Padstow Gig Club History

Padstow Rowing Club News Update – June 2006

Many readers from the Padstow area will remember Mr and Mrs Harvey who lived in Padstow during the 1950s. Mrs Harvey was a teacher at Padstow School from 1951 – 1956 and her husband Martin worked in the bank. Padstow Rowing Club was approached in May by Mrs Harvey to say that Martin had sadly passed away and would they be able to help scatter his ashes.

On a very wet, windy, foggy Friday evening at the end of May, the gig Dasher set out towards the Iron Bridge with Martin’s son Tim as a passenger. Mrs Harvey and the remainder of her family watched from the bridge. It was quite eerie, because of the fog, Dasher could not be seen until it was almost upon us but the splash of the oars could be heard for miles. Suddenly the wind dropped and Dasher emerged from the fog. It was quite an emotional occasion for all concerned but ironically the weather conditions were perfect for it; we had the river to ourselves and the fog made it quite private.

Mrs Harvey was the secretary of the Ladies Guild who raised all the money for the two gigs Zelda and Gypsy and produced numerous photographs, newspaper cuttings and letters documenting this period in the rowing club’s history. She has kindly lent these records to me for the purpose of this article. My favourite bits are the letters. There are copies of the letters written to Newquay and the Isles of Scilly asking for advice and enquiring about gigs for sale. I have reproduced my favourite letter here, the letter clearly shows his love and respect of the boat.

“Padstow Regatta Ladies Guild

St Agnes

Isle of Scilly

Nov 14 1954

Dear Madam

Your letter to hand referring to gigs that we have here namely “Gipsy” and the Klondyke that we might dispose of. Now the gig Gipsy which I am Captain of is a real good boat and is kept ready for use at a minute notice she is 28ft long and about 4ft 10 in beam or 5ft I am not quite shore (sic) of the beam and has beaten the gig “Shah” that has gone to Newquay with a good crew plural times she is as lively as a bee in a choppy sea a very nice boat and all she wants is a nice coat of paint. NO repairs are required at all the shareholders are asking £75. Like Slippen.


Now Mr Stephen Lewis Hicks is the Captain of this boat and should you want to ask any information will you kindly write to him. But this is her condition. Her Stern Post and Skeg will want repairing and her five foot want seeing two (sic) with some of the old timbers being taken out and wear (sic) oars put in her planking is sound and good will last for years yet she is 30 ft long and 5 ft 2 ins Beam but is a very good puller has (?) she has got a flat bottom say in the tens of pounds will repair her she has been tarred but that wants burning off and painted the owners are asking £25 for her. Now this is what you want to know but “Mr S L Hicks” will conduct any further lower (?) from inquiries of her.

The “SHAH” that went to Newquay last week has been badly damaged in Transit was landed at Penzance Jetty (?) all sound but there (sic) lorries was not there to meet the Steamer in time so they are put to big expense to repair her as I hear she is going to Padstow for it to be done.

Yours sincerely

R G Legg


Should you want to know anything else about Gipsy wright (sic) early as there are more inquiries about them.”

Left-Right Jack Hicks and Richard Grenfell (Dick) Legg. The last two pilots on the Isles of Scilly. RG Legg was No 2 Pilot on St Agnes from 1928 – 1958.

We know that the Guild went on the buy Gypsy and Zelda from the Isles of Scilly. Both boats were brought over on the Scillonian one at a time then towed by tractor from Penzance to Padstow. The same tractor driver made the return journey twice, there is no record of how long it took him. Zelda was brought first and both boats were stored in the Ice Factory, now Water’s Edge flats.

L-R Gypsy being unloaded from the Scillonian, the tractor bringing Gypsy down Duke Street, Zelda being unloaded into the Ice Factory.

Do you recognise anyone in this picture? Here are some of the men’s crew relaxing after rowing on the outer quay.

L-R (I think!) Michael “Nipper” Reveley, Jim Chown, Martin Harvey, Burt Dawe, Pat O’ Keefe, David Honey.

There was ladies racing too! Can anyone recognise any of the rowers? Were you one of them?

