Tributes paid to Sir Jeremy Thomas – the first chairman of Chichester Harbour Trust

Tributes have been paid to Sir Jeremy Thomas, ‘an inspiration and a legend’, who set up the Chichester Harbour Trust.
Sir Jeremy ThomasSir Jeremy Thomas
Sir Jeremy Thomas

His son, Julian Thomas, paid tribute to him on behalf of the family.

He said: “Dad loved Chichester Harbour. He first sailed into the harbour with his Uncle Graham Humby from Selsey in the 1930s and he started sailing with his cousins, Roderick, Alistair and Adrian Boyd, in a small wooden clinker-built boat they shared, called ‘Penguin’. He used to stay with ‘the boys’ and his Aunty Kay at 3 Mariner’s Terrace on the Trippet at Bosham.

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“He was evacuated to America during the war, but was thrilled to find that he was placed with a lovely, sailing family called the Larsons on Long Island Sound who introduced him to a wide circle of friends who invited him to lots of beach barbecues and clam bakes.

“When he went to Eton, he had to cross the Atlantic in a convoy of ships zig-zagging the ocean to avoid German U-Boats. He joined Itchenor in 1946, aged 15. Woollen jerseys and shorts were the order of the day – no such things as life jackets. He told us about capsizing in a winter storm near Ellanore and, because of the time spent in the water, got extremely cold.”

He soon became an accomplished sailor at Itchenor, before becoming Captain of the Oxford University Sailing Team, winning many cups and trophies.

Julian said: “But what he loved most of all was just ‘mucking around in small boats’. Dad had a succession of cruising boats from an 18ft Alacrity, to a Westerly Pageant to a Laurent Giles Vertue and currently ‘Egret’, a beautiful 24 footer moored just off The Cobnor foreshore. As a family, we’d go down to East Head and the Solent with our dear mum Diana, us three boys or with his muckers Martin Beale, Jonny Burgess, David Thorpe and John Gainsborough.”

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Julian explained how his father spent his career in the Foreign Office, serving in Singapore, Rome, Belgrade, New York and London before being appointed HM Ambassador to Luxemburg and Athens. He was knighted for his distinguished career.

“But the harbour was in his blood,” Julian said. “He loved exploring its many creeks, drifting down to Dell Quay on a rising tide with the jib up or digging juicy, fat, lug-worms off Cobnor point. I honestly think that he knew the Harbour better than anyone. It was a passion of his to protect and safeguard this jewel of England.

“He worked hard at getting people to understand the value of the harbour, not just as a piece of real estate, but as a place that brought real happiness and well-being. This is what drove him to chair the advisory committee to The Harbour Conservancy and the Cobnor Activity Centre which enabled thousands of young people to enjoy outdoor pursuits for the first time. It’s no wonder that, after setting up the The Chichester Harbour Trust, he was made a Freeman of the Harbour and was described by Richard Craven, the Harbour Master, as ‘an inspiration and a legend’. He was a life member of both Itchenor and Bosham Sailing Clubs.

“If I had to guess his idea of bliss, it would be having a cuppa on his mooring off Cobnor with his family. He’d be wearing his cap, with his feet on the locker, looking down to Bosham Church as the sun was going down. He’d slurp his tea and would say, ‘Ah, this is the life!’"

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John Nelson, the current chairman of the Harbour Trust, said: "The Harbour was a passion of his – and the Trust was set up to protect and improve the environment of this wonderful and beautiful harbour. He served as chairman for the first 10 years of the Trust. Today the Trust is thriving. The position the Trust is in today is in large part down to Jeremy’s foresight, his energy, his diplomacy, his passion for the Harbour always conducted with such engaging humour. Thank you Jeremy.”

Sir Jeremy Thomas died on September 28 in Bosham, and is survived by his three boys, Christopher, Ady and Julian, their wives and by six grandchildren.

Donations can be made to the Chichester Harbour Trust at: