Category: rowing

Fleet Street’s sporting administrators and a Sporting Landmark destroyed in the blitz

By , 7th December 2017 21:18

Many people bemoan what they see as the excessive influence television wields over sport, especially football.

The intimate relationship between journalists, newspapers and sports administrators is nothing new.

While researching the life and times of John Graham Chambers, it has become clear just how important Fleet Street was to the early codification and adminisitration of many of today’s leading sports between the 1860s and 1880s.

Not only did newspaper correspondence columns provide forums through which laws were debated, but several editors and journalists played very prominent roles in the development of  specific sports.

Some of the sporting connections of Fleet Street’s finest are indicated on this map:

One example was the Sportsman newspaper. Charles Alcock, F.A. secretary for 25 years from 1871, (and also secretary of Surrey County Crickey Club from 1872) wrote for the paper. The Sportsman’s offices, in Boy Court, Ludgate Hill, were the venue for the meeting on 20 July 1871 at which the F.A. Cup was first proposed.   (The establishment of the Cup was formally approved at a subsequent meeting on 16 October 1871.)

Several “Courts” – narrow alleyways – still exist along Fleet Street, but there is no trace of Boy Court today.  As someone who regularly visits the Fleet Street area on business, I explored the Ludgate Hill area on a number of occasions trying to find clues as to its whereabouts.  Boy Court was evidently so small that even the nine-inch map in George W. Bacon’s New Large Scale Ordnance Atlas of London & Suburbs of 1888 didn’t locate the site. Online searching eventually threw up one small clue from the 1779 Horwood Map.

The Joy of the Single, a BBC4 programme broadcast in April 2017 inadvertently provided a clue as to the disappearance of Boy Court from the face of the earth.

The Sportsman newspaper was based at Boy Court, Ludgate Hil

Boy Court would have been tucked away behind the missing buildings that used to front on to Ludgate Hill on the left looking up towards St Paul’s.

Bombsight, the website that has mapped the World War 2 bomb census, reveals that the area was hit by two high explosive bombs between 7 October 1940 and 6 June 1941. So the sporting landmark where Alcock, “the father of English sport” worked, and where the F.A. Cup and international football were conceived, was obliterated in the blitz.

They did not grow old – from Henley-on-Thames to the Somme

By , 26th June 2016 12:14

The start of the Battle of the Somme is the most significant First World War anniversary that falls during Henley Royal Regatta.  In 2016, Henley coincides with the Somme’s centenary commemorations.

Cities, towns and villages mourned the huge losses from this first major action for the thousands who had volunteered for the Army during 1914 and 1915 many of whom joined-up alongside their friends in what became known as Pals Battalions.

Although there wasn’t a Pals Brigade for oarsmen, Henley Races, published in 1919, includes a chapter entitled Last Post which lists of 273 Henley competitors (including 14 coxes) who fell during the war.  It provides an insight into the impact of the Great War on Henley and the place of rowing in Edwardian society.

Educated at Radley and Wadham College Oxford, the book’s author was Sir Theodore A. Cook. He was editor of The Field and a timekeeper at Henley. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography records that Cook “turned The Field in a propagandist direction” during the First World War. He was also a campaigner for “the preservation of true sportsmanship” and the amateur ethos.

Cook’s list reflects the definitions of “amateur” used by Henley and the Amateur Rowing Association at that time.   “Manual labour” and “menial duty” exclusions effectively restricted the right to compete at Henley and other leading regattas to the universities, public schools and those clubs serving the upper echelons of the middle classes.

Cook doesn’t explain how the list was compiled, but records from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge would appear to have been an important source, as he comments that “Cambridge has made a more complete record of her soldiers than Oxford.”

264 of those listed served in the Army, five in the Navy and 11 are either indicated as having been attached to the Royal Flying Corps or, from 1 April 1918, as serving in the newly constituted Royal Air Force.

