10 June 2020
Daniel Walker, text & photography
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.