In 1972 GB Canoe Slalom paddler and former British Slalom Champion Ken Langford moved to Stafford. He regularly trained on the Trent at Stone. Ken liaised with Munich Olympians and fellow GB Team paddlers John and Pauline Goodwin, and other local paddlers and supporters, about forming a new club. The inaugural meeting was held at the Dog and Doublet at Sandon in April 1973. Ken was elected as Chairman, Jon as Treasurer and Pauline as Secretary. Stafford and Stone Canoe Club was established.
Soon after, Ken became National Team Coach. In this role he played a significant part in the improvement of British Canoe Slalom. More specifically, Stafford and Stone Canoe Club became the most successful canoe club in the history of British Canoeing.
Following a very poor Olympics for Great Britain at Montreal 1976, Dennis Howell, Minister for Sport introduced the idea of Centres of Excellence to raise the standards of British sport at elite level. John Court (C2 partner to Jon Goodwin at the Munich Olympics) was instrumental in bidding for funding to support a West Midlands Centre of Excellence in Canoe Slalom based at Stone. The Centre attracted many top paddlers including a young Richard Fox (but only after he had completed his A-levels!) With many of the country’s top paddlers training regularly at Stone, the club soon attracted and inspired others to take up the sport.
The Centre of Excellence didn’t have to wait long to see success. In 1979 Liz Sharman won silver and Richard Fox bronze and team gold at the World Championships in Jonquiere. Two years later, at the World Championships in Bala, Richard improved on his previous success by winning gold in both individual and team with a silver medal in K1W team gained by Liz Sharman and Jane Roderick.
Funding for the Centre of Excellence was withdrawn in the early-80’s and the opening of the whitewater course at Holme Pierrepont in 1985 attracted most of the country’s top paddlers including Richard Fox.
Stafford and Stone Canoe Club has continued to produce world class paddlers, many of whom have been drawn as beginners from local schools. Selected Great Britain and England teams and talent squads are always well represented with club paddlers. The club and its members organise some of the most prestigious slalom events in the UK and are always involved in the organisation of International Canoe Slalom events in this country including the Olympic Canoe Slalom in 2012.
Donald Bean was a member of the club from its start until his death in 2001. I knew him in the later period when he would arrive at club events, sporting the attire of a “English country gentleman” tweed jacket and his ubiquitous trilby hat, and clutching a box of homemade jam which was sold off for club funds. At club events he was always given bib 1 and set off first
Donald left an estate of over one million pounds to various local charities, and our club was left approximately £250,000 which we used to fund the new club house along with other funding sources. This is why the club house bears his title.
Donald certainly lived life to the full, enjoying white water canoeing trips to Nepal and Turkey with Dave Mamby. The guides would take it in turns to shepherd Donald on a one to one basis and got plenty of rescue practise in the process.
He also competed in a local triathlon on a “sit up and beg” push bike complete with wicker basket alongside faster carbon racing cycles. A true gent.
Ruth Holdway was a very active member of this club for most of her life. Tragically she was killed at the age of 29 in a walking accident in Maderia in 2009.
She and her brother Rob both joined the club and immediately became fully involved, displaying the famous “Holdway” gusto.
Ruth rose through the slalom ranks and reached div 1 where she competed with her usual determination. However Ruth was not destined to reach premier rankings, it was in other areas that she was to shine so brightly.
On Ruth’s return from York University, gaining a degree in History, she was employed as a community coach. She established links with the local schools in Stone and was instrumental in enthusing generations of paddlers in our sport. Part of her job remit was to establish a new club based at Trentham Lake. This she did and was the driving force in procuring the joint canoeing/rowing centre. Ruth had a real empathy with everyone she coached and had just been appointed as the British Canoeing’s Disability Officer when she was killed.
At the age of 23 Ruth was diagnosed with hodgkin’s lymphoma, during treatment she was banned from paddling the dirty Trent but still remained active turning to climbing and other activities. Subsequently she organised a 24hr canoe polo match which raised £15,000 for cancer charities.
The Ruth Holdway Memorial Trophy is based on a necklace Ruth used to wear, a Māori fish hook design, the “hei matau” which symbolises safety over water. The engraving and base were done by Ruth’s father Paul.
This trophy presented to the Premier K1W winner at the Paul McConkey Slalom each year.
Writing was one of her passions and she published her Grandfather’s memoirs (he was chief designer at Spode). Ruth became the club newsletter editor and served on the club committee for many years.
Money from Ruth’s estate was very kindly donated by the Holdway family to the club house building fund ensuring her spirit lives on.
Paul was a passionate paddler, having being introduced to the sport at school. At the age of 22 in 1978 Paul had made it to and finished 17th in Div 1. At the same time Stone in Staffordshire became home to the West Midlands Centre of Excellence and many top paddlers trained under the wings of Ken Langford and John Court. Paul started to train at the newly formed club, Paul’s style and technique advanced rapidly as a result and training with Richard Fox made him even sharper. This intensive training and coaching finally paid off for him that year when he won a place in the Europa Cup Team that competed at Spindal Mlyn in Czechoslovakia. The next two seasons saw Paul consolidate his position as one of Britain’s top slalom paddlers. All this while he was travelling about 60 miles every day to train until in 1980 he married Karen (Richard Fox was Best Man) and moved to Stone.
1981 saw Paul return to the international scene when he was selected for the Great Britain B Team that toured the Eastern Block, competing in Czechoslovakia and Poland. The following year he was in the British Team that went to Merano, northern Italy, for the Pre-World Championships. In 1983 Paul gained selection for the team for the World Championships held in Merano. The K1 Men’s class also included Richard Fox, Jim Dolan and Roger Manwaring. Paul united with Richard and Jim to win the World Team Championship and thus reach the pinnacle of his canoeing career. 1983 also saw Paul along with Richard Fox and Mick Berwick winning the Wilkinson Sword Trophy as National Team Champions, this success repeated in 1984.
In September 1985 Paul partnered Bill Berrisford to paddle C2 and help Stafford and Stone Canoe Club win the National Interclub Championships, this achievement being repeated the following year. After the birth of his daughter Eleanor in 1986 Paul became a coach to the National Men’s Team. Having paddled so long at the top he was intent on putting something back into the sport he loved. During his paddling career Paul was “ever-present” at Stafford and Stone Canoe Club, unselfishly giving advice and help to others and always playing his part in running the club. He was a friend and inspiration to all who met him. Paul’s tragic death in a car accident in December 1986 left a void in the lives of his family, friends, Stafford and Stone Canoe Club and the whole canoeing world. His memory will be cherished and brought to mind constantly.