It is difficult to write a book about the history of a rowing club, or to be more specific, a good book about the history of a rowing club. The way I see it, there are two schools of thoughts on how to go about doing the research and to write such a book. One way is to see the club, its activities and members, as a cog in a large machinery, and the machinery is the rowing in the town, region, country, and even in many cases, the world. You put the club’s history in a context to the rowing going on around the club, of course not without being introvert at times, mentioning important and interesting facts that happened on a club level. To mention some books in this category: Hear the Boat Sing (about the Thames RC; 1991) by Geoffrey Page; The Brilliants (about Leander Club; 1997) by Richard Burnell & Geoffrey Page; Water Boiling Aft (about the London RC; 2006) by Christopher Dodd; and more recently, The Dolly Varden Legacy (about the Wellington RC; 2010) by Michael Grace. I find these excellent books well-written and, in general, interesting because they go beyond the respective clubs’ rowing, and therefore are appealing to anyone who is into rowing history.
The second category of a book on a club’s history is to keep an introspective view at all times. These kind of books follow the club minutes to the letter. Often they are written chronologically, starting the year the club was founded, going through the years, and up to present time. In these books the readers will find sentences like: “In 1925, the club sent three crews to the National Championships. The eight: [nine names]; the coxed four: [five names]; a pair: [two names]. The pair won their race after a strong finish.” Or sentences that read: “Sadly, the boathouse burnt down to the ground, and the boats had to be kept in old Mrs. X’s barn for two years. Thanks to subscriptions, organised by the club committee, in 1971, a new boathouse was built where the old one stood”, etc., etc. Very rarely will you find the names of the crews or clubs that were racing against ‘the club’, they are of no importance to the history, instead there are endless lists of names of club members page up and page down, making sure that no-one in the club’s history is forgotten. This is a beautiful thought, but of course it makes it impossible to read, unless you will find your own name on that list.
The second category of books are also illustrated with old photographs, or should I say all photographs that the club holds in its archives. It does not matter how poor the pictures are, they might at one point have been crumpled up, or ripped, but they appear in the book with wrinkles, and are repaired with tape, etc. Again, to make sure that everyone in the club’s history, not only makes an appearance with their name in the book, but also in a photograph. And this is understandable as these are the people who are going to purchase the book in question.
Although, it might be very obvious that I prefer to read a book of the first category, I would probably still buy a book from the second category, just to make sure that my library of rowing books is close to complete.