingston Borough and Teddington Reach.
Hampton Court and Dittons regatta was established in 1888 and continued until the Second World War. The regatta was held on the Middlesex bank with an enclosure and tentage. The start was opposite the club’s present location, to the finish opposite Hammerton’s.
In 1946, on the recommendation of Tiny Knight the then club captain, the Club purchased a four sculling skiff from Hobbs in Henley for £36, as it was thought such a craft would be useful for training novices.
In 1948, a fire destroyed most of the club’s boats and saw Hammerton’s move into bankruptcy. This resulted in Dittons renting the whole of the premises. Luckily the four sculler was stored outside and survived the fire!
The fire meant that new boats must be obtained, which required a substantial sum of money. A general fund was established and in order to boost this, Sandy Powell was asked to put on a show. As it was approaching Christmas, the show became the pantomime Aladdin. It was a great success and ‘Sandy’s Show’ became a regular fixture for the next decade and 3 new singles arrived in 1953 from Eton College Boathouse for £110 each.
Tiny Knight, who joined the club in its early days, was an influential member of Dittons along with his wife Nancy. A memorial to Tiny Knight was made in 1952 in the form of the purchase of the Rose Bowl, which was awarded following the initiation of the race from Hampton Court to the Skiff club. The long distance race was to represent Tiny Knight’s stature, both physically and in the sport. It was decreed that the race was restricted to scullers who had not won a senior event in skiffs. This race has continued since 1953 to present day.
In 1958, Ray Pembery was elected Captain. In 1954 he had married Tiny Knight’s daughter, Pat. Ray initiated a ‘Captain’s Letter’ to keep all members informed of current events.
In 1962 Dittons received official notice to leave the premises and thus the search was on to find new premises. Surrey County Council and Esher Urban District Council jointly owned the premises known as the Albany site, which they used as storage for school equipment. This had earlier been the Vaudeville River Club frequented by artists from the music halls.
Attached to this site was a large house with grounds running down to the river. Whilst not perfect, Dittons were grateful to have somewhere to operate from. Considerable work went into making the premises usable; installing a bar, the lawn and a boatshed made from an old hut used to accommodate ATS girls.
Compensation due to the move was used to purchase 2 new double skiffs from Radley’s in Clacton.
The Skiff Championships were moved to Remenham Club on the Henley Reach in 1973. Many people camped or slept in the club for 3 days. It was a successful regatta for Dittons, with David Gattey winning the Singles Championship.
At Ditton’s 1978 AGM, Pat Pembery was elected as the first lady Captain of the Club, with David Gattey as her Vice-Captain. From here, a firmer control on the composition and entries of crews was established. Also, a meeting of active members on Saturday afternoons was started, with tea being provided by Bun Harvey, which has now evolved into today’s weekly Bridge-to-Bridge event. 1978 saw Dittons winning the Ormiston trophy for the first time.
The New Club House
The late 1970’s and early 80’s saw a strengthening of the club. Many of those who joined in this period are still members and have contributed much to the welfare of the club.
During the 70’s and 80’s, it was apparent that Ditton’s time at Alexandra Road was limited and a building fund for a new clubhouse was started. Simon Leifer maintained close contact with Elmbridge Borough Council, which stood Dittons in good stead when in 1993, a change of venue became a necessity as Elmbridge Council decided to sell the Albany Site.
A deal was made with Elmbridge and the developers of the site, that in return for the Club vacating its premises, Cala Homes would build a block of apartments and, as compensation, the Club would be given a piece of land on which to build the new club house. Temporary premises, which were vacant offices and a warehouse next to the Albany car park, were used, with the British Motor Yacht Club allowing Dittons to move boats through their land and use of the landing stage.
A great deal of hard work for fundraising and much volunteer work went into the clubhouse and boatsheds which resulted in November 1994 with Dittons Skiff & Punt Club took possession of the new club house
Aside from the normal racing, Club members were beginning to undertake other activities on the water, with the following results:
River Thames Crew Record
1988 Fastest time to row 186 miles of the River Thames from Lechlade to Southend Pier ~ 39hrs 27minutes
This was by Three Men in a Boat (no dog) in a racing double skiff, the crew sculling in rotation, beating the previous record by over 24 hours.
24 hours non-stop rowing
1994 Longest distance rowed in 24hrs ~ 141.26 miles.
This was in the Club IV sculler skiff ‘Sandy’, with a six-man crew who were on board at all times. They completed 17 trips from Hampton Court to Teddington and back. They beat the distance set by an Australian racing VIII by over 4 miles.
English Channel crew record
1996 Fastest time to row the 22 miles of the English Channel ~ 2 hrs 42 minutes 20 seconds.
This was in a Watermans’ Cutter rigged for six scullers with a cox. The crew beat the previous record by 53 minutes (the return crew also beat the previous record!)
London to Paris crew record
1999 Fastest time to row the 480 miles London to Paris ~ 106hrs 14 minutes 54 seconds.
Once again, in a Cutter rigged for six scullers but with a squad of 15 rotating 3hrs on 3hrs off. The elapsed time includes 12hrs waiting in Dover for a storm to blow itself out. The crews then ‘raced’ up the non-tidal River Seine doing timed pieces after over 300 miles sculling.
River Thames crew record
2004 Fastest time to row 186 mile of the River Thames from Lechlade to Southend Pier ~ 30hrs 57 minutes 33 seconds.
This was in the TTBS IV sculled Shallop ‘Sgian Dubh’ once again with a six man crew on board at all times ~ they were successful where 25 other crews had failed over the past 10 years. The crew too 5 hrs off the record time.
River Thames single handed record
2005 Fastest time to single scull 165 miles of the River Thames from Lechlade to Gravesend ~ 43hrs 40 minutes
This was in a single racing skiff, supported by over 60 people, enabling the previous record to be beaten by 16 hours.
A booklet containing a full and excellent history of the club is available to members. Also have a look at the photos and certificates on the walls of the clubhouse as well as the names of the boats, as they are all named after well-loved and valued supporters of DSPC