Thursday, 11 August 2022

Obituary: River enthusiast responsible for piling the regatta course

JOHN FENN, who was known for his love of Henley and the River Thames, has died,

JOHN FENN, who was known for his love of Henley and the River Thames, has died, aged 85, after a short illness.

A popular and sociable man, he was a familiar face in the town and will be greatly missed by his close family and friends.

Born in Henley on August 1, 1930, Mr Fenn lived with his close family, Ikey, Albert, Harry, Jessie, Lily, Ada, Ivy, Liza, Martha, Pauline, Claire and Geoffrey, in Albert Road and was educated in the town.

After school, he completed his National Service with the RAF where he worked on Spitfires before training as a plumber in the building trade.

He met his wife Anne Keeley in February 1961 at the Queen’s Head pub on the corner of Greys Road and Duke Street, which is now Pachangas restaurant, and the couple were married in August that year at Holy Trinity Church.

Mr Fenn, who lived in Luker Avenue for about 50 years, also worked for Aubrey Watson with some river jobs and eventually joined Hobbs & Sons, where he worked on various projects up and down the Thames from the source to the mouth.

These projects included the piling and booming of the regatta course as well as other regatta courses for which he was responsible.

This led to the formation of his family company, Freeboom, in 1990, when the river contracting work was separated from the rest of Hobbs.

Mrs Fenn was company secretary for Freeboom. She died in 2005, aged 64.

Her husband retired in 2009 and the contract was taken over by Cook Piling.

He remained active in retirement, taking holidays to Egypt and Canada, where he enjoyed fishing and caught his biggest ever fish, a salmon that required three men to hold it. He also took cruises in the Mediterranean.

He had been introduced to fishing at the age of seven and by 13 had become a junior member of the now defunct Henley Fishing Club.

He was also president of the Remenham Angling Society for many years and enjoyed sea fishing out of Brixham in Devon and the south of England.

He was a member of the Thames Lodge Freemasons and belonged to Henley Rotary Club for about nine years, serving as president from 2010 to 2011.

He was also a member of the Salisbury Conservative Club.

He was a member of Henley Rowing Club and rowed for the club in the Fifties and in later life was a member of the Henley Royal Regatta stewards’ encosure.

Mr Fenn once met the Queen and Prince Philip when they visited the town. The Duke of Edinburgh asked him how he got the regatta course so straight, to which he replied: “I’ve got a very long piece of string.”

In the summer he helped with the annual swan upping as a member of the Vintners’ and Dyers’ livery companies because of his knowledge of the river.

For many years he drove an umpire’s launch for the Boat Race.

In 2008 he was awarded the Freedom of the City of London for his services to the piling industry and the River Thames.

He also helped out at the Henley half marathon, putting up the tables for the water stations.

He was also a keen gardener and an avid horse racing fan, attending the Cheltenham Festival every year.

Mr Fenn was described by his family as a fun, stubborn, independent and loving man, who adored his grandchildren.

He died on November 20 at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading.

His wishes were to have his ashes scattered at the finish line of the royal regatta course with those of his wife.

He leaves a son, Jeremy, daughter Karina Skidmore, grandson Martin Fenn, 23, and granddaughters Jennifer Harris, 20, and twins Poppy and Ruby Skidmore, 10.

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