My Story: Tom Mazzoni

Tom Mazzoni
Tom and Anne Mazzoni

Many people in Burntisland – and elsewhere throughout the Forth – may be aware of the race for the Mazzoni Trophy, hosted by Burntisland Sailing Club, every year. However, only a small number of people may know who Tom Mazzoni was. This short history aims to set the record straight.

Tom Mazzoni (1929 – 1973) is pictured here at a BSC awards ceremony in the early 60s at the Orcadia Hotel (now the Sands Hotel) in Burntisland. On the right is Mrs Anne Mazzoni (1927 – 2010)

Paolo Mazzoni, Tom’s father, came to Scotland from Northern Italy in 1910, when he was around  20 years old. Like many Italians who came here, Paolo became a successful businessman. One of his endeavours involved large greenhouses, where he cultivated tomatoes to sell commercially. But his principal business was a confectioner and tobacconists shop in Main St, Lochgelly. Mazzoni’s was well-known for miles around and his ice creams were especially delicious in this age when having a fridge at home was a rarity.

Paolo Mazzoni married local girl Christina Penman. Christina’s father was 6ft 6 and her seven brothers were all over six feet tall. First child David was born in 1924. Then Tom, in 1929. When Tom eventually grew to 6ft 2 in height, people considered this to be the result of his Penman inheritance.

Paolo Mazzoni

Paolo Mazzoni (1890 – 1952)

The Penmans

The Penmans: Christina Penman, Tom’s mother, on the left of her mother and father in the front row. Back row: the seven 6ft Penman boys

Tom Mazzoni and his brother were said to be like chalk and cheese: David was shorter in stature, hated sailing, couldn’t swim, whereas Tom matched his Penman uncles for height and sailing became his passionate interest. The boys were probably introduced to sailing through visits to Elie, where the family had a holiday hut and where Paolo kept a boat.

Tom stayed in high school, a member of the school cricket team, until he was 18. This is a normal age to leave school today, but somewhat unusual in 1947, which was the year when the law in Scotland changed to raise the leaving age from 14 to 15. So already fairly well-educated, Tom then went on to study at Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh. He did not finish his course because an opportunity arose for him to take up an engineering apprenticeship at Bowhill Colliery.

Bowhill had opened in 1895. It had three shafts, but shafts 1 and 2 were the productive ones that generated most wealth. The wages of miners working there was always a little higher than in other coal fields in Fife and this was a prosperous time for Lochgelly. Bowhill Colliery’s worst day was well before Tom stepped through the gates – on Sat 31st Oct 1931: 10 miners were killed in an explosion. Injuries and death in the mines happened not infrequently at this time.

Tom himself got injured in the mine when an iron girder fell on his foot, necessitating the amputation of part of a toe. This was in 1955-56. It was while he was in the hospital at Bridge of Earn that he met Nurse Anne Ross, from Kildonan in Sutherland. Though he lost part of a toe, the incident gained him a wife and Tom and Anne got married in 1956.

The first 11 - cricket

On the Norfolk Broads with nephew Lewis Mazzoni

Anne shared Tom’s passion for sailing, at least in the early days, when she participated in the racing. When they started sailing their boat was small and there was no room for their dog. On one occasion in Burntisland, the dog ran along the pier and jumped into the sea after them, needing to be rescued.

At the colliery, Tom had a good career as a mechanical engineer, but Anne also was highly skilled in the nursing profession. Eventually she worked at the Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy and became Director of Nursing.

Two distressing things happened in Tom Mazzoni’s life in 1965. One was the death of his mother, Christina Penman. The other was the closure of Bowhill Colliery, which had been struggling for some time. While it was the case that Bowhill did not need Tom anymore, the family business certainly did. From this point forward, Tom focused on running the family confectionary business.

Friends from the sailing club recall Tom saying that he was going for his last haircut when the pit closed. This was because the colliery was almost an independent social ecosystem: the pit provided various benefits exclusively for the workers, and these included free haircuts. From that point forward, Tom would have to finance his own coiffure!

The closure of the pit probably gave Tom more time for sailing. His engineering training was certainly useful for the many boat-building projects that he undertook in the 1960s and 1970s. He built at least three boats, not only the boats but their trailers as well. His last boat was a Pandora called ‘Fantom’, for which he welded a 4 wheeled steel trailer. Fabrication projects took place at Bowhill Farm, where Tom had an arrangement with the farmer (who also supplied the milk for his ice cream).

In the 1960s, when BSC members were furiously building Flying Fifteens in every available space in town, having been energised and enthused by a talk at the RFYC, Tom was there too, hand-planing, chiselling, gluing and constructing. Nobody had much money in those days – everyone helped everyone else out. Materials were begged and acquired from every feasible low-cost source.

One winter night, Tom Mazzoni took the bus to Kinghorn with Johnston Wood and Lou Costello. The bus dropped them at the far end of the town, where the precious timbers were awaiting. It was raining hard so they walked and carried the 20ft timbers back to Burntisland on their shoulders. The group got soaked to the skin, though a stop at the Kingswood Hotel helped them warm up nicely.

Building Flying Fifteens with hand tools


After the pit closed, no more free haircuts

Tom Mazzoni in ‘Altair’, the old BSC clubhouse hut in the background

Mazzoni Memorial Trophy

The Mazzoni Memorial Trophy, presented to Burntisland Sailing Club by Anne Mazzoni in 1974

Below: At David’s wedding, 1949; Tom Mazzoni in GBR285 Gemini, Ali Miller in GBR401 Jalna, Johnston Wood in GBR 456 Su-Su; Tom Mazzoni, Johnston Wood, Anne Mazzoni, Bob Gray, Lou Costello at Galahill, 1959; Anne and Tom Mazzoni posing next to a Flying Fifteen while on holiday in Majorca, early 1970s; Building a Flying Fifteen with Jim Leuchars; Mazzoni’s Cafe; Christina Penman

Contemporaries of Tom Mazzoni describe him as ‘a great chap who did a lot for the club’. He was a keen sailor and did exceptionally well in competitions. As well as winning numerous local trophies, Tom came third in the national Flying Fifteen championships in 1965 on his boat ‘Sygnus’, registered GBR 826. The race took place in very windy conditions. For crew, Tom took fellow BSC member, Peter Clarke. Both were big, heavy men and took full advantage of the weather, balancing their weight overboard so that every scrap of available wind could be used to push the boat across the waves. Other persons known to crew with Tom were fellow members Tom Haxton, Norman Smith, and his nephew Lewis.

Everyone who knew Tom Mazzoni was shocked and devastated when, on 26th July 1973, Tom died in a tragic accident while on a sailing trip at Gelly Loch. His great contribution to Burntisland Sailing Club is sadly noted in the official record of club minutes.

In 1974, Anne Mazzoni presented the Mazzoni Memorial Trophy to the club, which is fought over annually in a race attended by boats throughout the Forth.

Tom Penman Mazzoni (1929 – 1973) was a member of Burntisland Sailing Club from its foundation in 1954. He served on the club management committee, including as Assistant Secretary and Class Captain, for several years between 1963 and 1973.