Colleges are identified for 180 – two thirds – of the 273.  The largest contribution to the list – 26 – came from Trinity College Cambridge: 16 from First Trinity Boat Club and ten from the Third. Magdalen was the most prominent Oxford college, contributing 14.  E.D. Powell of Trinity College Dublin was the only oarsman identified as having come from a non-Oxbridge UK institution although G.D. East, killed while serving as a Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps, is linked to both St Bart’s Hospital and Thames R.C..

42 individuals had competed in the Boat Race – 21 from each university.  Collectively they had amassed 71 Blues of which 40 were awarded by Oxford. 27 had been members of 40 winning Boat Race crews.

Twelve had competed at either the 1908 or 1912 Olympic Games. G.B Taylor killed serving as a Lieutenant in the Canadian Highlanders and formerly of Trinity Oxford and Argonauts R.C., had competed at both.  Four were Olympic Champions.

There is very much less information about club affiliations. Only thirteen English clubs are named compared with 36 Oxbridge colleges.  Total clubs losses of 67 are headed by London R.C. (15) and Thames (14).

While not all oarsmen get to race at Henley, the limited coverage of clubs suggests that Cook’s list understates the overall loss Henley competitors.   Hear the Boat Sing recounts the stories behind several club war memorials†.  Several oarsmen commemorated by their clubs are mentioned in the detailed records of the regattas from 1903 to 1914 that make up the bulk of the book but are missing from the Last Post chapter.  One example is A.J. Shaw who appears on the joint memorial erected on Trent Bridge by four Nottingham clubs and raced in the Wyfold for Nottingham Union R.C. in 1914 but is missing from the list.

In a similar vein, Chris Dodd’s history of London R.C., Water Boiling Aft, records that 90 members of the club volunteered between the outbreak of war and the end of 1914 and that 50 members did not return.  Only nine London members feature in Last Post.

Seven schools are identified against 91 of the names: Bedford (15),  Cheltenham (1), Eton (41), Radley (19), Shrewsbury (10,) Winchester (1) and Beaumont College (4)‡.

Cook corroborates Chris Dodd’s observation that oarsmen had been quick to join the flood of volunteers after the outbreak of war: “After July 1914, however, all rowing stopped except at schools. Nearly every boat club known at Henley — I am glad to record it — had sent its able-bodied men to the Army or the Navy before a whisper of conscription had been heard.”  He continued, “Both the University crews, and all the British competitors in final heats at the Henley of 1914, were in naval or military training by the Christmas of that year. “

Cross-referencing the Last Post list against the records for the 1914 Regatta reveals that the Christ’s Cambridge Ladies Plate eight and Jesus College Thames Cup crew lost four members each while the London R.C. Grand, Eton and Radley Ladies Plate crews and Selwyn College Thames Cup crews all lost three.  The Brasenose four that raced in both the Wyfold and Vistors lost three members while the 3rd Trinity Goblets pair of E.G. Williams and Le Blanc-Smith were both killed.

In The English, A Social History, 1066-1945, Christopher Hibbert states that 750,000 volunteers had enlisted by the end of September 1914 rising to more than a million by the end of that year.

Last Post suggests a high correlation between amateur oarsmen and the officer class.  Just ten of the 273 were privates or non-commissioned officers.

Hibbert notes “A high proportion of the killed and wounded [in the First World War] were officers, many of whom had received their commissions on the strength of certificates granted by the Officer Training Corps of the public schools and universities, and many more of whom had gone straight from school to France as second lieutenants before reaching that not very high standard of efficiency that the getting of a certificate demanded.”  About one in five officers from public schools were killed: the exact numbers for Eton were 1157 fatalities among the 4852 Old Etonians who served overseas.

53 of the 273 – a fifth – held the rank of 2nd Lieutenant while 88 – a third – were Lieutenants.  82 were Captains while 20 had achieved the rank of Major. The list also includes six Lieutenant Colonels and two Colonels.  (There were also four Reverends and one cadet.)

26 of those named had been awarded the Military Cross (one with a Bar), four the Distinguished Service Order, one the Distinguished Service Cross and one the Croix de Guerre.  Medals won on the water at Henley included 27 in the Grand, 32 in the Ladies, 12 in the Thames, 5 in the Stewards, 19 in the Wyfold, 18 in the Visitors, two in the Goblets and four in the Diamonds.

