Rowing on the Grand Union Canal in the 1960s

A Tideway Scullers School coxed four on the Grand Union Canal in 1967 – with Stephen Wise’s grandfather’s timber yard in the background. The crew were: Bow W. Smith, 2 S. McCowan, 3 R. Tollman, Stroke D. Redwood and Cox G. Greaves. Incidentally, this crew, with C. Pierce replacing McCowan at 2, represented Great Britain at the first North American Rowing Championships Canadian Centennial Regatta in August 1967, finishing 4th. They also went on to represent Great Britain at the 1967 European Championships in Vichy, France, where they won the Petite Finale.

2 November 2020

By Lionel Bailey, Stephen Wise & Guy Greaves
(edited by Göran R Buckhorn)

In an article of the HTBS show-and-tell series on 8 August, Lionel Bailey wrote about a photograph taken in November 2015. The photograph ‘shows many of the great, and not so great, Great Britain International oarsmen of the late ‘60s. Some were my contemporaries, others my schoolboy heroes,’ Lionel wrote. While Lionel has a copy of the photograph at home, a second one is to be found in the clubhouse of Tideway Sculler School as the oarsmen in the picture all belonged to the club.

Some weeks later, Stephen Wise of Thames Rowing Club posted a comment to Lionel’s article. Stephen wrote: ‘Hello Scullers, does anyone remember your eight practicing 500m sprints at my Grandfather’s timber yard in Southall on the Grand Union Canal? This I arranged between myself, Wayne Smith and Lou Barry. Mid-sixties would be the time!’

Lionel replied to Stephen in another comment: ‘Stephen, I well remember the outings on the Grand Union, though I don’t recall the wood yard but, it was 50 odd years ago!’

Then, via Lionel, an e-mail reached HTBS, from Guy Greaves, the Tideway Scullers cox at the time and now a past President of the club, ‘who was,’ Lionel wrote, ‘a little more au fait with Stephen’s comments than I was.’ Guy wrote:

I remember the canal well. Nonsense to 500m! It provided a straight piece of water of over 2,000m. The only problem was that there was a bridge about halfway, and the towpath came out into the canal itself and made it too narrow for us to race through flat out. So, at the critical moment I would shout ‘Oars in!’ and the crew drew their blades in, and we would shoot through, under the bridge. ‘Oars out! Go!’ and off we went again. [Coach] Lou [Barry] said that he always had his eyes tight shut when we approached the bridge as he reckoned that one day I would misjudge it. Luckily, I never did!

‘Rowing on the Grand Union Canal has passed into club folk lore. Not only was it ridiculously narrow, I recall, years later, accessing it via a ploughed field!’ Lionel wrote. ‘And we were the de facto National Squad of the day. No wonder, by 1970, Bob Janousek would declare, “You British are playing at the sport!” How things have changed in the subsequent half century.’


  1. Your article about rowing on the Grand Union Canal in the 1960s provokes thoughts about rowing on the same canal at other times.

    For a few years in the late 1980s/ early 1990s I was working in a newly constructed site alongside the canal at Croxley Mill (where Dickinson’s paper mill had previously been). We persuaded our company (Marconi Underwater Systems Limited) to allow a rowing section of the sports and social club, and we were briefly affiliated to the ARA as Marconi Underwater Rowing Club (though we tried to stay above water). We shared equipment with Watford Town Rowing Club, with one club providing the blades & the other providing the boat, kept in somebody’s back garden just above Croxley lock.

    Another brief existence in the Watford area was that of the Sun Skiff Club (from the Sun Printing Works), affiliated to the Skiff Racing Association from 1967 to 1969.

    A little further up, Berkhamsted School’s Boat Club still use the canal.


    David Biddulph

  2. Hello Lionel,
    Apologies for my lateness in replying to my query concerning Scullers practising on the Grand Union Canal. So nice to see the photo put out with Wayne my old school friend rowing at bow. I think you and I probably raced one another at sometime during your Quintin days. One year we came up against John Peters crew and we lost first round four or five times! Thank you again for your help.
    Best wishes Stephen Wise

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