By Roger Venne

The early years

According to Ewen Montagu the Club started by chance. Early in 1937 he was at lunch in Middle Temple when he mentioned an amusing incident that had occurred when sailing his yacht Peradventure, the previous weekend. Others at the table also enjoyed sailing. Later, thinking about the occasion, he formed the idea of a yacht club that would act as a link between barristers who enjoyed sailing;

So that we could swap yarns and …possibly provide some sailing for non-boat owners who might on occasion crew for those who owned boats, to their mutual advantage and for those who, unlike me, enjoyed racing round the buoys, and might even arrange races.”

Although he was suggesting a club without a clubhouse there was a precedent for this in that the Royal Cruising Club (the RCC) had led a peripatetic existence since its foundation in 1880 and, at that time, occupied temporary rooms at the Welbeck Palace Hotel in Welbeck Street. Its secretary, Donald Cree, was also a member of the Bar who kept his yawl Gulnare near to Peradventure’s mooring on the Beaulieu River.

Montagu discussed his proposal with others and an inaugural meeting was held on 1st March 1937, at the RCC’s rooms, attended by 42 members of the Bench and Bar. A set of rules was drafted, with some help from the Chancery Bar of which Cree was a prominent member, some amendments were proposed by Montagu himself, and flag officers were elected.

Mr Justice Charles was elected Commodore, Serjeant Sullivan KC Vice Commodore, and Montagu, Rear Commodore. R L E Dreschfield was elected the first Secretary and Treasurer.

Mr Justice Charles was a fisherman rather than a sailor and his election, or perhaps selection, perhaps surprising. He was a King’s Bench judge of the old school. He had boxed at Clifton and Oxford and was very happy to acknowledge his twice broken nose. A lifelong bachelor he once complained, during a trial at the Central Criminal Court, that although he was in a good job, no one had ever wanted to marry him. There then followed 167 proposals of marriage. Montagu records a story that when Ernest Charles was appointed to the High Court Bench in 1928 he was visited, at his house in Deal, by one of the longshore fishermen with whom he went fishing. When ushered into the new Judge’s sitting room the visitor stood shy and embarrassed in his best suit twisting his cap in his hands. Eventually he blurted out “Me mates has asked me to come and tell you as how we’re proud of you” followed by a long pause “Buggered if we ain’t” and he then turned and left.

Mr Justice Charles then was perhaps not the obvious choice for Commodore but none among the founding members knew of a judge who sailed, and it was thought wise to have a judge on the letter head so that the newly formed Club would receive proper attention on the Inns of Court notice boards. In fact, there were of course at that time several judges who did sail, and some later complained to Montagu out of court, but on one occasion in court, at their failure to be considered for appointment.

Serjeant Sullivan’s election is more easily explained. He was described as “a devoted and persistent seaman” in his leisure time, and was also a figure of note at the Bar. Alexander Martin Sullivan was born in Ireland in 1871, was called to the Irish Bar in 1892 and to the English Bar by Middle Temple in 1899. He took silk in Ireland in 1908 and in England in 1919. In England the rank of Serjeant at Law, once the highest order of Counsel, was abolished in 1877. In Ireland however it continued until the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1921. Sullivan was appointed Serjeant at Law in Ireland in 1920. In 1916 he had defended Sir Roger Casement (unsuccessfully as it happens) at his trial for treason at the Central Criminal Court. In 1944 he was elected Treasurer of his Inn. However, as his Times obituarist put it, “In April 1949, taking an independent view of the implications of the Republic of Ireland Act, Sullivan announced that he considered himself disqualified as an alien from practising at the English Bar, so he returned to Dublin and our courts saw him no more.” Subsequently he published a book, “The Last Serjeant” in 1952, and died in Kent in 1959.

Ewen Montagu was born in 1901, the second of three sons of Lord Swaythling. Montagu’s grandfather, the first Baron Swaythling, a rich banker, had changed his name from Samuel to Montagu. It is said that the possibility of a change of name was mentioned to the then Lord Montagu of Beaulieu who is alleged to have responded, “I don’t mind sharing the name, if he doesn’t mind sharing the money.” Montagu’s practice prospered and he would take silk in 1939.

