Aug 8th, 2009 by Andy Funnell
Ronald Spencer Funnell was born in 1894 in Totnes, Devon, the son of Samuel David Funnell and Selina Gale (née Butler). No doubt due to his father’s occupation as a commercial traveller, the family had several addresses in Portsea, Bath, Plymouth and later in Potter Newton, Yorkshire.
The 1911 census shows Ronald Spencer Funnell, single, aged 16, living at 17 Thirsk Road, Lavender Hill S.W. (County of London, Wandsworth District, Battersea Subdistrict), occupation: Accountant’s Clerk. He is a boarder in the household of widow Emma Margaret Childs.
In December 1914, Ronald joined the Argyllshire Battalion of the Territorial Force. He was recruited in Bedford. Less than three months later, he was discharged as medically unfit due to mitral disease of the heart. He reported sick on 8th February 1915 and was found to be suffering from disordered action of heart with mitral murmur, possibly caused by the strain of marching.
Ronald declared his profession in 1914 as Commercial Traveller and this was the profession he declared at his daughter’s baptism in 1947. However, his illness or family ties had made him a consumer of fresh sea air.
In 1918, he married Phyllis Maud Cock from Newquay. They had three children in Croydon and the fourth was born in 1931 in Saint Columb. He wrote several times from his Croydon address to local newspapers stressing security problems on local beaches.
In 1939, Kelly’s Directory lists him as “Stationer and Post Office” at St Merryn, Padstow. From 1944 to 1962, he is listed at 19, Tolcarne Road, Newquay. This must have been “The Cornish Bookshop” of which he was proprietor – also a small scale publisher and bookshop.
In 1934, he wrote and published “The Art of Surf Riding” – but strangely no copies have yet been found (1). In a later edition, he states it was a sell-out. At this time, surfing was taking off in Britain, said to have been imported by Australian soldiers during the First World War. It was mostly practised lying on the board as “prone surfing”, today known as “belly boarding”.
Around 1935 he wrote and published through his Cornish Bookshop company “Newquay and Cornwall”, which includes a how-to and where-to surf guide – it urges people to buy his previous book ‘The Art of Surf Riding’ and there’s an advert stating that if you buy a Crest “surfriding board” you’ll get a copy of the book free (2).
In 1938, he wrote ‘Rambles In & Around Bournemouth’ published by J. Looker Ltd, The Wessex Press – no mention of surfing here and no direct mentions of his previous surfing guide, although he does state he wrote an earlier guide to Newquay.
Bournemouth has had a surf scene since at least the 1960s, but Ron obviously did not spot the potential and only mentions safe bathing (3).
In 1953, he republished “The Art of Surf Riding” as “The Art of Surf Riding on the Cornish Coast” – expanding the name, with A. Wheaton and Co. Ltd in a soft cover edition of 36 pages with 9 black and white photographs. It is an instructional pamphlet like publication that extols the virtues and dangers of surf-riding – in this case prone riding on narrow solid wood boards as illustrated on the cover. In it, he states that the Crest surfboard is no longer available but goes into great detail about how he sourced Gaboon wood from West Africa to have the boards made. This was quite revolutionary for the time (4). He relates travelling to many UK beach resorts, and finds that Devon & Cornwall are the only ones really suitable for surfing. For some reason he did not spot the potential in places like Wales, which has fantastic beaches & waves – Britain has surfable waves of varying quality on all coastlines.
His wife, Phyllis, aged just 58, passed away in 1954 at their Tolcarne Road address. They had four known children:
– Vera Phyllis in 1920 (married Danby Rowbottom),
– Gerald Spencer in 1921. He married Mary G. Kent and had two children Patricia, born in St Austell, 1942, and Ivan N. born in Hampstead, 1946. Ivan married Christine Beaumont and they had a daughter, Laura Jane, in Enfield, in 1975.
– Sheila Diana in 1928.
– David Trelawny in 1930.
Ronald Spencer remarried two years later, in 1956, to Ria Dubbeldeman in St Austell.
He died 15 years on at North Hill Nursing Home, St. Austell on the 21st November 1971.
If you know anything about Ronald Spencer Funnell or if you can put us in touch with one of his descendants, please use the contact form. The British Surfing Museum needs more information on Ronald Spencer Funnell in order to inaugure a permanent collection in his name. Any copies of photos, newspaper articles, etc. would be very much appreciated.
Thanks to :
Sally Parkin who very kindly sent me a photocopy of R.S.F.’s 1953 booklet and who reproduces his surfboards at the Original Surfboard Company,
Wendy Russell (née Funnell),
and Peter Robinson, Director of the British Surfing Museum who left a contribution on the Guestbook, now incorporated into this article.
The British Surfing Museum:
(1) urgently needs a copy of this version.
(2) has one copy of this edition.
(3) has one copy of this edition, signed by the author.
(4) has several examples of the surfboards, and two original copies of this edition.
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