Michael Hill

British Rowing made the following announcement on 10 March 2015:

Michael Hill, the missing Latymer Upper School, London and Thames rowing coach, was recovered from the Tideway on Monday and has been formally identified. The 48-year-old coach had been missing since an apparent capsize on the River Thames at Putney on 2 February. 

Michael had an enormous impact on crews he coached on the Tideway and friends from Latymer, London and Thames gathered to cherish his memory earlier last month.  On 13 February an informal gathering was held at Latymer with many of the school attending including British Rowing Chairman Annamarie Phelps and the RNLI crew who had been involved in the search for Michael.  

Two days later more friends and family remembered Michael at the Boustead Cup – the historic annual fixture between eights from Thames and London RC.  London RC’s Alan Foster paid tribute to a coach whose zest for life made rowing fun for the many people he came across, saying: “At Latymer a display board was crammed with postcard-sized tributes from his J15 and WJ15 crews. I cannot hope to tell you what was in each one but certain phrases recurred about ‘Hilly’ as he was known, such as: ‘kind’, ‘patient’, ‘true gentleman’, ‘made my rowing fun’ and ‘always up for a laugh’.

A row-over was performed by women’s crews from both clubs as a tribute to Michael, who had been coaching a crew from Thames on the evening of 2nd February.  

Then, instead of a minute’s silence, family members requested a minute’s applause. Annamarie Phelps said: “Michael was a hugely popular figure among the rowing community along the Tideway and his enthusiasm for coaching always shone through. On behalf of British Rowing, our condolences are with Michael’s family, the school and clubs at this sad time. He is much missed.”

Amy Fenton writes:

Having initially joined London Rowing Club as a full rowing member in 1990 whilst working as a violin restorer, Michael returned to LRC in 2012 as a member of the coaching team. He had recently started coaching at Latymer Upper School but was also eager to come back to his former club which to him felt “like coming home”.

Following the launch of the Learn to Row programme in the summer of 2012, Michael bravely took on the leadership of the newly formed Development Squad, which he subsequently coached for two years, with gusto. Under his direction, over twenty adult novices were successful in gaining their first points within months of picking up blades. Notable successes were achieved at local regattas on the Tideway, at Marlow Spring Regatta, at the Club’s own Metropolitan Regatta, and the end of season trips to St Neots Regatta, which in 2014 saw LRC crews victorious in seven of their ten finals (see below).


Michael was well known at the Club for his friendly and humorous character. But he will also be particularly remembered for his great empathy and kind nature. He took the time to get to know his squad members as individuals, and to understand the professional and family commitments which competed for their training hours. He strove to develop a flexible yet challenging programme which respected and maximised their limited time. Above all, he delivered this with an infectious enthusiasm for the sport, an incredible patience and an uproarious sense of humour, which incentivised his athletes to go the extra mile whilst enjoying every opportunity to train and race. Perhaps even more notable than the successes achieved by his squad on the water, is the fact he created a tight-knit, unbreakable family of rowers who cherish the time he gave them, the skills he taught them and the very happy memories he leaves them to continue to share with one another.

In addition to the Development Squad, Michael was also the lead coach on several of the Club’s Learn to Row courses, enabling over 50 beginners to experience the joy of taking to the water in the summer months, with many progressing into the Development Squad and some beyond to the Senior Squad and to race at Henley.  Memories of Michael from those who knew him for just a short time on these courses make reference to his wonderful sense of humour, his supportive and welcoming personality and his unshakable passion for rowing.

Michael will be dearly missed by those who had the pleasure of training under his direction at London and by his very many friends, pupils and colleagues within the wider club and rowing community.

Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are extended to Michael’s family, in particular his three children; Christian (a talented rower himself), Sam and Emily of whom he was an immensely proud father, to their mother Peridot, and to his partner Sara and her family.


Daniel Topolski

As has been widely reported in the media, Dan Topolski passed away on Saturday 21 February 2015 in London after a lengthy battle against leukaemia, at the age of 69. Others will speak of his coaching career at OUBC and at GB level, and as a producer, journalist, author and commentator.  This note will speak of him as a London man, which he was through and through. 