An enthusiastic sailor he would go on to have a very distinguished war in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, touched on later. From 1945 to 1973 he was Judge Advocate of the Fleet. He had the distinction of being Chairman of both Hampshire Quarter Sessions and Middlesex Quarter Sessions, and was elected Treasurer of the Middle Temple in 1968. He was appointed OBE for his war time naval service, and CBE in 1950. He died in 1985.

The inaugural meeting on 1st March 1937 also made decisions about the new Club’s burgee. According to the minutes, “The burgee, which is a white brief with a red ribbon floating on the blue sea, was approved by the meeting subject to the committee modifying its proportions.” However, Montagu recalled, in a memoir about the Club which he produced 1981, that “we chose an unmarked brief on a sea of blue ink.”

Of the forty-two who attended the inaugural meeting a number listed their yachts. They included four sloops, three cutters, a yawl, two dinghies and a motor launch.

The Law Society formed its own yacht club a short time later, based its constitution on that of the Bar Yacht Club, but chose as the emblem for its burgee a golden shark.

Following the inaugural meeting the day to day management of the Bar Yacht Club then passed to a committee, which met regularly over the following months either at the RCC’s rooms, the Commodore’s room in the Royal Courts of Justice, or in the chambers of one of the flag officers. At meetings in April and May of 1937 there were agreed proposals to race Brightlingsea one designs against a team from Colne Yacht Club, to hold a joint rally with the RCC and the Royal Navy Sailing Association in September on the Beaulieu River and to race against the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club in July. Finally, at the May meeting, it is recorded in minutes, not usually marked by humour, that “…The Rear Commodore accused the Vice Commodore of not flying the Club burgee; the Vice Commodore excused himself by saying that he had given orders to four members of the club to attach it to its staff but they were mutinous and smoked cigarettes instead. In fact, they were all too lazy to work except one who varnished the decks when requested to polish the brightwork.”

During a committee meeting in October, Mr Justice Charles, the Commodore, telephoned from the Old Bailey to apologise for his absence and to offer his resignation. He had been Commodore for less than a year. His only legacy to the Club was the Charles Cup “to be presented to the member of the Club who had most distinguished himself during the current year in some yachting activity.”

In November 1937, at the first annual meeting, Sir Lancelot Elphinston was elected the Club’s second Commodore. He does not appear to have attended the inaugural meeting in March, nor was he an elected member of the Committee. He had served as a Law Officer in several colonies, finally as Attorney General of Ceylon, and had then been appointed Chief Justice of the Federated Malay States. He retired from his judicial appointments in 1932. Although he was a member of the RCC, his qualifications for election as Commodore remain distinctly unclear.

It is a measure of the Club’s early success that the laying up dinner which followed the AGM was attended by over 70 members and guests, and that by then it had 118 members.

In January 1938 Dreschfield resigned as Secretary and Treasurer because he was going abroad to take up an appointment as a judge in central Africa where, it is said, he flew the Club’s burgee when sailing on African lakes. John Brightman was elected Secretary and Treasurer in his place.

The AGM for 1938 was held in November, and again at the RCC’s headquarters. Among the business considered was a proposal to change the Club’s name. “It was proposed by Montagu the Rear Commodore… that the name of the Club be altered to “The Inns of Court Yacht Club”. The Rear Commodore pointed out that he did not personally hold strong views in favour of the change of name, but that it had been found that the present name connoted, in the minds of some persons, an association with alcoholic refreshments or alternatively with the bars found at the mouths of some rivers, and he felt that any strong opinions in favour of a change of the Club’s name should be ventilated now, rather than at a later stage in the Club’s career. The resolution was further discussed and on being put to the vote was lost.”

By 1939 it was no doubt clear that war was almost inevitable but, at least in the early months of the year, the Club’s normal activities continued. James Blewit was appointed an additional secretary to deal with any racing fixtures and, for that year, the Charles Cup was awarded to Montagu, the Rear Commodore.

Among others, Hartley Shawcross was elected a new member.

