The History of Pengwern BC – And the Friendship Between Two Rowing Historians

Pengwern’s Boat House on the Severn at Shrewsbury. Pengwern Boat Club, founded in 1871, is located in Shrewsbury Town Centre, Shropshire, in a picturesque river-side setting.
Pengwern’s Boat House on the Severn at Shrewsbury. Pengwern Boat Club, founded in 1871, is located in Shrewsbury Town Centre, Shropshire, in a picturesque river-side setting.

10 March 2016

Clive Radley writes.

Last year, I was contacted by Gerald Lindner, who is researching the history of Pengwern Boat Club and is the club’s official historian. He had recently had a surprise visit from my cousin Janet Szajer, née Radley, at Pengwern BC. Janet’s father, Laurie Radley, had been the waterman/ boatman at Pengwern from 1950 until he later moved to Pangbourne. Janet had happy memories of Pengwern and went back to visit her old haunts and to see if anyone remembered her father. In fact, no one remembered Laurie, but Gerald had some records which related to him.

Janet told Gerald that Pengwern gets a mention in my book Radleys of the Lea with a story about Janet competing in mixed skiff races in intra club regattas. She also told him that I had stayed at Pengwern when I was about 7 in 1952-ish. My father George had taken my mother and me to stay with Laurie and his family in the accommodation above the boat house. Gerald then got in touch with me to ask what I remembered. A little embarrassed, I had to confess that while I retained a picture in my mind of the boat house, my only other memory was of being travel sick on a coach trip to Wales.

I have since met Gerald on two occasions, the last time being at the River and Rowing Museum’s “Women Rocking the Boat” event in late 2015.

A card I received from Gerald for Christmas 2015.
A card I received from Gerald for Christmas 2015.

As Gerald is not particularly internet-experienced I agreed to write this article using his material to publicise the club and its history. The article also describes the history of rowing activity on the Severn and Avon. In the late 19th century pleasure boating and competitive rowing started on the Severn at Shrewsbury both at Shrewsbury school and Pengwern BC and at other nearby schools and boat clubs.

Gerald writes the following:

The first Pengwern boathouse was jointly rented with Shrewsbury School on the site of the present school boathouse, but clearly designated “Pengwern Boat House” in a contemporary photograph. The name Pengwern was chosen as a Shrewsbury Rowing Club then existed, but was short-lived, being last recorded in 1876.

 Although pleasure boating was then a substantial part of Pengwern activities, competitive rowing also featured and 15 wins were gained in 1876. This was largely due to the employment as “trainer” of Mr Tom Hoare, who was the youngest ever winner of the Thames National Coat and Badge in 186l. His crew were the first winners of the West of England Challenge Vase for coxed fours in 1877. The Club own his Coat and Badge, donated by his parents.

 The present site of Pengwern’s clubhouse was purchased in 1880. In those days, rowing was a summer activity only. By 1892, there were 293 registered members – all male, as it was a male-only sport then. Pengwern first competed at Henley Royal Regatta soon after the First World War, and events entered in some subsequent years have included the Diamond Sculls (for single scullers), Wyfolds (for club-level coxless-fours), and Thames Cup (club Eights). Junior members (under 21) were admitted for the first time in 1929, and in the 1936 regatta there was the first event for eights. The same year also witnessed the institution of the “Head of the Severn” – one of the earliest head of the river events. Due to frequent floods and other practicalities, this was discontinued in the l990s. There was little rowing in the First World War, but during the Second a “Services Regatta” was organised.

A group portrait of members of Pengwern Boat Club, Shrewsbury, with 18 trophies won during that season, a club record.
A 1953 photograph of members of Pengwern Boat Club, Shrewsbury, with 18 trophies won during that season, a club record. Photo: National Library of Wales.

The 1950s were successful years, producing wins in the 1954 West of England Challenge Vase, and the National ARA Championships for the same IV. This should have qualified them for selection as the GB coxed IV in that year’s Commonwealth Games, but a controversial trial was engineered, during which one of the Pengwern crew was ill. There were also highly placed crews in head of the river races during this period. 

In the early 1970s, activity dwindled, but was revived when the constitution was changed to allow the admission of women members. Since then the Club has continued to flourish, with numbers of men and women being approximately equal.

Recent honours achieved by club members include Matt Akers, who coxed Oxford Brookes University to victory in the Temple Cup at Henley, and subsequently has represented GB on the continent.