Dan was elected to LRC at the age of 19 in 1964.  He was the son of Feliks Topolski  (a famous artist with a very distinctive style of drawing, and a favourite of our Patron;  his witty portrayal of Henley heavies hangs in the Fairbairn Room).  Dan joined from Westminster School, where he had been in the first eight, rowing twice in the PE Cup, and was elected Head of the Water (captain of rowing in Westminster-speak).

Dan was a lightweight par excellence, weighing in at just over 10 stone at school and 11 to 11 ½ stone in much of his rowing and sculling career.  Despite his modest dimensions, he was to bring LRC into winning mode from the late 60s until the mid-70s with sheer technical skill and tenacity.  He rowed on either side of the boat and was equally happy at opposite ends, be it bow or stroke, but he probably favoured the 7 thwart in eights the most.

He first rowed in an LRC crew at Henley the year he joined, and then after two Boat Races and Isis/OUBC crews, his rowing career took off after he returned to the Club in 1969.  He won the Wyfold that year, in the Club’s first post-WWII win in fours, at bow with Nick Cooper, Peter Harrison and Chris Blackwall.  The crew was later selected to represent GB in the European Championships (precursor of the World Championships).  In 1970 he won the Britannia with Cooper, Sturge and Dart and cox R Sherman.  He was central to LRC’s successful involvement in lightweight rowing in the 70s, culminating in the gold medal he won in the lightweight eight in the World Championships in Amsterdam in 1977.  The crew (with Ray Penney on board as cox) also won the Thames Challenge Cup at Henley that year - quite exceptional for a lightweight crew! His last year representing GB was in the following year.  He was elected a Steward of Henley Royal Regatta in December 1991.

Dan kept a sculling boat at the Club and was a successful sculler.  More recently he would come down, usually during the day, for an outing, on occasion with his son Luke in a club double.  He was one of the first to be elected to Honorary Membership when the honour was revived in 2001.  The Club is on the point of naming one of its new eights after Dan, and a framed photo of him for the new ‘internationals wall’ on the main entrance was being discussed with him in the weeks before his death.  Sadly, he was taken from us before he could unveil them both.

There is an expression to describe excellence, “of the first water”, and this may be quite an apt way of describing best his standing and powers of friendship that he brought to rowing and LRC life, and how he contributed to the Club’s success.  We were lucky to have him amongst our membership.  Our sympathy and condolences go out to his family.

(Photos courtesy of John Shore)


Nigel Smith

We are very sorry to have to announce the death on 20 February 2015 of Nigel Smith at the Trinity Hospice on Clapham Common, at the age of only 54.  As those who have been closer to the Putney scene will be aware, he was diagnosed during the course of last year with cancer of the colon, and had been valiantly fighting the condition since.

Nigel with the Secretary's Cup which he donated to the Met

His successor as Hon. Secretary, Julian Ebsworth, writes:

Nigel André Smith was born and bred in Putney, started in rowing administration at the age of 16, and dedicated much of the rest of his life to the sport.  He was a devoted servant to the Club for nearly three decades, without equal, but also found the time to contribute to rowing at large, both on the Thames and at international level.  He was a fixed and certain presence in the sport, bringing his own particular style to all that he did, and when he wasn’t running the show he was a constant behind-the-scenes presence.

Born on 24 January 1961, Nigel’s schooling started at Glengyle School in Carlton Drive, Putney (very much an ‘old style’ boys’ prep school which would probably horrify today’s inspectors, and sold on in 1986; there is an entertaining series of recollections from alumni on a weblog), then Emanuel School where he first came into contact with rowing. One of his coaches was Charles Dimont (of happy memory, LRC member and one time Chairman of the Met Regatta), who was to introduce him to school rowing admin. Nigel never forgot Emanuel, going back to help coach 3rd year squads on Saturday mornings for many years. Through Charles he was also introduced to LRC in 1977.