Although the AGM was held on 23rd November 1939 the effects of the war, which had been declared in September, meant that the number attending was already severely reduced. John Brightman, the secretary and treasurer, was recorded as serving as an Able Seaman in a 500-ton motor vessel which had already made voyages between Hull and Liverpool and to France. Donald Cree agreed to act as Secretary during his absence. Finally, it was decided that for the duration of the war the Vice and Rear Commodores and the members of the committee, should not retire as the rules would otherwise require. But it was also

earnestly hoped that members will not hesitate to bring any nautical efforts of themselves or of any fellow members to the notice of the Acting Honorary Secretary [ and to…] send in particulars as early as possible of any notable cruises they or others have done and of other notable achievements, including sea service, in the present war which would fall within the very wide rules…”

Last, but not least, it was hoped

at a later date when the blackout is less formidable, to arrange another dinner. “

Later that year the Charles Cup was awarded to Brightman for three reasons: –

(1) the excellent and untiring work on behalf of the Club he has put in since he was elected Honorary Secretary, (2) his work as navigator in one of the yachts in the race to La Rochelle and (3) his joining a 500-ton coastal motor vessel as an A.B. immediately on the outbreak of war and his continuing in such work to the present time. He has been up and down the coast and to the west coast of France continuously since the war broke out.”

By the following AGM, held in November 1940, Brightman was a Lieutenant RNVR. The next meeting would not be held until 1946.

Montagu was sailing off the coast of Brittany in September 1939 when he learned, having listened to the radio news ashore, that war was imminent. He turned for home. In his book Beyond Top Secret U, published in 1977, he describes the conclusion of his last pre-war sail: –

What was to turn out to be my last sail for seven years was a heart-warming fast run up Channel, hard on the wind, in glorious weather and escorted for over an hour by porpoises playing round our bow, scraping into the Solent on the last of the tide just before midnight on the Friday- Saturday night before war was declared.”

Having volunteered for the RNVR he was, after initial training, commissioned as an acting Lieutenant Commander and assigned to Naval Intelligence, where Ian Fleming was already installed. There Montagu, with others, devised Operation Mincemeat. A body, apparently that of a Major Martin, Royal Marines, was launched from a submarine off the Atlantic coast of Spain. His briefcase contained concocted plans which suggested that the allies would invade Greece rather than Sicily. The ruse worked and following Hitler’s personal intervention the Germans deployed extra troops to Greece, to the very considerable benefit of the Allies’ subsequent invasion of Sicily. After the war Montagu published a selective account of the operation under the title “The Man Who Never Was”, and appeared in a film of the same name, not as himself but as the sceptical RAF officer contemplating the operation. A full and compelling account, “Operation Mincemeat”, by Ben Macintyre, was published in 2010.

After the war it took some little time for the Club to re-establish itself. The first committee meeting was held on 1st March 1946. John Brightman regretfully resigned as secretary. He had had a busy war, having been promoted to Lieutenant Commander RNVR and appointed assistant naval attaché in Ankara. His practice at the Bar would now be making its own demands, and he would soon be counting Margaret Thatcher among his pupils. He took silk in 1961, was appointed to the High Court Bench in 1970, to the Court of Appeal in 1979 and finally as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary in 1982. Along the way he would join that other future pillar of the Club, Sir John Donaldson, for a spell in the short lived National Industrial Relations Court.

His place as secretary and treasurer was taken by Robert Griffiths. His first task as secretary was to circulate members with notification of the AGM and fitting out dinner early in the Easter term, and the general resumption of the Club’s activities. The Charles Cup for 1945 was awarded to Donald Cree, perhaps for stepping into the breach as secretary in 1939 and keeping the Club in being over the war years.

A number of new members were elected, among them the splendidly named Commander Hereward Hook, Hugh Park and Guy Willett.

At the AGM, held that year on 7th May, Sir Lancelot Elphinstone resigned as Commodore “not feeling able to carry on in that capacity as he had sold his sea-going yacht and, for the time being had not replaced her.” He was pleased to propose Montagu as his successor, who was then elected unanimously.

