Beyond the Bubble

For many interested in rowing history it is sometimes necessary to remember that, in times gone by, rowing for pleasure in Britain was not just confined to well-organised groups of ‘gentlemen amateurs’ in clubs in and around London or at a few universities – as these corn porters engaged in the ‘shovel race’ at Kings Lynn Regatta in Norfolk in 1864 demonstrate.

18 August 2020

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch’s mea culpa.

This article has been half-finished for some time, but Daniel Walker’s recent piece on his visit to Glasgow’s Clydesdale ARC has inspired me to complete it. In the late 1980s, I raced at a regatta held by Clydesdale or its neighbour, Clyde, or perhaps both, and I have good memories of a well-organised and happy event.

More than once before I have confessed that:

To the casual observer of British rowing history, it would be easy to get the idea that very little has happened beyond Putney and Henley or Oxford and Cambridge and I am probably one of those who are guilty of promulgating this idea.

In 2016, I made one of my few Acts of Contrition for this repeated transgression when I reproduced eight articles from a 1911 series published in The Bystander magazine called ‘Famous Rowing Clubs at Home’. The most notable and unusual thing about these charming pieces is that most of the clubs written about by Bystander journalist Leonard Willoughby were not the usual ‘Grand Old Clubs’ with numerous Henley wins in their long histories, they were in fact small provincial clubs, mostly from the English Midlands (the term ‘provincial’ has a slightly patronising air about it, but this is not what I intend). Thames and London were the only clubs featured that you would expect to find in a series on ‘famous rowing clubs’, otherwise the articles provided a wonderful snapshot of rowing in various parts of England just before life changed forever in 1914.

Professional scullers racing in Newcastle, 1866. Leonard Willoughby considered that only amateur rowing was worth writing about even though rowing by professionals and tradesmen was an enormous part of the sport.

When I wrote in 2016, I only had access to eight of the series’ ten articles. They covered Thames, Royal Chester, Avon, Burton, Hereford, Stratford-on-Avon, Bristol Ariel and Nottingham. Recently however, I finally found the missing two, the ones that reported on London RC and Clydesdale ARC.

I will look at Willoughby’s article on London RC and some of the responses that his series received at the time in a later post. In this article, I am going to reproduce Willoughby’s piece on Glasgow’s Clydesdale ARC and also take the opportunity to show a few very random images that I have collected over time that also remind us that rowing in Britain has long existed and thrived outside of a few stretches of water in Southern England.

Clydesdale ARC

Clydesdale Amateur Rowing Club was founded in 1857, making it only one year younger than London RC but older than many ‘Grand Old Clubs’ such as Thames, Molesey, Kingston and Marlow. Since its current boathouse was built in 1905, Clydesdale has occupied one side of the building and Clyde ARC (est. 1865) has boated from the other half.
Page 1 of Willoughby’s article on Clydesdale ARC.
Page 2 of Willoughby’s article on Clydesdale ARC.

An eclectic collection of images of rowing beyond the Thames and Oxbridge bubble

Chester Regatta, 1843. Established in 1733 and still in existence, Chester claims to be ‘The Oldest Rowing Regatta in the World’, 106 years older than Henley. A race for women in 1814 offered a two-guinea (£2.10) prize.
Durham Regatta, 1844. The regatta dates to 1834 and claims the title ‘second oldest’ after Chester. Its website says that its roots actually go back to 1815 and that the regatta ‘grew out of an annual procession of boats from Prebends Bridge to the Old Durham Beck that commemorated the Duke of Wellington’s victory at the Battle of Waterloo’.
Manchester and Salford Regatta, 1844. The “Illustrated London News” covered the racing and called it ‘the annual meeting of the Manchester and Salford Regatta Club’, saying that it was the third such event.
Whitby Friendship Rowing Club, Whitby, Yorkshire, 1901.

The splendidly named ‘Whitby Friendship Rowing Club’ was established in 1879 and is still going strong. Even today, the Whitby Regatta and Carnival attracts 20,000 spectators and appears to be a remarkable survivor from other times: the 1870s with fixed seat rowing and the 1970s with a ‘Miss Regatta’ beauty contest, a ‘Grand Baby Show’, a ‘Glamorous Granny Contest’ and a ‘Greasy Pole’ competition. Clearly, political correctness and Health and Safety have not yet reached North Yorkshire.

Evesham Rowing Club, Worcestershire, a postcard sent in 1908. The club was founded in 1863. Today it is ‘Evesham Rowing and Rackets Club’ offering rowing, tennis and squash. The first tennis courts were laid at the club in the 1920s ‘predominantly for the entertainment of the rower’s wives’.
Norwich Amateur Rowing Association, Norfolk, c.1912. In 1973 from Norwich Amateur Rowing Association, Yare Rowing Club and Norwich Union Rowing Club joined to form Norwich Rowing Club. A splendid ‘History of Rowing in Norwich 1803 – 2014’ by Alan Wells is available to read online.
Established in 1846, Gloucester Rowing Club may be Britain’s fifth oldest existing open club after Leander (1818), Eton Excelsior (1826), Royal Chester (1838) and Henley (1839).
Hereford Rowing Club, c.1900. Founded in 1859, the club may be the fifteenth oldest open club in the UK. A full history is available online.
Proud winners at Pengwern Boat Club, Shrewsbury, 1910. The name ‘Pengwern’ (an historical reference to the Welsh Kingdom of Powys) was chosen because a ‘Shrewsbury Rowing Club’ was in existence when the club was founded in 1871.
A pre-1914 Stourport Regatta at Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire.  Stourport Boat Club and the town regatta both started in 1876.
Ebchester RC, County Durham, was founded in 1876 and is here pictured in 1899. Picture:
Orwell Rowing Club, Ipswich, Suffolk, pre-1903.
Agecroft Regatta, Manchester, pre-1914. Agecroft Rowing Club was formed in 1861.
Derby RC was founded in 1880. This is its 1923 Junior Crew.
1933 Trial eights of York City Rowing Club, established 1863.

I apologise if all this comes across as a token gesture, but some of us need the occasional reminder that British rowing owes something to Clydesdale as well as Cambridge, and to Ebchester as well as Eton.

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