His career in LRC administration started straightaway:  Entries Secretary in 1979, when he was still at school, and 1980;  Assistant Hon Secretary in what was the busy 125th anniversary year 1981; and then the following year Maurice Rayner stepped down as Hon Secretary, a position Nigel was to occupy for the next 22 years until 2003, a record term of any office in the club.  The load on the Hon Secretary was heavy, as it included the full burden of membership duties.  This was not done without some dry humour at times, sending out one year for example subscription notices dated Christmas Day (and he probably was in the office that day). He left to his successors some carefully kept files, records and memorabilia; he knew the London Boat House Company articles of association, the bye-laws and the residents’ rules backwards. To be on the wrong side of Nigel in these matters was not altogether a beneficial experience.

A host of appointments sprang up alongside his LRC duties. Charles Dimont introduced him to regatta administration with the Met.  He joined the Committee in 1980 and then in 1983 succeeded Bernie Regan as Hon Secretary, being central to the regatta’s growth to one of the largest rowing events in the country over the next 25 years.   In 1981 Nigel joined the National Championships Committee for 10 years, first as Assistant Secretary and then as Hon Treasurer.  He was active with the River Thames Society.  Peter Coni was instrumental in fulfilling Nigel’s ultimate aim, namely to assist at Henley Royal Regatta, where he was appointed a Chairman’s Assistant.  Nigel never competed at HRR, but in 1989 (the 150th anniversary of the first Henley) he took over Peter’s thwart at short notice in a unique LRC Captains’ 12-oared crew. To his delight he rowed at 6, still armed with his radio and two pagers, and enjoyed the procession past the enclosures.

Nigel also turned his skills to umpiring.  He qualified as an umpire on home waters in 1983;  his first disqualification was of a Thames RC crew in a final at Maidenhead Regatta (good man). He gained the multi-lane umpiring endorsement in 1994 and then progressed to international level, obtaining a FISA licence in 1999.  He was to serve  at some nine FISA and other international events, including Masters and a World Cup in Hazewinkel, over the next seven years. He was a strict, but fair, umpire.

Nigel’s gainful ‘weekday ’ employment had been in company secretary work at chartered accountants’ firms in the City.  He decided to make a complete break for a new career on the river in his late 40s and, to his great credit, he decided to train for a Maritime and Coastguard Agency National Boatmaster’s Licence, which he gained in 2012. He became a Craft-Owning Freeman of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen two years later. 

These notes are mainly based on two sides of closely typed A4 that, bless him, Nigel wrote about himself some six or so years ago.  He modestly omitted to mention that the ARA Chairman, Di Ellis, presented him at the 2002 annual dinner (on board Tom Woods’ Silver Sturgeon) with an International Olympic Committee diploma to mark the 2001 International Year of Volunteers, signed by Juan Antonio Samaranch, “for a remarkable contribution, as a volunteer, to the development of sport  ...”.  Nigel was given a large Dickinson & Foster lithograph of Victorian Henley worthies after his years as LRC Hon Secretary.  But he probably treasured most a specially struck gold Met medal that he received on retirement from the office of Secretary after 25 regattas, in 2008.

Nigel’s last few several years were not the easiest for him, but he had good and considerate friends on the Embankment. We must thank Chas Newens, Adrian Sanmogan and family, and the Trinity Hospice on Clapham Common, for being a bedrock for him in his final months and weeks as he battled with his pernicious illness.  Rowing is now the poorer for Nigel’s departure at such an unreasonably early age.


Desmond Hampton

Julian Ebsworth writes:

London Rowing Club lost one of its most enthusiastic members of long standing when Desmond Hampton passed away on 11 October 2014 at the age of 74.  You were certainly aware of him when he was in your boat, and he was one of the most consummate of chums off the water.  With a steely eye and penetrating gaze, and a memorable moustache, he was someone you simply could not forget.  Yet he also worked unobtrusively behind the scenes for the Club, and was generous in providing professional advice and support when the Club needed it.

Desmond joined the Club in 1962.  He had been in the Winchester First VIII when the school was one of the last still to be rowing on fixed pins (his father was a ‘don’ at the school).  In a preliminary round of the PE Cup in 1958 his crew narrowly lost by a canvas to Westminster School (also still on fixed pins) after being a length and a half up.  He went up to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he was introduced to swivels and was in the First VIII in 1961.  The following year, after graduating in land economy, and rowing for the Hall in the Wyfolds, he joined LRC.