The new Commodore invited views as to whether the Club should buy its own boat. It was agreed that the committee should investigate the possibilities, but that in any event she should be 15 feet or less, of a type that could be used on the Thames, and such as to be of use to those members whose main interest was sailing, as distinct from racing.

Later that year it was agreed that the Secretary should apply to the Admiralty for the allocation of ex German yacht, several of which were “liberated” at the end of the war and one of which, renamed very appropriately “Overlord”, is still sometimes to be seen on passages across the Channel. The Admiralty acknowledged the application but said that the terms for allocation, of these fine yachts, had yet to be settled. The Charles cup was awarded that year to E. W. R. Peterson for his participation in the Bermuda Cup in his yacht “Latifa”. By November membership stood at 127, a remarkably good figure so soon after the war. There had been 136 members in 1939.

Early in 1947 the rules were clarified as to who qualified for membership.

Any member of the Bar of England, or any member of a Bar of the British Empire or any student of the Inns of Court of either sex, whether the owner of a yacht, boat or canoe or not…if interested in yachting, the sea and sailing…”

would be eligible for membership.

Although in the event no boat was bought for the Club, the secretary did arrange the loan of the Eryl Mor, a 16 feet sailing boat at Sunbury on Thames. Members would be asked to contribute to the cost of maintenance by paying for its use at the rate of 15 shillings (75p) a day, 7 shillings and sixpence for half a day and 5 shillings for an evening. Guy Willett proposed that a rally should be held on the Beaulieu River at which some form of sailing contest should be arranged.

Indeed, the next meeting of the committee took place in the Commodore’s bungalow, Warren Beach, on the banks of the Beaulieu River during the course of the rally held at Beaulieu on 6th September 1947. Five boats attended, although other members were also present, although not afloat.

At the AGM in November 1947, Montagu was re-elected Commodore and the ever faithful Serjeant Sullivan, Vice-Commodore. There were now 150 members and the Club’s finances were described as “a few shillings better than a year ago.” The Commodore’s Prize, instituted that year by Montagu for the most sporting effort of the season, was awarded to W. Packenham Walsh for sailing by dinghy from Bembridge on the Isle of Wight to the rally at Beaulieu. George Pollock was awarded the Charles Cup for a five-hundred-mile passage in “Ariel” in poor weather at Easter 1947. The other new trophy to be awarded that year for the first time was the Willett Cup, awarded to none other than its donor, Guy Willett, in respect of “a competition in connection with the summer rally, on a distance waterline basis.”

In early 1948 the Club received an invitation to sail at the Royal Burnham Yacht Club and it was also proposed that the annual rally should again be held on the Beaulieu River, but probably in late July and before members had dispersed on their vacation cruises, thus establishing what continues to this day, a commitment to the sailing grounds of both the south coast, and the east coast. The Club also accepted in principle an invitation from the Royal Temple Yacht Club, proposing that Club members should generally have the privilege of becoming honorary members, with use of their premises in Kent.

Further thoughts were also directed at the rules governing the award of the Willett Cup. In view of the varied sizes and types of yacht likely to attend the rally it was decided that a race would be impractical. Instead the cup would be awarded for the longest single passage made between anchorages during the long vacation, the distance made good to be calculated by dividing the distance in miles by the boat’s water length in feet.

The committee minutes for 13th July 1948 record, rather baldly perhaps, “A draft letter was approved seeking Royal Patronage of the Club”. However according to Montagu’s own later recollection in 1981 the matter was not quite so straight forward.

There seemed to be a suggestion that the Home Office (who decided such matters) were taking an attitude of “once bitten, twice shy”; there was a belief that, years before, a club with headquarters at Deal, of which at most only a few members were barristers, had called themselves the Temple Yacht Club and had got a “Royal” because the Home Office mistakenly believed that it was a Bar club. Anyhow we were on weak ground under the rules (number of yachts belonging to members etc.) and a particular solicitor (a great friend of mine) was high in the Royal Yachting Association…who advised the Home Office on such applications and he was very anti “Bar superiority”.

However, not unassisted by my being Judge Advocate of the Fleet, I did get for the Club the right to fly the defaced Blue ensign – a matter for Admiralty decision.”

