Swindon Model Boat and Engineering Club celebrates its 90th anniversary with post-pandemic open day

By Jessica Durston - 11 May 2022

Clubs & ActivitiesCommunity
  • The SMBEC were joined by members of the Cwmbran Modelling Society for their 90th celebrations

    The SMBEC were joined by members of the Cwmbran Modelling Society for their 90th celebrations

Members of the Swindon Model Boat and Engineering Club held an open day at Coate Water Country Park in celebration of their 90th anniversary.

George Kirkham with some of the battleships he has built

The club technically celebrates its 91st year in 2022, but due to covid, the members decided to hold their 90th anniversary celebrations this month.

An open day event was held in the harbour area of Coate Water, and the Swindon club were joined by members of the Cwmbran Modelling Society. Model boats were on display for the public to view and enquire about, and members of each club engaged in sailing sessions together. 

The Swindon Model Boat and Engineering (SMBEC) club was established in 1931 and the current members still sail their model boats at Coate Water Country Park to this day. 

Sailing sessions take place every Wednesday and Sunday afternoon at the harbour section of the park. In addition the club's 'Lake Days' take place on the fourth Sunday of every month (between March - October). 

Club president and chairman, George Kirkham, first joined the club in 1946. He took on the role of the chairman in the 1970s and then after 20 years, passed on his responsibilities. He returned as chairman again in 1997, due to his predecessor falling ill.

George says he is pleased with the influx in club member numbers during and following the pandemic. 

He said: "Since we had the covid lockdowns, our group has grown. We have nearer 50 members now. Last year we had around 54 or 55 members, with three juniors on top of that. Before the pandemic we had around 25 to 30.”

The current club members said they were pleased by the large turnout for their special celebratory open day. 

Joining the SMBEC for their event was Richard Beck, Chairman of the Cwmbran Modelling Society.

He said of the open day: “It's great to have been invited to this special day of celebrations. Congratulations to the SMBEC - 90 years is amazing.

"I’ve just become chairman of my club and have found that during covid, we have lost touch with other model boat clubs around the UK. Now in this new role, my aims are to promote our club and get our name out there, and also get other clubs communicating.

“I think this is important if we want the model world to survive. We’ve recently been to Bristol as we were attending the South West Ship Show, and we met the Swindon Model Boat and Engineering club there. We invited them to our 50th anniversary celebrations which will take place on 4 September, and they invited us to attend their 90th celebrations this month.”

SMBEC members also meet on the first Tuesday of every month at the Coleview Community Centre, at 7.30pm.

There are no age restrictions for joining, and no experience or expertise in model boats is required - individuals only need to possess a keen interest for the hobby.

Members will need to bring their own boats, but are welcome to share them amongst one another, or any guests they may bring along to the sailing sessions. 

The types of boats built and sailed by SMBEC members are:

  • Radio controlled scale boats
  • Radio controlled fast boats
  • Radio controlled yachts 
  • Hydroplanes
  • Straight running boats


Having been involved with the club for 76 years, George spoke about his memories of when he first joined.

He said: “My interest in model boats started in 1939 just before the war. I went down to Cheney Manor lakes (Plaum's Pit back then), as a little kid of 10. I saw a boat launch – it was a steamboat on the water. It fascinated me. I was too young to join the club as you had to be 16. Then the war came along and waylaid the club.

“The club went into hibernation I suppose and then started to pick back up in the December of 1944. I remember the window in the sports section of what was McIlroys back then, was full of boats. I saw these boats and that sparked my interest again.

“When I was studying for an apprenticeship as a Fitter & Turner at the Great Western Railway Works in the May of 1945, I used to visit the Old Railway Library in the Mechanics’ Institute and I had a book out on steam locos and miniature steam locos. I then got put into connection with a man called Walter Hood who was dealing with the model boat club at the time.

"He showed me how to build a boat from the engine up. I bought a boat from him and became a fully-fledged member of the club in 1946. After a little while, I built one of my own with the help of my father. I had it running by about 1949 and ran it until 1960.”

George added that club members are known to help one another and offer advice or guidance with the building of model boats, to those who want it. 

He said: “If anyone wants any advice or guidance on their model boats, our club members are more than happy to help. That’s one of the reasons to join the club. You get the social side with us, as well as the knowledge and guidance.

"A lot of us here at the club are also members of the MPBA (Model Power Boat Association) They cover us for insurance and everything. They also arrange model boat competitions that members can enter."

The club says options for those interested in model boats are varied now in this modern age. Individuals can build a boat from scratch, purchase a kit, or buy a 'ready to run' boat with a transmittor.

When George joined the club in the 1940s, he said the options were far more limited and people mostly built their own boats due to the cost of the kits. As he grew up building his own model boats, he learned to get creative with his projects.

He said: “In 1960 I also made a boat out of the old dried milk tins you used to get. That ran for the first time in 1961. I then decided to build a 15cc petrol engine.

"I wanted a boat for that engine and I used a kit to make one. In 1970 I built a bigger boat and I used the hull from my boat from the 1940s. I cut the hull down the middle and repurposed it, and that boat it is still one I use today.”

Upcoming events for the Swindon Model Boat and Engineering Club include a Lake Day at Coate Water on 29 May, and a weekend of sailing to celebrate the Jubilee weekend on 4 - 5 June. The club also hold open days once or twice a year. 

The club's Lake Days bring members together for in-house competitions. There are cups for steering boats, electric boats and yachts. Trophies are up for grabs for those taking part in all of the aforementioned cup competitions and the club will also present a trophy to the winner of each competiton for each class of boats.  

More about the Swindon Model Boat and Engineering Club can be found on its website http://smbec.co.uk/

Those interested in joining the Swindon Model Boat & Engineering Club can contact the club's membership secretary Brian Young via telephone on 01285 652624 or via email at young_brian4@sky.com

More information about the Cwmbran Modelling Society can be found on its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/886116571775001

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