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From the beginning: Weybridge Rowing Club 1880s-1980s

Updated: Nov 18, 2019

Thanks to Greg based on original input from the late Richard Harris and from Nigel Burton, author of our club history: “Weybridge Rowing Club 1880s-1980s” (out of print)

Weybridge Rowing Club was founded in 1881, albeit, for many years the date was deemed to be 1880 and the Club celebrated its centenary in 1980; only recent historical research has indicated that the celebrations were a year too early. Most members however hold to the view that a group of men probably met in The Old Crown public house in Thames Street in 1880 for an initial discussion and as such this can be recognised as the founding date!

In those early days the Club was based at the Nichols & Searles Boathouse on the island across the river Wey, opposite The Minnow public house. It was very successful for a time but fell into abeyance in the 1890s only to be resurrected in October 1907 as a tradesmen's and watermen's club; on that occasion being based at Dunston's Boathouse on the site currently occupied by the Weybridge Ladies Rowing Club.

In December 1909, the Club acquired the lease of the existing property by the Thames Lock. At this stage in the development of the Club members set about raising the £60 necessary to purchase their own fleet of boats, having previously hired them from the boathouse owners. Many initiatives were used to raise such money, including the organisation of Club dinners at The Old Crown and The Lincoln Arms (now The Minnow). Such events required not just enthusiasm but a certain stamina: the Lincoln Arms menu for the 1911 dinner - an original menu card is held in the Club archives - being a not insubstantial five courses, viz:

Steak & Kidney Pie followed by

Roast Beef and Horseradish followed by

Boiled Leg of Mutton with caper sauce, cabbage and potatoes followed by

Rice Pudding and stewed fruit and finally

Cheese & Biscuits

There were three toasts to The King, The Club and The Officers; the evening being also interspersed with at least eight songs performed by gentlemen listed on the menu card. At this juncture in the life of the Club it was a member of the National Amateur Rowing Association, the association that represented working men rather than the "Gentlemen" of the Amateur Rowing Association. This created problems in 1924 Olympic year when Weybridge had an exceptionally good eight as did Thames Rowing Club, but the two crews could never meet since the rules would not permit an ARA crew (Thames) to race against an NARA crew (Weybridge). An apocryphal story suggests that for selection purposes it was suggested to the Weybridge coach, by the powers that be, that it would be beneficial for his crew to go for an outing on the Tideway - some versions say it was the Kingston reach – and if they happened to find themselves alongside the Thames eight it would be useful to undertake a couple of unofficial (selection) races.

Whatever the truth of that tale Thames were selected go to the Olympics as the eight and five of the Weybridge crew were selected to go in a coxed four. What is not in dispute is that oarsmen's memories never change, for the Weybridge stroke, Vince Bovington, when speaking with the then Club Captain, Greg Jones, in 1980 stated unequivocally that had the crew not unfortunately drawn the Swiss in the first heat they would definitely have gone on to win a medal!

To be continued…

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