Trinity Hall First May Boat, 1961. Desmond is seated far right.His rowing style was interesting and like no one else’s.  It was effective, if somewhat rough and ready, with a yank at the end of the stroke as the blade came out of the water; this was christened, somewhat uncharitably, as Desmond’s “uck”. No seamless, flowing style, that’s for sure.  He was a stroke side oar and weighed in at around 12 stone.

He rowed at five successive Henleys in the mid-1960s, in the Grand, Thames Cup, Stewards’, Prince Philip and Wyfolds. His most successful years were 1963 and 1966 in the Club’s Thames Cup crews, in both of which he reached the semi-finals (then held on the final day).  In 1966 he was in the crew stroked by the Australian, Charley Moore; it was the only crew to give the eventual winners, Harvard, a serious run for their money that year, leading up to Fawley and then losing by only ⅔ length. Harvard won the final against Isis by ¾ length. The Stewards’ crew of 1964 was the coxless IV memorably named by Mrs Palmer, the LRC steward’s wife, as “Rippon, Royle, 'ampton and Mr Smith”. In 1965 he was in a Wyfold crew that lost in a close race to Sons of the Thames which broke the then record for the event.  These results give some idea of the tenacious oar that Desmond was. He was Vice-Captain to Bob Marks in the 1965/66 season.

Away from Henley, he enjoyed expeditions to upriver and regional regattas.  1966 was successful for a coxless IV’s foray into the West Country on the Severn, to which he used to travel in his red E-type Jaguar. He was also in one of the early LRC entries to the Vogalonga in Venice in 1977.

After he finished his active rowing career his abiding interest was ocean sailing, in which one incident in 1982 made him headline news.  LRC member Giles Chichester (son of Sir Francis) has provided the following reminiscences:

Our first adventure was the Azores race in 1977.  He, Simon Rippon (LRC), Ian Porter and my cousin Mark joined me aboard ‘Gipsy Moth V’ on the way out.  A couple of things come back to me.  One was Desmond’s glee when having established a landfall, which was much to Simon’s relief, we promptly went about and sailed away, much to Simon’s disappointment.  The other was taking part in a whaler boat race at Horta when the locals soundly beat us.

In 1979 Desmond again joined me and a few others on ‘Gipsy Moth V’ for the second leg of the Parmelia Race from Cape Town to Fremantle in Western Australia.  We had a few sailing excitements on the way and arrived safely four weeks later.  Because Desmond had allowed his hair and moustache to grow en route it may not surprise anyone that an enterprising local journalist ran the story that Lord Lucan had arrived in Perth.  We had a bit of fun with that.

In 1982 Desmond persuaded my mother and myself to charter ‘Gipsy Moth V’ to him for a single-handed race around the world.  Clearly he had caught the bug for long–distance blue water sailing.  I had jokingly said that if he did have an accident could he please make it a total loss out of sight;  but Desmond being Desmond managed to do it in spectacular fashion by setting a course to pass Gabo Island off the south-east corner of Australia and forgetting to set his alarm before having an afternoon snooze.  He had a rude awakening because the wind shifted and he hit the island head on. Poor old ‘Gipsy Moth’ was lodged between two huge boulders and broke up. [The ITV news report, including an interview with Desmond, is still accessible on the web.]

This was not the last of Desmond’s dreams to come to an untimely end.  In 1986 he invited me to join him on his boat ‘Panicker’ for the Two-handed trans-Atlantic Race.  I had a premonition of something going wrong and just hoped it wouldn’t be me falling overboard.  She was a very uncomfortable boat to sail in.  It was like being in a lightweight cigar tube in a cold shower.  On the sixth day of bashing to windward the mast fell down when a piece of rigging broke its connection to the mast.  I was steering at the time and it was quite a sight watching it go Z shaped and fall into the sea.  Desmond was below cooking breakfast and popped his head up to say sadly ‘well, that’s the end of that dream’.  It took us 14 days to sail back under jury rig.

