50 Years of History
A group of like minded divers from the Reading area got together in 1953 and formed a diving club. After a few meetings in Watlington House, with Oscar Gugen from BSAC HQ, it was decided to become a BSAC branch in 1954/55. A committee was formed of Geoffrey Von Hoven, John Bradley and John Fobester. This was later expanded to include F.B.Danise, H.E.Walford, G.Sherman and the first diving Officer ‘Mac Clabby’, who did the job until 1959. The Reading Branch (28) was officially announced on 7 November 1955, with the first wet session being held in the Arthur Hills pool on a Friday.
During the summer of 1957 Geoffery Von Hoven and his wife Gillian were involved in the formation of a club in Oxford, with a friend, Jack Blake, who became chairman of the Oxford BSAC, but often dived with the Reading Branch into the 60s.
1957 saw the first official Reading BSAC open water dive at Ufton Nervet. The total membership was seventeen and not all had suits.
‘First club dive to 237ft’
Also in 1957, George Cooke and Geoffrey Von Hoven dived near St Raphhael getting an endorsement in their log books of 237ft. Their dive leader was Andre Portlatine, who was one of Cousteau’s Lieutenants. George noted that he now knew what the ‘Narcs’ was.
In 1958 membership was up to 30 mainly boosted by the Cousteau film ‘Silent World’ being shown at the Odeon cinema in Reading. This year also saw the inaugural issue of the branch magazine ‘GLUG’.
In the later 50s, the Branch was heavily involved in aiding the Kennet & Avon Canal Association in clearing and restoring the Burghfield and Garston Locks.
The HQ of the club was considered to be the ‘Curzon’ Club in the Oxford Road until it moved to the Salisbury Club in Kings Road, which was more convenient after the pool meetings.
By now the club had acquired 6 x 165 cu ft BOC cylinders and manifold, used as a bank, which were stored in various members garages and barns. Air was difficult to get and cylinders came as large (40cu ft) and medium (25 cu ft). This bank weighed 1000lbs with each cylinder being 5 ft long.
Many new inland dive sites including: Mytchett, Burghfield, Ufton Nervet, Molly Miller Lake and the Thames. A monthly film night was introduced covering all watersports.
In 1962 Reading BSAC were one of 16 Branches who attended the World Underwater Congress in London with the star being Cousteau.
Divers were winched down 80 ft in the Basing House well in search of treasure supposedly put down there by the Royalists in the Civil War. A number of small arms as well as plenty of rubble was recovered.
1964 saw the introduction of the ‘bonds’ in order to raise money for a compressor. The £200 raised plus a further £200 grant enabled the Branch to purchase its own portable ‘Bernard’ compressor which remained in use for at least nine years.
As the result of surveying a wreck in Penberth Cove at Lands End, the Branch won the Triton Trophy and were awarded a Wardell & Davenport proton magnetometer.
This magnetometer was used by George Cooke in a BSAC project to survey shipwrecks in the Solent. The data from this project was used to pinpoint the exact location of the Mary Rose when she was rediscovered in 1965. This was recently reported by George’s local newspaper, the Launceston Post.
The first boat was purchased in 1967. It was an RFD PB16 inflatable with a 40hp Evinrude outboard which was later replaced with a ‘pull start’ 55 which claimed many fingers. It had its first outing at the Man-O-War Cove BBQ which became the first of many.
The crutch in the picture belongs to Doug Robertson, the then DO who had had a skiing accident.
1969 saw the cracks in the organisation with over 40 divers turning up as Chesil in order to dive in the one inflatable. At this point the membership was over 100.
In 1969 the Branch has its first trip to the ‘Lizard’ at Easter, a location which has been re-visited every Easter since.
1970 saw the move from the Arthur Hills pool to the then new Reading Central pool. This had a noticeable improvement in the standard of training which had been limited to a depth of 5 ft 6 inches.
A ‘Supporters club’ was formed in 1971. Its function was to raise funds by organising events. The money raised was given to the Branch in order to purchase capital equipment. It raised over £1000 which was used to purchase three boats and two Johnson 35 outboards. The Supporters club was limited to 200 members with a subscription fee of £15 per month. Every quarter there was a draw for £50 as well as the annual draw of £500.
Another highlight of 1971 was the discovery of the Henley Sword Scabbard by Fred Clarke. It was found to be over 2000 years old an now has pride of place in Reading Museum (With a picture of Fred as shown above)
The then DO ‘Brian Jones’ who worked freelance as an underwater photographer filmed the event for BBC’s Blue Peter.
1971 saw the first club expedition to Malta where all the boats and equipment were taken causing some chaos on the aircraft.
‘We are the champions’
In 1972 we won the Heinke Trophy. Our submission included expeditions to Islay, salvaging flying boats, organising Inter-branch quizzes, and running a Southern Region event for all Southern Branches.
In 1972 the Branch had its first expedition to the Red Sea. Other diving expeditions that year included: Hebrides, Shetlands and the Channel Islands.
The pciture above shows Top of the Pops ‘Pans People’ helping us promote the annual charity Thames Swim.
Reading BSAC is now one of the largest and most active branches of the BSAC.
One of the Branch members (George McFerson) builds a new boat which has its first dive outing to the Isle of Wight with 14 divers.
