A Brief History by David Wood
Until the Half Tide Lock Weir and Footbridge at Richmond was opened in 1894 the water level of the River Thames could drop during a long summer.
The 'Half Lock' enabled the river to be used for recreation at all times and a number of gentlemen's clubs were formed. Twickenham became a popular venue for rowing, cruising and dinghy sailing and Twickenham Yacht Club was formed in 1897 as The Swan Sailing Club meeting at the White Swan in in Old Palace Lane Richmond.
By 1910 the Swan Sailing Club had moved across the river to the Phoenix, a public house in Orleans Road, Twickenham which was forced to close during the Great War in 1916. The members moved to the White Swan, Twickenham where they merged with the Twickenham Sailing Club. The present club house became available in 1924 when the Club finally became the Twickenham Yacht Club.
TYC and the French Connection
Twickenham Yacht Club Boathouse dates from the massive renovation and extensions to York House in the last days of the 19th Century made by Louis Philippe Robert, Duc d'Orleans, the pretender to the French Crown.
The Duc d'Orleans had been born in York House in 1869, when his father, the Comte de Paris, was from 1864 to 1873, tenant of the house including the watermeadows and downstream end of Eel Pie Island. The Comte, was a respected local resident and benefactor and built the first boathouse fronting onto Riverside at the end of a short canal.
In 1897, the Duc d'Orleans bought York House and started to build the East Wing, to provide a Museum for his sporting trophies, a swimming pool and conservatory. An electric generating station was installed to provide DC current to the House which was redecorated throughout with the Orleans 'Fleur de Lys' motif. This appeared even in the wire balloons to the tops of vent pipes and finials to the balustrade around the balcony to the dock in the new boathouse which was built for an electric launch. However, the Duc became unpopular in Twickenham due to his building high walls along Riverside cutting off views over old meadowland and the private bridge to the new riverside garden which he also embanked. His unpopularity increased with his expression of pro- Boer sentiments Having also inherited the Wood Norton Estate in Worcestershire, he moved there in 1900, taking the then new main wrought iron gates to York House.
For further information regarding this please visit 'The Twickenham Museum'.
Sometime before 1876 a boat house had been built in the grounds of York House for the Comte de Paris, the Orleanist claimant to the French Throne. The present boathouse, built around 1900 on the riverside of the York House Gardens Embankment had a narrow walkway around a dock surrounded by a balustrade decorated with brass Fleur de Lys and stairs to the upper floor. The Dock was decked over in 1954/5 and a balcony and brow provided access to the pontoons alongside York House Gardens.
The clubhouse was further extended in 1967 to provide changing rooms, toilets and showers for members use, for ladies are now equally accepted as members The Club also has mid stream moorings licenced by the Port of London Authority used by motor cruisers and sailingcraft and two dinghy parks.
The main sailing activity takes place from the lower dinghy park which was acquired from the Viner Brady family in 1959. The slipway was extended and a race hut and balcony added in 1962. Some two dozen sailing dinghies are stored here.
The Club also had the use of the former Bowyers Coal Yard on the Embankment for until the site was acquired by the Local Council in 1961. Following the abandonment of housing development plans it was leased for 99 years in 1984 to The Trustees of the Richmond Shakespeare Society who converted the Mission Hall and granted an underlease of the Yard to the Club to continue the storage of trailable craft.
York House was left unoccupied until the sale in 1906 to Sir Ratan Tata, the founder of the Indian Tata Steel Works. The sales catalogue describes the 'Handsome Boathouse' as 'having two rooms over the same' 'fitted with Electric light and a Telephone' while the grounds were enclosed from the river by 'a costly embankment with terracotta balustrading'. Sir Ratan Tata installed the Italian marble 'Naked Ladies' statuary in 1909 but, on returning to India in 1918 his ship was torpedoed and he died. Lady Tata decided to return to India in 1922 and to sell the property which was bought by Twickenham Urban District Council in 1924. Noel Viner Brady ,"was instrumental" in securing their agreement with the Swan Yacht Club to leave the local public house and use the boathouse as their Clubhouse.