Today’s ladies have been impressed at how smart these 50s ladies were when they rowed. No vests and lycra shorts in sight! These ladies probably would have found the amount of flesh on show when we row quite distasteful!!

While chatting to Mrs Harvey she was telling me about where she first lived. She described in detail the flat over Bob Menhenits shop. It was only when she said the shop was now Stein’s Patisserie that I realised I know that flat very well indeed! I offered her the opportunity to look around it now but she declined. She went on to say that they then moved to 4 Treverbyn Road, ironically the childhood home of another of our rowers Anne Vivian. Isn’t it a small town in which we live!!

Mrs Harvey gave me far more information and photographs than I could possibly be able to put into one article. I am very grateful to her for her records and memories. She is donating a trophy in memory of Martin Harvey to the rowing club to be given to our most improved junior rower. Who knows, perhaps the first recipient will be a descendant of one of the rowers pictured here.

By Sian Howells

A history of Padstow Pilot Gig Rowing Club

by Sian Howells

The sight of Padstow Rowing Club wheeling their gigs from the Red Brick Building to the slipways has become a common sight in Padstow throughout the summer but how many of you really know the significance of gig rowing to Padstow?

Most people know that the Cornish Pilot Gigs were originally used to pilot the old sailing vessels to the harbour. They also know that the racing started because each yard had its own gig and that the gigs would compete against each other to secure the trade for their yard, but do they know that Padstow was at the root of gig racing or that the first ever gig was ordered for Padstow?

One of the most famous gig building families, who still build gigs today are the Peter’s family from St Mawes. According to their family tradition, their first order was for a six oared gig destined for Padstow in 1790. Although little is known abut this boat, it is believed to have been Padstow’s first lifeboat. Her second lifeboat was also a gig and was the “Mariner’s Friend” built in 1827 by Tredwen of Padstow. She cost £50 and served until 1855. The first pilot gig on record is “Newquay” built in 1812 by Peters. Newquay was geographically better placed to have “seeking” gigs and as such are credited with starting the tradition on the North coast. Other Newquay gigs of this era were Treffry and Defiance built in 1835. Newquay had the first gig named Teazer which was built in Newquay and originally called “Zoe Treffry”. She was sold to form the roof of a chicken house in the First World War! Another Teazer is recorded as having been built at Rawle’s yard.

In it’s hey day Padstow had several boat yards. Rawle’s had the gig “Vixen”, Dennis Cove had “Constance”, Lower Yard had “Peace”, Cowl’s had “Hero” while Rawle’s “Teazer” was stored on davits outside the Custom’s House. Other Padstow gigs from this era include Arrow, Storm, Dasher, Dauntless, Gazelle, Hero, Rescue, Rival, Victor, Victoria and Warspite.

There are several reports from gig racing during this era. The Western Morning News dated 28 May 1885 reports:

“ …. the six-oared working gig race was the principal event of the day, as it was a struggle for superiority between the Padstow crew at the regatta and again a few weeks later, the crews having changed boats. The Tom Sayers, with her Port Isaac crew took the lead on rounding the first object and kept her position to the end of the race, winning the first prize of £3 by one minute. The Constance came in second, the Hero a good third and Teazer fourth.”

“Ships of North Cornwall” by John Bartlett mentions the Padstow regatta of 1886 where there were three gigs racing: Dove (Billing, Newquay), Tom Sayers (Brewer, Port Isaac) and Constance (Tom Cowl, Padstow). Although the results are not recorded it states that Constance broke an oar at the start. The same book features the race card from Newquay’s regatta on 19th August 1887. The fourth race of the day was the six-oared gigs. It states that Dove (Cox Billing) was first followed by Treffry (Cox Prout), Newquay (Cox Carter) and Teazer (Cox Bunt). The reader needs to double take to realise that these are regattas from the 19th century not the 20th and 21st centuries as the results and names haven’t changed that much in 100 years!

