Paddy Freeman’s Park boathouse marks centenary

To mark the 100th anniversary of the boathouse opening in Paddy Freeman’s Park, we invited Andy Humpish, Honourable Secretary of Heaton & District Model Power Boat Club, to tell us more about the building’s history, and the role of the club in helping care for the boathouse during its 100 year history.

By Andy Humpish, Honourable Secretary of Heaton & District Model Power Boat Club.

The Heaton & District Model Power Boat Club was formed in 1910 by a group of like-minded men who met at the lake side in Paddy Freeman’s Park to sail their home-made steam powered model boats. With no boathouse or place to shelter, boats had to be carried to the lake for each sailing, which in turn meant that models were generally small so they could be carried as hand luggage on the tram.

In 1911, the club was in regular contact with the city Parks Committee, and the possibility of a boathouse must have been discussed with the council as the club minutes note a discussion on how many members would be prepared to commit to renting a storage locker from the council if a boathouse/storage facility was built. After years of lobbying, in April 1921 the club secured a meeting between a club delegation and the Parks Committee. The meeting was recorded as:

“Mr Barnes & Mr Robertson were the speakers for Boat club, Mr H Foster was chairman of Parks Committee. Mr Barnes spoke first & put the need of a boathouse & shelter & the alterations needed to the lake in an able manner & he tried to impress his hearers that the things asked for were long overdue. Mr Robertson followed him & gave of his best in our cause, several questions were asked after the speakers finished, the deputation were then thanked for their attendance.”

In April 1922, the Heaton & District Model Power Boat Club secretary was instructed to write to Alderman H Foster asking for the decision of the council regarding the boathouse. The outcome was a resounding ‘Yes’.

On 01 July 1922, a club committee of six members met with the council at Paddy Freeman’s Park to survey possible sites for the proposed new boathouse. The boathouse was then constructed on the site agreed with completion in the late spring of 1923. The club minutes record that:

“With regard to the opening of the boathouse it was decided to ask Alderman H Foster to perform the ceremony. Club member Mr W Gardner kindly presented two bronze candlesticks to the club to be in turn presented to Alderman Foster on the occasion”

Whilst we do not know the exact date the boathouse was officially opened, it was certainly in July 1923.

The next photo shows the boathouse in its original form, with public shelter at the front, complete with some lovely glass panels.

Since this was before the days of electricity in the park, the building was lit by natural light via glass panels high up in the eaves at each end of the building, and a single row of small glass panes along the top of the back wall. There was also a window opposite the entrance doorway consisting of matching small panes of glass.

Electricity was installed at the boathouse in 1953, which meant the building could be used throughout the year. Previously the building was lit by a mixture of paraffin lamps and ex cycle acetylene lights – not ideal in a wooden building.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that the club as an entity took over the rental of the whole building and the practice of renting individual lockers ceased. The cost of collecting individual rents was simply not economic for the council.

Today, the boathouse is managed by Urban Green Newcastle, but Heaton & District Model Power Boat Club still play a very active role in the building’s upkeep.

To mark the boathouse’s 100th birthday, Heaton & District Model Power Boat Club funded the repainting of the exterior of the boathouse and the installation of new guttering around the building.

As we mark the building’s 100th anniversary this July, its fair to say it’s in generally good condition, which is remarkable given its age and location. Long may that continue!