The Somme Campaign

Stretching along 14 miles of the Western Front between Maricourt in the south and Serre in the north, the Somme was one part of an Allied master-plan hatched in December 1915 to defeat Germany with simultaneous large scale attacks on the Western, Russian and Italian fronts during the summer of 1916.

Giuseppe Sinigagli, a member of Lario Club Como, was one of the representatives of overseas clubs mentioned in the list.  The 1914 Diamonds winner died on 10 August 1916 serving as a Lieutenant on the Karts Plateau on the Italian front.

The first day of the Somme offensive resulted in 57,470 British and Commonwealth casualties of whom 19,240 were killed.  July 1st 1916 holds the record for the highest number of casualties suffered by the British Army in a single day.   By the end of the 141-day campaign on 18 November, more than a million men on both sides had been either killed or wounded.

Although Cook’s list doesn’t record where the fallen fell, it has been possible to confirm that at least four of the 273 died on the first day of the Somme.

Two of these four were 2nd Lieutenants.

Charles Treverbyn Gill, was attached to the 22nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment was a graduate of Exeter College Oxford and a member of London R.C.. As a junior officer in an infantry regiment, Gill would almost certainly have led his unit “over the top” when the advance started at 7.30 am on what was a bright summer morning.  As such, there is a high probability he would have been one of the early casualties.  He’s commemorated at the Peronnne Road Cemetery, Maricourt.

In 1915, Christopher Monckton, had raced for Eton II against Beaumont School in one of the private matches that were virtually the only rowing on the Henley reach after the outbreak of war. From two Eton eights that raced that summer, no fewer than six fell in the War. A year later, Monckton was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Irish Fusiliers but attached to No 13 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corp. He was killed in action while flying BE2c 2648 having taken off from Savy aerodrome on a bombing mission at 14:40. His plane was last observed in combat with a German aircraft.  The 18-year old was laid to rest in Mons-en-Chaussee cemetery.

The other two Henley oarsmen identifiable as having been killed on 1 July were both part of a fatally-flawed and ill-fated “diversionary” attack on Gommecourt.  From this heavily fortified German salient the main British advance towards Serre at the northern end of the Somme front could be threatened by flanking fire.

Bernard Sydney Harvey and John Robert Somers-Smith were both Captains in the London Rifle Brigade which was part of the 56th (1st London) Division deployed with the 46th (North Midland) Division against Gommecourt.


“Gommecourt was particularly easy of defence, and from the shape of the ground it was a most difficult place from which to disengage troops in the event of partial failure or incomplete success.”

Official History of the War, Military Operations: France & Belgium 1916, Vol 1.

Born in August 1888, Harvey had raced at Henley for Trinity College Oxford in the Wyfold and Visitors in 1908 and in both the Ladies Plate and Thames Cup in 1909.  (Doubling-up was commonplace at Edwardian Henley.) He had also trialed for the Oxford Blue Boat in 1909.

Somers-Smith won the Ladies Plate with Eton in 1905 and competed again as Captain of Boats in 1906.  He stroked and steered Magdalen College Oxford to victory in both the Wyfold and Visitors in 1907 and then the Stewards and Visitors in 1908.

As well as trialling for the Oxford Blue Boat in both 1907 and 1908, he reached the semi-final of the Grand in 1908, losing to Gent. He went on to win gold at the Olympic Regatta of the 1908 London Games – also held at Henley – where he stroked his Magdalen coxless four to victories over Canada in a heat and Leander in the final.

He had been awarded the Military Cross for gallantry at the 2nd Battle of Ypres (22 April – 25 May 1915).  His elder brother Richard, a double rowing blue for Oxford, had been killed at Hooge in the Ypres Salient on 30 June 1915 – a year and a day before the start of the Somme offensive.

The two Captains were among 2,026 who paid the ultimate price at Gommecourt.  Like so many thousands of those who fell on the Western Front, they have no known graves. By coincidence, their names are adjacent to each other on the Thiepval Memorial.