There are other clubs down the Severn dating from the same period including Ironbridge, Bridgenorth, Bewdley, Stourport, Worcester as well as others now defunct and some more recently established. Evesham and Stratford on the Avon are of similar age. 

 In addition, there were school clubs including King’s Worcester (1877), Cheltenham College (1861) and especially Shrewsbury School, which has the distinction of being second only to Eton in the number of Oxford and Cambridge blues awarded. 

A particularly prestigious competition for elite coxed fours was inaugurated in 1877 by five regattas in the region: Bath, Hereford, Shrewsbury, Tewkesbury and Worcester, to be run annually in rotation at each. Venue. A magnificent William IV silver wine cooler vase was purchased, and the event, still organised today, was designated “The West of England Challenge Vase”. Until the latter half of the 20th century, Thames clubs and Henley Royal rowed only in coxless fours, so this was generally considered to be the premier coxed fours event in the country. The trophy is as spectacular as some of the Henley cups. Tewkesbury was superseded by Gloucester in the 1920s and the Bath venue is now Saltford on the Bristol Avon. Pengwern won the first event, thanks to Thomas Hoare trainer, see below. 

Another noteworthy regatta, believed to be the first of its kind, was held on the Severn at Shrewsbury in 1864. This was a part of the annual 2-day games organised by the Shropshire Olympian Association which had been formed in 1860 (the Much Wenlock Games, still run today, half Inspired the formation of many such regional associations at the time. So Shrewsbury, whose turn it was in rotation with other towns in the county, may have hosted the very first ‘Olympic’ Regatta, on 8th September 1864! The spectators were described as ‘a sight rarely witnessed….. as far as the eye could reach was a dense crowd’.

Pleasure boatGerald also has a family connection with Pengwern going back to 1881. He emailed me this recently.

The original clubhouse (the central part of the building in the photos) was built in 1881, by Hudson, Lindner and Company when Shrewsbury School moved the centre of Shrewsbury to the site there it now occupies above the river, and built their own boathouse on the plot which we had previously jointly shared. 

I only discovered about twenty years ago that my great-uncle, Charles Lindner, had been a member at the time, and the partnership appears to have been formed with H Hudson, a local builder/timber merchant/boat builder, to build the clubhouse, which the club annual report of 1881 states as having been awarded to Hudson, Lindner and Co. 

Charles L. married in Chester in 1885, and sadly died in a yachting accident in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1890. I also only learnt about this even more recently. At Pengwern, he was a canoeist rather than an oarsman, and is recorded as having been the only winner of open events in one year around then. In his marriage certificate, he is designated as a Timber Merchant. 

The architect of the building was J Randall, who was the official architect for the Board Schools locally. 

It is interesting to note that it was built in the sane year that the original Oxford University boathouse was completed, and they are in a very similar style – half-timbered, but not the same architect. Sadly, as you probably know, the Oxford building opposite the College boathouses on the Isis at Oxford, was destroyed by fire in the 1990s and has never been rebuilt.

The annual Shrewsbury Regatta is organised by Pengwern, and is held over two days on the second weekend in May, 7 and 8 this year, each day attracting more than 200 entries to 1000 metres and 600 metres courses on Saturday and Sunday respectively. The regatta is particularly spectator-friendly with unrestricted views of the last 600 metres from the clubhouse balcony.

This link gives information on the four squads which row at Pengwern: Juniors, Seniors, Masters and Adaptive. Each squad is thriving and new members are very welcome.

The second link, here, is about a pop star writing songs whilst living at Pengwern boat house and achieving world-wide fame, Carol Decker, member of T’Pau. Gerald told me that:

Carol Decker, the pop-star, who rented the flat above the clubhouse (the same flat that Laurie Radley lived in earlier) is an interesting coincidence. She returned to the club a few years ago when making a video of T’PAU’s history, and we have a copy of it. They used to practice in the main club room – impossible now as it is far too busy with members training, or outside functions.

Gerald would appreciate any information, anecdotes, photographs, cuttings, regatta programmes, etc from ex-members, competitors, relatives and others. All documents and photographs will be returned upon request. Please contact him by email at: glindnerlindner@aol.com, or by snailmail: Powys House, Ruyton-XI-Towns, Shrewsbury SY4 1LA. Tel.no. 01939 260666.

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