A sparkling stretch of water dotted with sail-boats; a sense of calm purposeful activity of sailors enjoying the precious days of summer. This is the timeless back-drop against which a small yet successful Norfolk sailing holiday camp for youngsters launched itself around 70 years ago.
The Theta Club was the brain-child of entrepreneur John Craven (Jack) Pritchard (1899-1992).
Its purpose was “to encourage, through holiday camps for young people, the art and practice of sailing including the maintenance and care of boats.”
Importance was placed on providing high efficiency sailing craft with convenient and comfortable living conditions. The embryonic club consisted of friends of Jeremy Pritchard (Jack’s son) and children of the friends of Jack Pritchard.
The earliest document among the papers held is dated November 1944. It details the objectives of the camp, its plans and aims, facilities, revenue and expenses. Plans (all by 1946) included:
– A wherry for 10-15 people
– Three 25ft hard chine sloops with sleeping for two and auxiliary sleeping for two others
– Three 12ft hard chine unsinkable high efficiency craft primarily for young people to learn sailing by themselves.
A former member has added her recollections to the papers. Ann Venables tells us that the first informal gathering took place at Thurne on the Norfolk Broads in the summer of 1945 (or 1946). Here Jack tried out his principles on this small band of friends who lived either in boats or in Jack and Molly’s cottage. The first meeting was so successful that arrangements were made for an Easter camp and by the following summer an additional week for infants (under thirteens) had been added, the Theta Club was truly born.
By 1947 there was a real Club House – The Ark – a converted landing craft with 12 bunks and a cooking and eating area. Boats were either hired or owned by the club and included half-deckers and small yachts. Expert tuition was provided under Jack’s guidance, there was cooking, catering, socialising and a lot of singing.
“Each week was organized in such a way that everyone was part of a working-party one day in the week. They catered, cooked and cleaned and didn’t sail at all on that day. This seemed to work well and no-one was poisoned.”
Venables recalls a lovely yacht called Nyanza, a lug-sail rigged half-decker called Albatross, and fun boats – little prams called Tiddlers.
The occasional papers from 1944-1963 include correspondence, news of summer events, minutes of the club’s Annual general meetings and the club’s 1951 constitution.
The Theta Club in Thurne, Norfolk is still active today.
UEA Archives holds the wider collection of design and architectural papers of Jack Pritchard. The Theta Club, being just one of Jack and Molly’s interests, comprises one file within the Pritchard Papers.