Montagu was also responsible later for persuading the Duke of Edinburgh to become the Club’s Admiral, not least on the basis that he qualified as a Bencher of the Inner Temple. Moreover, Montagu persisted in his attempts to secure Royal patronage for on 15th December 1954 he would write to Lord Mancroft at the Home Office in terms suited to his purpose, but also perhaps to the age: –

In view of the fact that His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh KG, has graciously consented to become the Admiral of the Bar Yacht Club, and in view of the fact that the Club is that of the Bar of England, we have the honour to request that Her Majesty may graciously be pleased to honour it with the prefix “Royal”.

The Club was founded in the year 1937 in order to form a link between members of the Bar (who, of course, include Her Majesty’s Judges), and students of the Bar, who are interested in sailing and to foster the sport among our members.

As may be observed from the enclosed table and chart of members and graph, our numbers have steadily grown to the present total of 300: this in view of the strictly limited field from which members can be drawn, is most satisfactory…”

In March 1950 Serjeant Sullivan, Vice Commodore from the Club’s foundation, resigned because “owing to failing sight he was unable to continue sailing”. He was elected Honorary Life Vice Commodore and Linton Thorp was elected Vice Commodore in his place, although Thorp died only a few months later to be succeeded in his turn by Donald Cree who also continued to act as treasurer.

Later in the year the annual subscription was raised from 7/6 to 15/-, or from 5/- to 10/- if paid by bankers’ order.

The Club’s commitment to racing appears to have become more settled. There had been weekend racing at Burnham and on the south coast but in 1951 the rules were amended to provide for a Racing Captain, the first being Gordon Smith.

In 1952 Monique Viner was elected as the first woman to serve on the committee.

In July 1953 the Club paid a visit to the Greenwich Naval College and the National Maritime Museum, where a Committee meeting was held on board the Royal Princess, in place of the Commodore’s chambers or, as now sometimes happened at his property, Warrens Beach, on the Beaulieu River.

In October 1954 two events of particular importance occurred. First, it was decided to make provision in the rules for the appointment of an Admiral, following Montagu’s discreet soundings as to the Duke of Edinburgh’s willingness to accept that office. Secondly, Ewen Montagu retired as Commodore. His service to the Club had been outstanding and to reflect his contribution from its very foundation he was elected Honorary Commodore and Founder. His place as Commodore was taken by the ever faithful, but by now somewhat aged, Donald Cree. When, the next year, the Duke of Edinburgh in his new capacity as Admiral attended the Club dinner, he began his speech by saying “I’ve greatly enjoyed sitting next to your Commodore who, I gather, was cabin boy in the Ark.” In 1959 Cree, still Commodore, celebrated his 80th birthday.

In early 1955 discussion took place as to what should appear on the Club’s newly permitted defaced blue ensign and it was resolved “to have the motif executed to look as much like a brief as possible.”

Subsequently the flying of the ensign was not without its troubles. In 1962 the secretary received the following letter from the Admiralty:

Sir, I am commanded by My Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to inform you that They have received reports of irregularities in the flying of special ensigns in yachts belonging to members of various clubs. I am to request that you will be good enough to remind those of your members who hold Admiralty Warrants of the obligations attached to the privilege…”

Later in August 1955 the now annual Solent meet was held at Yarmouth, at the invitation of the Royal Solent Yacht Club, with team races in their one designs, together with a handicap race for Bar Yacht Club members in their own boats.

In the following year, 1956, the Club accepted an invitation from the Chairman of the Port of London Authority to an evening cruise in July from Tower Pier, on the PLA’s yacht St Katherine.

At the AGM in November there was a discussion as to the wisdom of lying in a stock of wine but in the end the matter was left to the committee and, perhaps disappointingly, nothing seems to have come of it. What value such vintages, untouched, might have had today.

In early 1957 the Club’s new Admiral the Duke of Edinburgh “signified his pleasure to dine with the Club on the 4th March”, already his second dinner in that capacity, in what would be a period of over sixty years in that office. However, Ewen Montagu, in his capacity as Founder Commodore, reported that “…from unofficial enquiries he had made in appropriate quarters there was not a sufficiently substantial increase in members and tonnage to justify another application for the Royal”; a reflection perhaps on the Admiralty rather than on the Admiral. The Club, it would seem, will never therefore be known as the Royal Bar Yacht Club.

