10 June 2020
Daniel Walker, text & photography
Daniel Walker continues his exploration of the Tideway Clubs and Boathouses, now Putney Embankment. Read Part I and Part II.Embankment
A view of the Putney Embankment boathouses, taken from Putney Bridge. Putney High School BC are on the far left, London RC is more or less hidden behind the trees and Imperial College the rightmost clubhouse. (Tim Koch has earlier written a three-part article called “The Putney Embankment – London’s Boathouse Row”, Part I, Part II and Part III.)
Imperial College Boat House
One of the most elegant of Tideway boathouses is Imperial College Boathouse, which has been home to ICBC since 1938. As well as the boathouse, gym and club rooms, the building also provides accommodation for six elite student rowers.
Thames Rowing Club
Thames RC was founded in 1860 and originally based out of what is now the site of the Chas Newens / Putney High School buildings at the far end of the Embankment. Being one of the largest on the Tideway, the present Thames RC boathouse was built in 1879 and has been extensively developed over the intervening years. Renovated in 2011, the building also provides a permanent office space for the Boat Race Company (the organisational heart of the University Boat Race) on the first floor.
Vesta Rowing Club
Vesta Rowing Club started life on the River Wandle, a tributary of the Thames that is now sadly inaccessible to rowing boats. The club moved into their current home in 1890. Following a fire in 1936, the club made temporary use of the newly built, but not yet occupied University of London Boathouse in Chiswick (see Part I) – the start of a friendship between ULBC and VRC that continues to this day.
Most local and visiting Tideway rowers will confirm that the most important feature of the Vesta boathouse is the wonderfully welcoming, and cheap, bar!
Unfairly jumping over Ranelagh Sailing Club as neither a rowing club nor boathouse, although it is extensively used as the host location for a number of rowing events, we come next to Westminster School Boathouse. The home of possibly the oldest rowing club in the world, certainly dating back to 1813 and possibly to the previous century. The next oldest clubs are Brasenose College and Jesus College, Oxford, both 1815, and then Leander Club, in 1818.
The Westminster Boathouse (built for boatbuilder JH Clasper in about 1880) today marks the finish of the Schools Head of the River – the only major head race not to use the traditional finish at Putney Pier.
Crabtree Boat Club
Squeezed in between Westminster and Dulwich College, Crabtree Boat Club, for Cambridge University Alumni, occupies the boathouse originally built for Lensbury RC, which was itself for employees of Shell Oil and until 1962 British Petroleum. As an aside, there is also the rather splendid Lensbury Social and Athletic Club in Teddington, now an open sports and leisure facility.
Dulwich College Boathouse was originally the home of NatWest Bank RC and is the start of a run of current or former banking rowing clubs. The current Parrs Priory RC (which is now at Barn Elms Boathouse, covered in Part II) grew out the old NatWest RC.
Continuing the banking theme, next door is HSBC Rowing Club, originally Midland Bank RC. Midland Bank was taken over by HSBC in 1992 and the old name was phased out by 1999. As far as I can determine, HSBC RC seems to be the last ‘corporate’ rowing club still in existence.
Kings College School
Yet another former bank rowing club, KCS Wimbledon occupy the old Barclays Bank RC building, bought by the school in 1993. Before moving to the Tideway, Kings College boated out of Kingston Rowing Club, on the non-tidal Thames above Teddington Lock.
London Rowing Club
Marking a welcome return to Victorian style, albeit in a rather utilitarian fashion, the London RC building was opened in 1871, replacing a boatshed on the same site. It is described by the Architects Journal, as ‘more Georgian townhouse than riverside pig shed’. London RC itself was founded in 1856 and initially occupied rooms in the Star & Garter Hotel, a short way down river towards Putney Bridge.
Putney High School Boathouse
Putney High School, an all-girls school, started rowing in the 1980s. In 2016, they moved into their new boathouse, taking over space from the adjacent Chas Newens Marine. The current headmistress of PHS is Olympic rower Suzie Longstaff (nee Ellis, W8, Atlanta 1996).
Part IV, which is the last installment in this series and will cover the clubhouses on the stretch around Greenwich, will be published tomorrow.
Dear Hear The Boat Sing I’m really enjoying reading the website during these lock down days – it lifts my spirits Thank you to everyone who contributes to the website Best wishes Matthew Hiley Sent from my iPad
Dear Matthew, thank you for your kind words about HTBS. Yes, in these surreal days we all need something to lift our spirits, and here at HTBS we do our best to give our readers a couple of minutes of relief.
A great read and reminder of all that was very familiar to me many years ago. Just one possible editorial niggle. I am not sure, but have a feeling that the earlier incarnation of modern day Nat West bank rowing outfit was The National Provincial Bank Rowing Club, or similar. Well before all those mergers that produced our beloved NatWest bank of today ! It was during one of their races at Henley that a commentator managed: “…and the Bank are making up the deficit..” as the two boats passed Fawley.
natchealth – the modern ‘Nat West’ (National Westminster Bank) is a result of the 1968 merger between the Westminster Bank and the National Provincial Bank. In those simpler times, the public and the other banks were shocked that the Bank of England allowed a union of two such large and influential banks. I presume that the Westminster Bank boathouse became the Nat West boathouse. National Provincial had a fantastic boathouse at 6 Lower Mall, Hammersmith, the building now occupied by British Rowing. They were a major force in British rowing at one time, winning the Wyfolds in 1961 amongst other things.
Even in the mid-1980s, when I started rowing in West London, there was still an annual Head Race for ‘Business Houses’. I recall that clubs entered in this event included Barclays Bank, Midland Bank, National Westminster Bank, Civil Service (men), Civil Service (women), London Transport (District Line), London Transport (Buses), Horseferry (Gas Board), Lensbury (Shell/British Petroleum) and Ibis (Prudential Insurance). I am sure that veteran Tideway-based HTBS readers will remember more. Most of these clubs are now gone forever and the few remaining ones are open to all, receiving little or no support from their founding organisations, each having to operate as a ‘profit centre’ and not as a ‘staff benefit’.
For any young people reading, until the 1980s banks and other ‘business houses’ offered their employees jobs for life, reasonable hours, good pensions, cheap mortgages, and they also heavily subsidised and supported staff leisure activities – such as company rowing clubs. Bank customers were given advice that was of benefit to them, not necessarily to the bank. By the 1990s, such institutions had been taken over by kids who knew the price of everything and the value of nothing, who treated clients and staff as people to be exploited and who took stupid risks because they were too big to fail.
Very well remembered and written, Tim. Always partial to a bit of history and all that nostalgia !
Thanks for the informative reply Tim, and thanks to all for your comments. In general I tried to stop the article becoming a history of the clubs, as it is hard to do proper justice, but it was hard to avoid it entirely. My original intent was to focus on the boathouses themselves and it just grew a bit!
Your last sentence sums up, so well, the predicament much of British Industry and Business finds itself in at present. Oscar Wilde knew what he was talking about.
If memory serves me correctly Cambridge used the BBRC boathouse and Oxford, Midland Bank for the 2 weeks leading up to the Boat Race during my Late ’70’s early 80’s miss spent youth with Barclays. Watching from Boston, USA may still be the case.
I think Oxford University boated from Westminster Bank Boathouse on their last two weeks at Putney , way back when.