30 July 2016
In May 2015, Clive Radley published his book on his boat building ancestors, The Radleys of the Lea. In the book is a chapter listing the surviving wooden shells built by Clive’s uncle Sid Radley in the 1950s and 1960s. Clive writes:
On Sunday 24 July, I received an unexpected e-mail form Orhan Kephalas of Lea Rowing Club. He had found a post on Eton Mission Rowing Club’s Facebook referring to a V. Radley and Sons-built open clinker that they have in the club’s boathouse. I phoned EMRC and they confirmed that they have the boat.
This surprising piece of luck made me wonder: why did I not check out EMRC as a possible source of Radley boats, as it’s very close to Springhill, the site of V. Radley and Sons last boatyard on the Lea? I would have loved to include the EMRC boat in my book.
EMRC has a fascinating history and was started in the East London docklands in the late 19th century by a group of old Etonians, who saw it as their mission to help boys in poor parts of the country by setting up sports clubs. EMRC was originally part of Eton Manor Sports Club, which was started by the Old Etonians which covered many sports. In 1895, the Old Etonians donated a boatyard and site on the Lee (Lea) and EMRC became separate to the main Eton Manor Club.
Pictures below from Spitalfields Life in 2011 (published with permission).
EMRCs current boat house was donated by the former president of the club, Gilbert Johnstone, and is known as the Gilbert Johnstone Boat House.
EMRC suffered a large loss of members who were killed in the First World War and their site was shot up by German aircraft in the Second World War.
Henry Allingham was the club’s most famous member, and at the age of 113 he celebrated his birthday at the club in 2006. In 2008, an autobiography was published about his life, Kitchener’s Last Volunteer: The Life of Henry Allingham, the Oldest Veteran of the Great War (with Dennis Goodwin; Introduction by HRH Prince Charles).
He had rowed for the club both pre-First World War and after, when he returned from the War. There have been a number of UK TV programmes about Henry, who for a while was the UK’s oldest living male.
In 1914, EMRC was a member of the National Amateur Rowing Association (NARA) along with most other Lee clubs, including those which operated from my family’s boatyards. Vincent Radley, my grandfather, was a patron of the NARA. The NARA was formed to accommodate rowing clubs which members were manual workers that was the case for most of the clubs on the Lea. Nevertheless, these clubs’ members were still regarded as amateurs. The elitism of the public school dominated the Amateur Rowing Association (ARA) and would not entertain manual workers as members at that time. ARA drew their members from the universities and the more prosperous Thames-based clubs in and upriver of London.
EMRC is very close to the London Olympic Stadium and sadly EMRC lost part of its land to the 2012 London Olympics Authority by compulsory purchase which has been featured on UK television due to the problems this caused.
From Spitalfields Life 2011, written by the ‘gentle author’:
EMRC club is now facing the autocratic caprices of the Olympic Authority. The bright-eyed Club Secretary Tim Hinchcliff welcomed me graciously when I visited last Sunday, yet an air of imminent apocalypse prevailed. “The way I see it, they’ve decided what’s good for us,” he told me, widening his eyes in disillusion, “We’ve never had any input into the plans.” Along with the other members, he is bracing himself for next Monday, 18th July, when the bulldozers move in to dig up the club’s lawn and demolish a storage shed, in preparation for the building of a bridge for the media to access the Olympic site on the other side of the river.
In spite of the rhetoric of consultation, the club was presented with a fait accompli by the Olympic Authority in the form of a Compulsory Purchase Order for a significant slice of their property. “The area’s too small now for all the things that we need to do,” confessed Tim in disappointment. The pitiful irony of such destructive action by a body set up to encourage sport is not lost upon the long-term members of the Eton Mission Rowing Club, who have endured an atmosphere of uncertainty since 2005 when the idea was first mooted – discouraging rowing crews who require an assurance of continuity for years ahead. And, while the precise nature of the Olympic plans – whether for a footbridge or a road bridge – have remained frustratingly uncertain, the nadir is set to arrive next year when the river is closed for security reasons and the rowing club will be forced to shut down for the Summer of 2012.
Yet in spite of the dark clouds looming overhead, the members were enjoying the opportunity of taking their boats out on the River Lee last Sunday, as they always have done, and were eager to talk to me about the manifold wonders of their beloved club. As we stood together under the lintel commemorating the building of the clubhouse, “Presented to the Eton Mission Rowing Club by their President Hon Gilbert Johnstone in Memory of his Etonian Wet-Bob Brothers, AD 1934,” I asked Tim Hinchliff, the benign custodian, why he took up rowing in the first place and he discreetly indicated the caliper on his leg. “It was the only sport that was open to me,” he admitted, with a dignified modest grin.
Two Robert Halls, junior and senior, father and son, were sculling together. Robert senior joined the club in 1952, an upholsterer by trade, he served his apprenticeship round the corner in Hackney Wick at George Henshaw’s factory – “I just walked in and said I wanted to learn a trade.” He brought his son Robert down to be a coxon at the age of eight and they went on to row together, reeling off the lists of championships they had won, as they carried their sculls out the water’s edge. “We know how to win,” confirmed Tim, speaking with professional pride, “We didn’t put out a team that didn’t win.” Hale and hearty with cropped white hair and a wiry physique, thanks to a lifetime’s rowing, “No-one could race us in this country,” asserted Robert senior, sharing a grin with his son. “It’s only if it’s frozen over that it will stop us,” he added as they pulled away from the shore, gliding way across the water with a swish of the oars.
Tim told me the club gets more enquiries for membership from women than men these days, and they would like to provide separate changing facilities by building a narrow extension onto the remaining piece of land between the clubhouse and the new bridge. Unfortunately, the compensation is not sufficient to cover this and all requests for assistance have been ignored by the Olympic Authority, even if this is their opportunity to leave the venerable club better, not worse than they found it.
“They have shown no clemency, no kindness, no thought for anyone else’s existence,” said Robert Hall senior, a member of the club for sixty years, his eyes glittering with emotion. I cannot avoid saying that the members of the Eton Mission Rowing Club deserve better from the Olympic Authority than this shabby treatment. Renovating the club house and supporting the club would be a way to ensure the continuity of their beautiful endeavour. It is shameful that fellow sportsmen be exposed to corporate disdain by the Olympic Executives, simply because they happen to be in the way of a master plan conceived without their involvement, when their noble rowing club should be celebrated for providing sporting facilities on an egalitarian basis in East London for over a century. Everyone is welcome here, Tim Hinchliff emphasised to me as we made our goodbyes, ever hopeful and diplomatic, “We get quite a lot of people who are interested in rowing. Once people are here, we can get them rowing in half an hour.”
The club continues but has had to curtail expansion plans because of the loss of part of its land.
In researching this article on EMRC, I discovered that my old school in North East London Leyton County High School (LCHS) had for two years a rowing club from 1965 to 1967 and they rowed from the EMRC boat house.
I missed this by two years as I left LCHS in 1963 to go Queen Mary College University of London (QMCUL) where I joined the boat club and rowed from the University of London boat house. This is a connection I was completely unaware of.