At the beginning of the 20th century, gig racing had all but died out until in 1953 there was a resurgence led by the late Roger Gillis and the Newquay rowing club. They went to the Isles of Scilly and bought the old “Slippen”, “Golden Eagle” (Bryher) and “Bonnet” (Tresco) and carried out major renovations in Padstow and Newquay. In 1954 these three together with Newquay, Dove and Treffry took part in the first six gig race at Newquay since 1857. In 1955 they returned to Scilly and bought Gipsy (St Agnes), Zelda (Tresco) and Shah (St Agnes). Gipsy was in good condition but Zelda was in need of complete restoration including the fitting of a new keel. Stephen Brabyn and Donald McBirnie, both shipwrights from Padstow are credited with performing miracles of restoration. On 26 October 1956 Zelda and Gipsy were formally handed over to the Padstow Regatta Committee by the chairwoman of the Padstow Regatta Ladies Guild (who had been formed to raise money for the gigs). Racing occurred throughout the following summer by both sexes with visiting crews from Newquay and other areas. Many Padstow people remember Gipsy as being a Padstow gig during the fifties. Her fate is uncertain but it would appear that she fell in to disrepair when the rowing ceased.

It was at this time that Tom Chudleigh started building new gigs at St Mary’s using surviving moulds from Treffry of 1838. These new gigs were named Active, Good Intent and Unity which are the names of Newquay seine companies. At some stage Bonnet, Golden Eagle, Slippen and Shah were returned to the Scillies because they are still in evidence there now. Active and Good Intent are still in use in Newquay while Unity has recently been sold to Port Isaac Rowing Club.

Padstow Rowing Club was resurrected on 9 July 1987 when fundraising began to purchase a new gig. Teazer was duly ordered from Peter Foard and Tom Dudley of Mevagissey and launched on 8 October 1988. Dasher Reveley, a Padstow fisherman and boat builder built them the “Dasher” in 1989 and went on to build 2 more: “Cape Cornwall” for the club of the same name and “Corsair” for Port Isaac. These were the first gigs to be built in Padstow for approx 150 years. In 2003, with the generous assistance of Rick Stein, Padstow commissioned “Petroc” from D & J Currah of Looe; she was launched in April 2004. A lightweight racing boat made of Scottish elm, she is one of the fastest gigs currently being raced and has helped Padstow to several victories over the last two seasons.

Siân Howells and John Olivey are intending to compile a book about the history of rowing in Padstow, how it links in to the history of the town and a guide to the gigs and clubs of the 21st century. They are interested to hear from anyone who has stories relating to rowing in the town (new and old) and in particular any photographs.

History of Gig Rowing in Padstow – Part 2 – Siân Howells

Since the last Echo was published, a lot more information about the history of rowing has come to light – thank you to everyone who has taken the time to provide me with the information that they have. In this issue I would like to shed a bit more light on rowing in the 1950s and discuss the two gigs that were purchased from the Scillies.

I was given the minutes of the Padstow Regatta Ladies Guild to assist me in writing this article:

“A meeting was held at the Institute Padstow on Monday May 24th 1954, those present were Mesdames Hatswell, Hornabrook, Magor, Brenton, Thurston, MacBurnie, Lindsey, Bealing, Crow, Harvey, Miss B Lindsey, Messrs Brabyn, Sluman and Chapman. Apologies were received from Mesdames Worth, Bennett and D Rawe.

Mr Brabyn referred to the interest aroused in Padstow by the participation of Padstow oarsmen in the six-Gig (sic) Race that had taken place in the estuary earlier in April, and that now was the time to make an effort to acquire a gig for Padstow if it was so desired. The cost of the same, being from £150-£180.”

The ladies present at this meeting formed themselves into the Padstow Regatta Ladies Guild for the purpose of raising funds to enable Padstow to have its own gig. The first chairman was Mrs Hatswell with Mrs Brenton as Vice Chairman, Mrs Harvey as secretary and Mrs Thurston as Treasurer. Letters were sent out around the town asking for contributions and Mrs (Chrissie) Bennett enlisted the help of the Girl Guides to deliver them. The second meeting reported that these door to door collections had raised £36-12-3. Members of the Guild paid an annual membership fee of 2/6 to increase their coffers. Activities that they under took to raise the money included a jumble sale at the Institute (£18), Whist Drives at the Harbour View Hotel (£8) St Petroc’s Hall (£4) and the School Lawn (£3-9), a variety of dance evenings including an Old Lyne Dance in the Church Rooms (£6), Regatta Day (£53), a concert at Church Rooms (£11), raffles and a concert by the Goonhavern Banjo Band. Assistance was also provided but the WI Drama Group (later the Kernow Players) while Mr Prideaux-Brune donated £5.

