‘Riverside Pig Sheds’ – Clubs and Boathouses of the Tideway: Part I

Twickenham to Barnes Bridge

8 June 2020

By Daniel Walker, text & photography

Originally intended to be about boathouses, this series has grown slightly into a bit of a tour of both the clubs and their boathouses of those rowing clubs that row on the Thames Tideway, starting at the upper end of the Tideway starting below Teddington Lock and meandering down river.

Twickenham Rowing Club

Twickenham Rowing Club is unique on the Tideway as the only club to boat from an island, Eel Pie Island, the largest island on the Tideway and apparently the ‘place where the sixties began at the Eel Pie Island Hotel.

Activities at the rowing club seem slightly more sedate these days and there is a wonderful history of the development of the boat house on the TwRC website, which I encourage everyone to read. The short summary is that although the club was founded in 1860 construction of the current boat house did not start until 1880. Prior to the completion of the building, the club used a variety of floating and rented accommodation.

Richmond Bridge Boat Club & London Cornish Pilot Gig Club

Not unique but certainly unusual in this series, Richmond Bridge BC is a fixed seat rowing club, using traditional wooden boats. Their boat house is located in the arches just down river of Richmond Bridge and conveniently close to traditional boat builder Mark Edwards and, as you can see from the picture, they are immediately adjacent to the London Cornish Pilot Gig Club. These two clubs share the calmest and most beautiful stretch of the Tideway (above Richmond Lock) with Twickenham Rowing Club. Readers may be interested in the articles Tim Koch wrote about the golden age of boating in Richmond, including a wonderful interview with fine-boat builder Bill Colley, part I here and part II here.

University of London Boat House

As is so often the case, the boat house is considerably younger than the club it serves, ULBC was founded in 1860 while the University of London Boat House on Hartington Road in Chiswick was built in 1936/7 and completed in 1938. The charity 20th Century Society describes it thus: ‘This boathouse is the exemplar of a university boathouse in the international modern style’ and ‘This is a building of national and international importance.’

Today the boat house is home to the University of London Boat Club, most of the London college and medical school boat clubs, Tyrian Club (for ULBC alumni) and Team Keane Sculling School.

The picture below shows the boat house and the adjacent Hartington Court, and to quote from the 20th Century Society again ‘… a continuous panorama of 1930s waterfront architecture … an extensive and striking unspoiled view of distinguished architecture of that period.’

Putney Town Rowing Club

An apparent imposter on this stretch of the river, Putney Town RC did indeed start life in Putney, first as the rowing section of St Mary’s Recreation Club and then boating from the basement of the Duke’s Head on Putney Embankment, becoming “Putney Town RC” in 1922. In 1986, the club moved from Putney to the current site on the Surrey bank in Mortlake. The current boat house was built following a fire in 1992. Their location should not be confused with that of Putney Town Regatta, which still takes place in Putney!

Ibis Boat House and University Boat House

Ibis Boat House (on the left in the picture) and the University Boat House sit side by side just above Chiswick Bridge.

Ibis Boat House, now home to Mortlake Anglian and Alpha was named after the rowing club of the Prudential Assurance Company Limited – the Ibis Rowing Club. MAABC’s origins go back to the Mortlake Institute Rowing Club, who originally boated from a location near the Ship pub on the opposite, Mortlake, side of the river.

The University of Westminster boat house was built in 1924, replacing a previous wooden building. Home to a number of clubs, including Quintin Boat Club, named after the founder of the Regent Street Polytechnic. The complex relationship between the polytechnic (now University of Westminster) and Quintin Boat club is described in some detail on the club’s website.

Tideway Scullers School

Tideway Scullers School (TSS) was founded in 1957 and their boat house, a short way downstream of Chiswick Bridge, was built in in 1984. The boat house is also home to Kings College London and St Pauls Girls School. TSS is famous not only for their rowing, but also for their resident cats – Red and Yellow – named according to the TSS colours.

Chiswick Boat House

Chiswick Boathouse, a stone’s throw upriver from Barnes Bridge occupies a historic location for rowing on the Tideway. Today’s boathouse is, more or less, on the site of Tom Green’s Boathouse, the “rat-infested shack” that has provided a home to many Tideway clubs over the years. Tim Koch has written about the story of Tom Green’s here.

Today the boathouse is owned by Hounslow Council and is home to Thames Tradesmen’s Rowing Club. Recent disagreements between Hounslow and TTRC have been settled and there are plans (not yet approved) for redevelopment of the site that will include demolishing the existing building.

Note: see Part III for the origin of ‘riverside pig sheds’.

Part II, which will cover from Barnes Bridge downstream to Barn Elms, will be published tomorrow.

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