The recent news about Cambridge choosing a Canadian boat (in preference to a German one!) for the 157th race against Oxford on the 26th March prompts me to write about a time when, not only were the boats used, British, they were both made in the same place, the Rutland Boathouse, Hammersmith, very near to the mid point of the four and a half mile course. The Auriol Kensington Rowing Club archive holds the following cutting from the Daily Mail of 24th March 1947:
“THE MAN WHO’LL WIN THE BOAT RACE.
Light or Dark Blues first, come Saturday, George Sims of Hammersmith is the winner. He built both boats.
Sims’ family connection with the race goes back to 1899, when George’s grandfather built the Cambridge boat which stopped the Dark Blue sequence of nine wins.
Light Blue stroke then was Brigadier J.H. Gibbon, Cambridge coach this year.
George Sims started his own boat building business in 1937 by building the Oxford craft which broke the run of 13 wins by the Light Blues.
Boats are built entirely without blueprints or drawings, to plans carried in George’s head. They are made of Empire woods, Honduras cedar for the skin, English sycamore for the ribs, Canadian silver spruce for the keel. Orders come from all over the world – Canada, the U.S, Holland, Norway and Sweden.”
The Rutland Boathouse backs onto Auriol Kensington clubhouse. As my picture above shows it is now, sadly, derelict. It is owned by the brewery that runs the adjacent ‘Rutland’ pub but they have no use for it. AK wanted to buy it and ‘knock through’ but the cost was prohibitive.
Some wonderful images of George and his men at work are here:
The always interesting British Pathe site shows wooden boat building at Eton in 1950.
Plastic boats must be ‘better’ I suppose but wooden boats made a few yards from the Thames from ‘Empire woods’ by third generation craftsmen wearing collar and tie has a certain appeal.
Tim, I can only agree. Thank you for an interesting report. It is going to be exacting to see how Cambridge is doing on Boat Race Day in their new boat.