Tim Koch raises a glass of pink fizz at a special occasion.
Recently, Jeremy ‘Rass’ Randall, President of Leander Club, sent this message to LC members:
When the gentlemen from the ‘Star’ and ‘Arrow‘ crews first clambered aboard ‘The Leander’ outside Searle’s boatyard in 1818 they can scarcely have imagined what might follow. But the Leander story reaches a significant milestone [this] year when we celebrate our first 200 years. Like any club, our history has not always been straightforward, but Leander has responded to each challenge to emerge stronger, to help assume its leading position in the rowing world.
Homes of Leander: Lambeth, Putney and Henley
Leander’s founders were at Searle’s boatbuilders in Lambeth between at least 1818 and 1860, though moving between perhaps two or three sites on the Lambeth stretch in that time. In 1860, the club moved its boats to a tent in Putney (pitched on the site of the current London Rowing Club) and rented club rooms in the nearby Star and Garter. In 1866, it built a proper boathouse on adjoining land and had varying degrees of commitment to this property until 1961 (the site is now occupied by Kings College School, Wimbledon). In 1897, it built the current clubhouse in Henley.
In the splendid recent publication that I will be reviewing soon, Leander Club: The First 200 Years (2018), Peter Mallory states:
When the original crew of the Leander cutter first met around 1818, they had no idea that they were forming a rowing club as we understand the term today. Such a concept had yet to be developed… The first Leander six-oared cutter was owned, stored, maintained and leased by Searle and Sons…, the premier establishment of its kind in England.
In Lambeth, the Searle boatyards, storage sheds and attached buildings fronting Stangate Street stretched for 150 yards on the (south) bank of the Thames from Westminster Bridge upstream to Stangate Ferry. This was a small, dense, semi-industrial neighbourhood still bordered to the east by rural farm fields and to the south by the gardens of Lambeth Palace…
A book of 1873, London Old and New, pulled no punches in describing the area around Searle’s Yard:
[I]) had long been of ill repute, ill-looking and evil-smelling, and of evil associations. Even the (re)construction of the Houses of Parliament on the opposite shore… failed to redeem its hideous aspect, overladen as it was with dank tenements, rotten wharves, and dirty boathouses.
Boatbuilding at Lambeth had a long history. According to Old and New London (1878):
Lambeth was a great place for boat-building as far back, certainly, as the reign of Charles II. At all events, Samuel Pepys tells us in his ‘Diary’, under date August 13th, 1662, ‘To Lambeth, and there saw the little pleasure-boat in building by the king, my Lord Brouncker, and the virtuosos of the town, according to new lines, which Mr. Pett cries up mightily; but how it will prove we shall soon see’.
Over the years, Searles had four properties on the stretch between Westminster Bridge and Bishop’s Walk, near Lambeth Palace, with Leander seeming to move to the best that their landlord could offer at the time. In The Brilliants, it is recorded that Searle’s held leases at Stangate Wharf from 1729 until 1857, and at Bishop’s Walk from 1773 until after 1853. The book continues that there is some evidence that there was a time (the 1840s?) when Searle looked after Leander’s boats but the crews were changing at, and boating from, George Renshaw’s Yard, sited at 7 Bishops Walk, upstream of Searle’s (possibly to avoid the river traffic generated by the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament). A c.1860 photograph of J&W Roberts, Boatbuilders, at 6 Bishops Walk is here.
Initially, Leander still thought of itself as a Putney club with a rather spartan Henley country retreat for use in the summer. A proposal to build a clubhouse at Cookham (10 miles east of Henley) had been provisionally approved by the Leander Committee in 1886. It is interesting to speculate on what would have been the result of this move had it happened – would Leander be the force it is today?
Amongst other things, Peter Mallory examined Lambeth’s rowing history in his presentation to the 2017 Rowing History Conference, take a look here.
The book, Leander Club: The First 200 Years 1818 – 2018 is available to buy from the club shop, and a small exhibitionmarking the bicentenary is on at Henley’s River and Rowing Museum until 15 July.