Later in the year John Donaldson, then a junior, was first elected to the committee so that the flag officers and committee now consisted of Donald Cree, Commodore; Mr Justice Upjohn, Vice Commodore; Hornby Steer, Rear Commodore; Admiral Murray as Racing Captain; Donald Cree doubling up as treasurer; Robert Griffiths, secretary and with John Donaldson and E G Wright as committee members. Later in the year Donaldson was elected racing captain in place of Admiral Murray.

In 1960 further changes occurred. Donald Cree had been elected Commodore on five occasions and so, under the rules, was not eligible for re-election. Given that he would shortly celebrate his 81st birthday he may not have been altogether sorry. For a time, he nevertheless remained as Treasurer. In addition to his many services to the Bar Yacht Club, of which he was of course a founder member, he had also been Hon Secretary of the Royal Cruising Club for no less than sixty years, and during all this time he had owned the same yacht, Gulnare. His place as Commodore was filled by Lord Justice Upjohn, as he now was, having recently been elevated to the Court of Appeal.

In 1961 the Duke of Edinburgh declined an invitation to that year’s fitting out dinner, and even to the pre-dinner drinks, perhaps thinking that, for the moment at least, the Club had already enjoyed its fair share of his interest and attention.

Meanwhile the ever enthusiastic Guy Willett proposed that the Club should buy its own cruising boat for the use of members and have no fewer than five different venues for Vacation meets. Both proposals were rejected, the first unsurprisingly for lack of funds, the second for lack of support.

On a proposal by John Donaldson it was agreed to admit associate members, provided they were the spouses of existing members.

By 1962 however the Club began to meet rougher waters. That year the summer meet was cancelled for lack of support and, following a modest increase in subscriptions to £1 10s 0d, there were some 24 resignations and others failed to increase their standing orders. Nevertheless, an active programme of events was arranged for the early summer; Team Racing against the Law Society in May, a Burnham weekend in June, a team race with the Royal Lymington Yacht Club in July and an event with the Royal Motor Yacht Club (which, notwithstanding its name, includes a substantial sailing element) at Poole.

In early 1963 the Commodore was able to report that the Club had received an offer to sail in the royal yacht Bloodhound. Built in 1936 by Camper and Nicholson, and one of the most successful ocean racing yachts of her time, she had been acquired by the Royal Family only recently in 1962. Subsequently she was bought by the Royal Yacht Britannia Trust in 2010 and has now been restored to her former glory. Clearly the Admiral had not neglected his Club after all. Each member selected to sail would be required to sign an undertaking, but to do what, or abstain from what, is unclear.

By 1963 the Club’s racing fixtures were an increasingly important part of its activities. That year races took place against the Royal Lymington, the Royal Corinthian, the Royal Burnham, the John Lewis Partnership and again the Law Society. At the AGM in March Lord Justice Upjohn was re-elected Commodore, Hornby Steer Vice Commodore, and John Donaldson QC Rear Commodore. The Commodore wished “God Speed” to those members who would be sailing Bloodhound at Easter and the Secretary reported that four or five new members were joining each year, “which covered wastage through death etc.”

Over the next couple of years, attempts were made to increase membership. Notices were screened in the Inns, at the Council of Legal Education and in the student common rooms and as a result the membership increased.

In 1965, the recently elevated, Lord Upjohn retired as Commodore, presenting his Club tiepin to be held by his successor Hornby Steer in trust for future Commodores. Scarves had been proposed for women members, but it seems the cost was thought prohibitive, and perhaps the interest slight.

In 1968 Sir John Donaldson was elected Commodore. He had been appointed to the High Court bench in 1966, at the early age of 45, and in 1971 would be appointed by the Prime Minister, Edward Heath, as President of the newly established National Industrial Relations Court. Later he was of course to become a distinguished and energetic Master of the Rolls, and in 1988 took the title, appropriate for a sailor, of Lord Donaldson of Lymington. In his younger days he had taken an interest in Conservative politics but as a judge he explained that the judicial view of politics should be “much the same as a monk towards sex; nostalgic memories of a youthful indiscretion, a frank acknowledgement of its attraction, an unshakeable conviction that I could do better than those currently engaged in it, but an acceptance that it will never be for me until I go to a far better world.” Meanwhile, as Commodore, he was to apply his very considerable energies to the benefit of the Club.

