Clive Radley writes:
In the early days of women’s competitive rowing in the 1920s and 1930s, Cecil Ladies, which was based on the Lea in NE London, was one of the dominant women’s rowing clubs of this era.
Reports from that period suggest that the Cecil Ladies stroke, Yvonne Mary Paulet Stuart, was a key factor in their success. She was born in 1899 in Middlesex and joined Cecil Ladies, based at Radleys boat house, soon after the end of the First World War. She later fell out with my great-aunt Phoebe Radley, who ran the club. However, Stuart soon formed her own club, Stuart Ladies, based at Tyrells at Springhill close by.
In the 1911 census, at the age of 12, she is shown as living in Surbiton. Her elder brother was Douglas Rees Stuart, a Cambridge Blue, who had stroked three Light Blue crews to victory in The Boat Race. In the 1911 census, he is described as a 26-year-old barrister living in Surbiton.
Yvonne and Douglas’s parents were Montague Pelham Stuart, of Stanton, Surbiton, and his wife Mary Rees. Douglas Stuart was educated at Cheltenham College where he received his boating colours. He rowed for Kingston Rowing Club, and in 1903, at the age of 17, was runner-up with C.M. Steele in the Silver Goblets at Henley Royal Regatta. Douglas Stuart went on to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he won the Colquhoun Sculls; his Trinity Hall crew was head of the river in 1907. He stroked three successive Cambridge crews to victory in 1906, 1907 and 1908. He was the stroke of the Cambridge University eight that took the bronze medal for Great Britain’s in the 1908 Olympic regatta at Henley.
He had strong views on rowing and wrote in 1929 in The Times that university crews should practice for only six weeks, given the experience and fitness of the eligible oarsmen and the risk of staleness from more extensive work. ‘I do not know how it is in modern times, but as rowing was conducted 20 years ago there was not much fun in it, and rowing as a pastime was in reality an infernal bore. Perhaps this explains what appears to be a lack of enthusiasm for this sport at Oxford.’
I assume Douglas influenced Yvonne to join Cecil Ladies, which she did when she was about 20 years old. At that time, there were very few non-university women’s rowing clubs in the London area.
One option was a club founded by Frederick James Furnivall and known then as the Hammersmith Sculling Club for girls.
The following is from the current Furnivall Sculling Club web site:
The Hammersmith Sculling Club for girls was founded in April 1896, by the 71-year-old Rd. Frederick James Furnivall and was aimed at working class girls initially as members. Having learnt to row in his teens, rowing became a lifelong obsession for Dr. Furnivall. He was admitted to Trinity Hall Cambridge in 1842, where he rowed in the first eight. He also sculled regularly and at the age of 20, he and his friend John Beesley built the first narrow, outrigged single scull to be seen on the Cam.
In 1891 when the Amateur Rowing Association refused to accept working men as ‘amateurs’, Furnivall founded the National Amateur Rowing Association which anyone could join. Given his passionate opposition to discrimination, he wanted to break into the traditionally male-dominated world of river sport, by building a club for women.
Membership of the Hammersmith Sculling Club was extended to men in 1901. It was also in this year that the name was changed to Furnivall Sculling Club for Girls and Men. The captaincy continued to be restricted to female members for the first half of the century, however, in honour of Dr. Furnivall’s original purpose for founding the club.
Dr. Furnivall continued to row regularly every Sunday, to Richmond and back, a habit he maintained throughout his life until he died in 1910 aged 85. Following his death, the club honoured his memory by celebrating ‘The Doctor’s Birthday’ for many years.
It may be that Yvonne Stuart chose Cecil Ladies rather than Furnivall, as she was from a middle class family. Despite being based on the Lea in NE London, Cecil Ladies had a number of middle class members.
After the 1914-1918 war, Weybridge Rowing Club included a women’s event in their “Peace Regatta” and formed a women’s section, captained by Amy Gentry. In 1926, Gentry founded Weybridge Ladies Amateur Rowing Club. By this time, Yvonne was already as member of Cecil Ladies.
Yvonne Stuart must have made an immediate impact in rowing circles, as she was soon mentioned in a number of press articles in the 1920s and early 1930s. The press coverage implies she was the outstanding rower in Cecil Ladies and was recognised as such in the rowing world. My late uncle Laurie Radley remembered her as being the prime reason for the success of the Cecil Ladies in the 1920s.
Another press mention of Yvonne Stuart in 1923:
Below are some 1925 pictures of Ceil Ladies, but Yvonne Stuart doesn’t appear to be at stroke. Coincidentally she got married that year.
In 1925, Yvonne married Montagu Latham Gedge, a rich chap. They didn’t have any children, so I assume Yvonne carried on rowing. The fact that Bossie Phelps mentioned her in an interview in 1931, makes this likely and by then she was only 31 years old. At some point, she started Stuart Ladies Rowing Club, but so far I don’t know in which year that happened.
In 1939, Yvonne and her husband went on a trip to Canada and returned before the Second World War started.
By 1945, Yvonne Gedge was 46 years old, and as I far as I know, did not take any role in Stuart Ladies when the club was reformed.
Yvonne died in 1955, described as a single women, although her husband was still alive.
Just wondering if there are any archive materials for Stuart ladies on the river lea as my mum used to row for them. I would love to find some references to her time on the water.