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