While the Committee was raising money for the gigs, racing continued with gigs borrowed from Newquay for which the Ladies Guild paid the transportation to and from Newquay.

At the meeting held at 14 Riverside on Wednesday 10th November 1954, Mrs Hatswell stated that she had information that 3 gigs were for sale on the Scillies; Zelda (£50), Gypsy (sic) £75 and Thondike. Advice was sought from Newquay rowing club on the merits of new boats versus old. At the first AGM held in the Institute on Friday June 24th 1955, the Secretary reported that the Guild had raised sufficient funds to purchase Gipsy and Zelda from the Scillies. They would continue to raise funds to cover the cost of repairs, decorations, paddles and rowing shirts. The total monies collected in the first year was £170-11-7.

The gigs were formally handed over to the Regatta Committee by the chairman Mrs D.M. Hatswell in the Church Rooms on 26 October 1955 (not 1956 as reported in the previous Echo). A dance was held in the Church Rooms afterwards although members later expressed disappointment that this was poorly attended and only raised £2. In 1956 Mrs Hatswell left Padstow and was replaced as chair by Miss B Lindsey.

Brabyn’s Boatyard completed the repairs and subsequent maintenance to the 2 boats. There are receipts in the minutes for a total of £19-6 of which £6-15-1 is for Zelda and £12-10-11 for Gipsy. These are for repainting the boats in 1957.

The following information about these two gigs is taken from Gigs and Cutters of the Isles of Scilly by A J Jenkins:


Built on St Mary’s by Tiddy for the pilots of St Agnes in 1858. A popular gig, taking part in most wrecks in her day. Her vital statistics were: length 28’, beam 5’. While rescuing cattle from Castleford, wrecked on Crebawethan, one of the steers put his horns through the planking. The hole was quickly filled with a piece of rag and the saving of the cattle carried on.

The gig was the very last Scillonian gig to be used to put a pilot aboard a vessel. The pilot was Trinity pilot Jack Hicks of St Agnes and the ship was the Foremost, the date was 22 December 1938. She was later sold to Padstow Regatta Committee and on 27 May 1964, this gig was burned.”


Built in 1874 by Peters with the money raised from the wrecked steamship Zelda – hence her name. She was sold to Padstow Regatta Committee in the 1950s but was badly damaged by a lorry backing into her on the quay. She was sold to the proprietors of St Mary’s “Pilot Gig Steak Bar” who now have her bow and stern sections decorating the north wall of their delightful restaurant. The stern section bears the name Gipsy but is actually the stern of Zelda.

After the Falkland (sailing ship) struck the Bishop Rock Lighthouse and nearly sank in 1901, a body, that of the First Mate, was spotted floating head down in Hell’s Bay at the back of Bryher. The weather was pretty bad and a nasty sea was running so the men of Bryher decided to leave the body where it was. The men of Tresco went out in the Zelda and retrieved the body. Such was the sea that the gig was unable to turn and had to be backed all the way keeping the boat head-on to the seas.

Later the Tresco men accused the Bryher men of leaving the body in the sea. The Bryher men asked “why risk losing the lives of seven good men just to save one dead one”.”

I was intrigued to see that my Aunty Mary (Magor) was one of the founder members of the Ladies Guild and I also recognised many names that are relations of our current members, particularly our junior members. It is good to see that the old traditions are carried on. I would be pleased to hear from any members of the Guild who may be able to tell me a few stories from those days.

Katrina Burroughs

Journalist at The Times
An expert in Brittish and Scandinavian design, Katrina has written for many established publications including the Times.

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