I am very sad he has died not least because I was hoping he would join me for a sail in ‘Gipsy Moth VI’.

Desmond  returned to rowing after being a spectator at the World Championships in Nottingham in 1986. He, Simon Rippon, Richard Linning and Robert Rakison started the Morning Four, going out at 6am on weekday mornings from the Club, - at that time, the only crew on the Tideway from any club, these days a regular occurrence for all. Building on that the new veteran squad was regularly winning around 20 pots a year, the highlights for Desmond  being World Veteran regatta medals in Sweden with Simon, Richard and Lee Marriner and in a D8 in Glasgow (Strathclyde) in 1989. Desmond finished rowing in 1991/92, to run and sail once more, but not until he had taken part in the famous 12-oar row over the Henley course at the 150th anniversary regatta in 1989 in under 6 mins 30 seconds.The LRC 12-oar crew at Henley in 1989. Desmond is kneeling 2nd from the left.

Desmond’s professional career was in chartered surveying, land agency and valuation for leading national clients, but he still found the time to carry out work voluntarily for the Club and advise on proposed developments and the pitfalls to avoid.  In his early days as a member he carried out, at his own expense, a survey of the entire Clubhouse building.  He was a lifelong member of the 6s & 7s Club and regularly attended its annual November dinners right up to last year.  He will be much missed, when he still had much to give, and it is tragic that he became a victim of the unforgiving pancreatic cancer.


Dr. Martin Gaylard

Martin Gaylard, who died on 25th March at the age of 77, was a member of London Rowing Club for over 50 years, and was first and foremost a sculler.  He had the unique distinction of having competed in almost every Scullers’ Head since it was founded in 1954, from 1965 onwards under London colours.  He was in the top echelon of British scullers in the 1958-60 period, but was still winning pennants at Masters level until a year or two ago.  His quiet, gentle and thoughtful demeanour, which won him many friends at the Club, hid a steely resolve to continue to compete and retain his fitness right up to and including Masters level.

Martin learnt his rowing at Latymer and then proceeded to a degree and postgraduate qualifications at Imperial College BC, before pursuing a lifetime career as a lecturer in engineering.  An early influence on the river was Alan Watson, as was Chas Newens’ father, and he took up sculling in 1955 at the age of 19.  Martin much admired Tony Fox’s sculling technique; he was also inspired by Steve Fairbairn’s famous poem, “listen for the bubbles” being one of his favourite catchphrases.  Martin’s best years were 1958 to 1960.  He had the race of his life in the Diamonds in 1958, losing by only ¾ length to Ivanov (the Olympic champion).  He won the London Cup at the Met twice (one of the ‘triple crown’ events), and competed three times in the Wingfields (a championship that London dominated for some 15 years after WWII).  His best result in the Scullers’ Head was 4th in 1960.  An opportunity for challenging the Diamonds the same year was thwarted when IC unfortunately failed to put their entries in for the regatta in time.  Martin also trialled for the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960, only to be beaten by Sid Rand in the final.  He was also a founder member of the Tideway Scullers’ School in 1958.

All this was under IC colours, but he then joined London in 1962 and he represented the Club in the Double Sculls with Peter Hilditch in 1965.  He competed successfully in sculling events at regattas up and down the country. He also enjoyed jumping into HORR crews - see illustration below when his crew won the Veteran C pennant in 1979 with Peter at stroke, Martin at 7, and Doug Melvin at 6.

But Martin was always drawn back to his sculling.  Asked for his advice in racing, he would say whimsically “if opportunity offers, smile at your opponent”.  Our former Chief Coach, Paul Reedy, remembers numerous conversations with Martin outside Bay 2 about his training sessions and ideas to improve his performance on the water, and in particular his “confident and lilting” style of sculling (emulating Tony Fox, no doubt).  Doug Melvin remembers Martin as a “true gentleman”.

There were plenty of London ties at Martin’s funeral on 7th April in Amersham, on a day when the flag flew at half mast at the clubhouse in his memory. We send our condolences to Elsbeth, Alexei (a member himself for the last 30 years) and his younger brother Oliver, and their families.