Party On

Gladstone’s Liberal Government of 1868 – 1874 brought in unpopular laws restricting the sale of alcohol. The brewers gave their considerable support to the opposition Conservative Party and this was a factor in Disraeli winning the 1874 General Election. The mention of the then very new ‘sliding seats’ is a reference to Disraeli’s Conservatives winning a number of uncontested constituencies or ‘seats’.

29 October 2019

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch moves from last week’s piece on Republicans and Democrats to political parties in Britain.

Despite the fact that the next general election in the rather dis-United Kingdom is officially scheduled for 5 May 2022, there is a lot of talk of the country going to the polls very soon. If this happens, added to the mainstream choices of Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Scottish Nationalist, Welsh Nationalist, or Green there may also be pro- and anti- Brexit parties (Northern Ireland party politics are in their own special electoral world).

Older British readers will remember the ‘swingometer’, a crude but effective way for television to show voting trends when British parliamentary elections were essentially a simple straight fight between Labour and the Conservatives. This one shows Bob MacKenzie in 1964.

It seems a long time since the voting in UK Parliamentary elections was a binary choice between two dominant parties with a third as a minority eccentric choice, never likely to win power. Let’s go back to that simpler time – as exemplified by certain historic rowing clubs.

Brentford Conservative Rowing and Boating Club

Brentford is a fairly unremarkable part of West London, lying at the confluence of the River Brent and the River Thames. The website ‘Brentford High Street Project’ says it ‘brings together information about the people and properties of Brentford, particularly the High Street, from 1840’. This local history site contains four pictures of the Brentford Conservative Rowing and Boating Club (BCRBC).

BCRBC in 1912. The picture was taken in the garden of the Brentford Conservative Club, 264 High Street.

Looking at the wins listed on the above postcard, this was a tradesmen’s rowing club, restricted to racing other men employed in manual labour and not able to compete against ‘gentlemen amateurs’ who worked in ‘white collar’ jobs (if they worked at all). The ‘Henley’ win referred to would have been Henley Town and Visitors Regatta or Henley United RC Regatta.

A successful BCRBC coxed four from the 1913 Season. The seated rowers, left to right, were F. Thomas, E. Hood, G. Treeves and J. Smith. The cox was T. Moore. They won at Kingston Brentford, Reading, Staines, Henley, and Oxford.

The man standing in the centre on the above postcard is Thomas Dewar, 1st Baron Dewar (1864 – 1930) a Scottish whisky distiller of the eponymous brand. He donated many Dewar Challenge Shields or Cups for various sports both in the UK and abroad and some are still contested for today: the Welsh Schools Dewar Competition claims to be the oldest schools competition in World Rugby; the Brighton Renault Dewar Shield says that it is the premier rugby competition in Victoria, Australia; the Dewar Cup is the trophy for the oldest ongoing national soccer competition in the US; the Serpentine Swimming Club in London still has a shield presented by Dewar in 1925; the Royal Automobile Club’s ‘Dewar Trophy For Outstanding British Technical Achievement in the Automotive Industry’ is ‘renowned as the most prestigious award in British engineering’.

Defunct Dewar competitions include those involving the St John Ambulance, charity football, fire brigades, polo, curling, shooting, golf, tennis, cycling, skittles and the old Scottish sport of shinty.

Rowing prizes presented by Dewar included that for Senior Double Sculls at Kingston and Senior Fours at the Henley United RC Regatta. The shield that Dewar is pictured with his hand on was one he presented to the BCRBC as a sculling prize, presumably in the annual regatta that the club held, and the names for the winners from 1913 to 1921 are engraved on it. Dewar’s granddaughter, Alice, later presented it to Furnivall Sculling Club and, in 2001, it was decided to use it as the trophy for annual competition between the three Hammersmith rowing clubs: Furnivall, Sons of the Thames and Auriol Kensington.

Following the 2019 Dewar Shield For Annual Competion Between The Hammersmith Clubs, Olympic Gold Medalist, Will Satch (right) presented the Shield to the Captain of Auriol Kensington RC, James Fishlock (centre) and the chief coach, Jamie Smith (left). In the 18 years that the shield has been competed for, AK has won it nine times, Sons six and Furnivall three.
BCRBC in 1913.
This picture of BCRBC looks to be from the inter-war period. The Dewar Shield pictured was last engraved with a winner’s name in 1921.

Brentford Liberal Rowing Club

Strangely, Brentford contained two political rowing clubs. When this picture of the Brentford Liberal Rowing Club was taken around 1912, the Labour Party had not yet replaced Liberals as one of the big two British political parties.

Labour – or labour

While there were no rowing clubs connected to the Labour Party that I know of, there were certainly many clubs for labouring men.

This crew won the Huntley & Palmers Challenge Bowl at the Reading Working Men’s Regatta c.1910.
Elswick Works Amateur Rowing Club, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1889. The massive works on the River Tyne manufactured hydraulic machinery, cranes, bridges and artillery. Picture: Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums.

When an election is called, those British voters who still opt for the binary choice can pick between these two:

Labour leader, Jeremy Bernard Corbyn. Not going anywhere?
Conservative leader, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. Going around in circles?


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