In early 1970 the Committee discovered that Edward Heath, then Leader of the Opposition, had once enrolled as a student of Gray’s Inn (although he was never subsequently called to the Bar) and so qualified under the rules for membership of the Club. At the suggestion of the Commodore he was invited to join and he accepted the invitation. On 11th February the Commodore wrote to him: –

The activities of the Club are limited by the facts that it has no premises and that its members who are scattered throughout the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, all have different ideas about the respective merits of ocean racing, dinghy sailing, cruising and plain messing about in boats…The Club is completely non-political or since lawyers have a natural affinity to politics, it would perhaps be more accurate to describe it as multi-political. The common bond is the law and the sea.”

Heath replied accepting the offer of membership as an ordinary member and added rather oddly to his letter, in manuscript, “Being a member of the Royal Temple and racing under their burgee fits in rather well.

A short time later Heath wrote to the Secretary, Richard Wainwright, “as Mr Heath is classified as a student I believe his subscription is the modest one of 10/- provided he pays by Bankers Order.

At the election in June 1970 Edward Heath became Prime Minister. Little more than a year later in August 1971 he captained Britain’s winning team in the Admiral’s Cup. In July the Commodore had written to the Prime Minister: –

May I on behalf of all members of the Bar Yacht Club send you our warmest congratulations upon the selection of Morning Cloud for the Admiral’s Cup team with yourself as team captain. We all wish you good fortune and will be waiting for news of the results with unusual interest.”

After the win a congratulatory telegram followed to which Heath replied: –

I am writing to thank you for your courtesy in sending a telegram on our Admiral’s Cup win. Of course we are all very happy to have regained the Cup for the country. Your congratulations on our achievement are greatly appreciated by all members of the team. Please thank all your members for me.”

As a result of this noteworthy sailing achievement, by one of its own members, the Committee decided to offer Heath the Willett Cup for that year. He accepted and suggested that the officers of the Club come to 10 Downing Street for its presentation at a reception. By this time however John Donaldson had been appointed President of the Industrial Relations Court and was sensitive to the possible consequences of a visit to No 10, so on 5th November, he wrote to the Prime Minister’s private office: –

Much as I should like to come to Downing Street to present the Cup personally, I do not think that I should do so at the present time when the National Industrial Relations Court, of which I am President, is about to open. Some sections of the Press have already sought to make capital out of the fact that I share the Prime Minister’s love of sailing (“Sailor Ted appoints Sailor John”). Of course it is all a lot of nonsense, but I feel that I should do nothing which could possibly enable this particular line of comment to be revived. At any other time and in any other circumstances, I should have accepted the Prime Minister’s kind invitation with alacrity. None of the other officers are faced with this problem and they will, I know, be honoured and delighted to visit No 10 Downing Street… I should be grateful if you would present my apologies to the Prime Minister and explain the reasons which, to my great personal regret, have caused me to be absent on this happy occasion.”

Meanwhile the Committee decided that the Charles Cup, rather than the Willett Cup, would be a more suitable offering. On 2nd December 1971 the new Commodore elect, Judge Granville Wingate QC, accompanied by the Vice Commodore James Freeman, the Rear Commodore Leonard Bromley QC, the Racing Captain Derek Coudle and the Secretary Richard Wainwright, all made their way to Downing Street for a 6 o’clock appointment.


The Club has some 400 members ranging from students to the very senior judiciary.



On 1st March 2012 the Bar Yacht Club celebrated the 75th anniversary of its foundation and marked the occasion, on that date, with a dinner in Middle Temple Hall. The Commodore, Sir Michael Briggs, spoke but so too did the Club’s ever faithful Admiral, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh KG, KT. Over 220 members and their guests attended.

Roger Venne QC

15th March 2016