“Our own Facilities”
1979 sees Reading BSAC move to Kings Meadow using £2000 of club money as well as a £2000 grant from the Sports Council. The ten year lease included the provision for the branch to make the pool operational for diver training. The following is an extract from an article that appeared in the ‘Southfed’ magazine at the time. The Southern Federation of Sub-aqua clubs consisted of 20 dive clubs in the south.
“One of the largest grants of 1978 in the Southern Sports Council area was towards the conversion of an old swimming pool into a regional training centre ,with lecture rooms, compressors, and a bar. Here John Cobb of Reading BSAC gives an outline of the project.
Some clubs dive, some clubs booze, and some clubs fester. Reading BSAC is an exception: not only does it do all three but it takes on winter projects such as the refurbishment of the ‘Kings Meadow’ swimming pool.
Kings Meadow is the original Reading Municipal swimming pool built for the ‘Ladies’ with the gentleman’s pool (now demolished) located the other side of Reading bridge. Constructed of red brick at the turn of the century it is 25yds long pool enclosed by a 30ft wall with overhanging eaves over the encircling changing cubicles. Along one side are the various offices and old laundry rooms and in the other corner the purification plant was added later in the life of the pool. Reading Borough Council have let Kings Meadow to the Reading Branch of the BSAC on an initial seven year lease and it is now being transformed into the best inland in the country with the use of much energy and hard work by club members.
The project splits naturally into three parts: provision of a compressor facility, construction of the club room, Lecture rooms, committee room and showers and finally the cleaning and re-commissioning of the swimming pool itself.
At the same time as obtaining the lease Reading BSAC bought three surplus compressors from BOC together with all the pipework, bottle bank, pressure switches, motors, filters and drying columns. These are being installed beside the purification plant. Two compressors have been installed and can deliver 6 cfm at up to 1000 bars although they have been limited to 250 bars so they should last for some time. The compressed air is passed through the oil traps and drying columns and enters a 5000 cubic foot receiving bank of six cylinders. The bottles are connected to a charging manifold beside the pool.
The club room is being built around the attractive octagonal main office of the pool . The bar ,now almost complete, will measure about 40 ft by 30 ft and has windows looking out onto the pool. Above the club room is an octagonal committee room about 20 ft across. Either side of the bar will be the two lecture rooms , shower rooms , loo’s and stowage are which when finished will give tremendous facilities.
It is hoped that most of the project will be finished by the end of 1979.The final stage of the work will be the re-commissioning of the swimming pool itself. The pool is cracked and is currently being filled with water that has seeped from the nearby Thames. The pool will be pumped dry , cleaned and re-filled to a level above the Thames. The purification plant needs to be overhauled and then the pool can once be used again. (Provided the club can afford the high cost of chemicals). This work should be complete be the end of 1980
As the work progresses the club becomes a more attractive place to hold functions. With the indoor facilities completed we look forward to hosting the Southern Federation meetings with the pool being made available a little later. ”
As in most years the Thames swim was held providing funds for charities such as The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, Swanage Lifeboat and the Diving Diseases Research Centre in Plymouth.
During the late 70s and 80s regular expeditions were carried out to Scapa Flow, mostly diving inside the flow itself. If the boat ever needed a spare part, Lyness pier was the place to visit.
The 90s saw the introduction of different gasses into the club with some members moving to using Nitrox as well as Trimix.
1997 saw the Branches first expedition to the Northern Isles (the Orkney’s) where the majority of divers were making extensive use of Nitrox. A ship’s Bell was found and offered to the owners.
The Branch itself, as well as individual members, took advantage of the wreck amnesty in the 90s. This provided an opportunity to clarify ownership, as well as supplying some museums with new items, and giving those requested items back to the owners. One particular porthole was donated to the Bayword Museum in Port Elizabeth South Africa. It was recovered by Callum Beveridge on the wreck of the ‘Mendi’ off the Isle of Wight. At the time of sinking the ship was carrying many South African slaves
During the 90s, the branch continue to visit the Lizard with 30 to 40 people, with the launching getting easier at Porthkerris. The number of Reading BSAC divers visiting the Lizard at Easter has been the similar from 1966 into 2000 and beyond.
One of the courses attended by some branch members in 1997 involved Marine Archeology. This was carried out at the Lochaline Dive Centre in Scotland and provided the opportunity to dive historic wrecks including that of ‘The Swan’. This was a Cromwellian warship wrecked off Duart Point off Mull in 1653.
The new millennium and the eclipse are celebrated by branch dives with some new equipment needed.
Carol Franssen leaves the club after making the sandwiches every Wednesday night for the past twenty odd years.
Historically, Reading BSAC members have done the majority of their diving in the UK despite some expeditions aboard. The new millennium has seen travel made easier and prices reduced to a level where more trips are now being planned aboard. As well as these trips, the branch still have major expeditions each year to Ireland, The Scillies, Scotland and Cornwall.
Easter 2003 sees the Branch still based at Kings Meadow, making use of its indoor facilities for bar, equipment and lectures, although the branch are in communication with the local council with regard to looking at a more modern facility.
2004 saw the first hiring of large liveaboards, enabling any level of diver in the club to experience the Southern Red sea.
Our clubhouse ‘Kings Meadow’ is up for sale, so Reading BSAC sign a new lease with the council on a building in Palmer Park. Work starts on the building in order to provide the facilities for a bar, compressor, equipment and boat storage. Huge quantities of club volunteer time and effort turn a building shell into a fully functional club facility.
We finally move into our new clubhouse!
We continue diving and training and look forward to an active dive program annually that all members can take part in.