IT’S funny how things can spark all kinds of memories for some folk. Jennifer Willis from Weybridge read my Riverwatch column on the history of Staines Bridge and was prompted to get in touch to say that it brought back recollections of her youinger years growing up beside the Thames at Staines where she was a successful competitor in punting races.
Jennifer, 78, now lives in Castle Road but she remembers her family home in Riverfield Road, Staines very fondly.
“My father, Percy Martin, was a real river man,” she recalled. “He just loved the Thames and everything about it. He was a banker who worked up in the city, but each morning during the warmer months he would swim across the river and back to start the day. I think he passed that love of the river onto all his children.”
Jennifer and her three sisters – Betty, Patience and Ann – all learned to swim in the Thames and the girls spent much of their free time in or on the water.
“I was always industrious,” Jennifer said, “and to make a little pocket money, I used to dig up worms and walk along the riverbank selling them to the fisherman – my slogan was ’25 fat ones for a penny’. I remember being absolutely delighted one Sunday when I made sixpence from that – but you can imagine how much digging that required!”
Jennifer then went on to take up punting as a pastime – and very good at it she became.
She said: “I suppose I was about 16 when I started, firstly with Wraysbury Skiff and Punting Club and, later, with a club in Laleham. I was coached by a man called Smithers who used to work at Biffin’s boatyard in Staines. He used to coach me by running along the towpath beside me while I was in the punt.”
Jennifer specialised in pairs punting and in 1954 she and her partner Delphine Wilkinson won the pairs challenge cup at Laleham. Their trophies were presented to them by Lord Lucan who was making one of his rare visits to his family’s ancestral seat in Laleham.
These days, golf has replaced punting as a pastime for Jennifer but she still retains close ties with the river.
She said: “I always go to Henley regatta – it’s my one big day out of the year. My husband, Peter, rowed for St Paul’s School and for Staines Rowing Club at Henley and I enjoy the atmosphere at the regatta. It’s also a chance to meet up with all my old punting pals.”
It’s lovely to talk to someone like Jennifer who has had so much enjoyment from our beautiful river – if you’ve got happy memories of life on or around the Thames that you’d like to share with readers, do get in contact with me.