The second overseas club referenced in the list is erroneously named as New South Wales. K. Heritage had been a member of the winning Sydney R.C. Grand crew of 1912 which went on to represent Australia at the Stockholm Olympics.  As a Captain in the Australian Infantry, he was awarded the M.C. He fell on the 26th day of the Somme Campaign and is buried at Pozieres British Cemetery at Ovillers La Boisselle.

Post Script

Nine of the 273 listed succumbed to injuries between the armistice of 11 November 1918 and the publication of the book in mid 1919.  Even while writing the introduction in 1919, the author warned that the list was “subject to revision.”

One of these was W.A.L. Fletcher, DSO, Chairman of the Regatta Committee and Umpire. As an oarsman in the late 1880s and early 1890s, he won four Boat Races with Oxford, two Ladies Plates, and the Thames Cup.  He raced three times for the Grand.

Another Henley official who did not survive the war was W.F.C. Holland, a committee member and judge. Rowing at bow behind Fletcher at stroke in the 1890 Oxford crew, his rowing honours included three Boat Race victories in four appearances, three wins in the Grand and one in the Ladies.

 

Mainzer Ruder-Verein von 1878

In his introduction to the records relating to Henley 1914, Cook wrote, “This Regatta had begun before the murdered Archduke Francis Ferdinand was buried; but the shadow of coming catastrophe was not seen upon the famous racecourse, and we all went home after the meeting without the slightest premonition that it would be some five years before we met again, or that – in the dreadful interval of the coming warfare – so many who were competing in the races of 1914 would be lost to us forever.  In one contest that fateful summer there was, as we look back on it, a very singular prognostication of the results to be shown in 1918.” He was referring to the race in the Grand between Jesus College Cambridge and the German club Mainzer Ruder-Verein von 1878.

Mainzer appeared at Henley several times during the early 20th century.  In 1914, they were quite possibly en-route to Henley to race in the Grand and Stewards as the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on 28 June lit the fuse that would lead to war.

At that time in Germany, all able bodied men between the ages of 17 and 45 were liable for military service: 17 year olds could be called-up to serve in the Landsturm home defence force, similar to the British Army’s Territorial force.  On his 20th birthday, if not working in an exempt profession, a man would start two-years of active service.  This would be followed by 4-5 years in the reserves with an obligation to attend two-weeks training each year – considered to be something of a holiday from home and work during peace time.  After the reserves, men were attached to the Landwehr for a further 11 years.  Most Mainzer members were attached to the “Grand Duchess” (3rd Großherzoglich Hessian) No. 117 Regiment, which was garrisoned in Mainz.  The regiment had a reputation for its sporting prowess.

The 1914 Grand entry included five members of the Mainzer crew that became the very first of the noble tradition of German eights to take gold at international championships when it won the European Championships in Gent in August 1913. Victory for Mainzer over Jesus College Cambridge by ¾ of a length in their first heat meant that for the first time in its 75-year history, and much to the regret of Cook, all four semi-finalists in the Regatta’s blue-riband event were from overseas. In the closely contested semi-final, Union B.C. Boston, USA, who never led by more than half a length, held on to win by a canvas.

Four from the eight also raced in the Stewards, losing to Leander in their first heat having suffered from steering problems off the start and the collapse of their three-man, Oskar Cordes, as the crews approached Phyllis Court.

Of the Grand eight, we know that Werner Furthmann, Josef Fremersdorf, Oskar Cordes, Lorenz Eismayer and cox Johann Baptist Stohschnitter all survived the war.  However, injuries prevented Fremersdorf from returning to the water until 1921 while Cordes, who went on to become a leading figure in the German rowing federation, lost a leg. Eismayer’s brother Konrad also perished.

George Oertel (7) and Erich Vetter (6) were members of both the 1913 European Championship and 1914 Grand crews.  Oertel served  at Verdun, the Somme and Champagne and was wounded five time, three times seriously.  He survived the hostilities but died suddenly in March 1920.  Vetter was killed in action. Richard Piez, their crew-mate in the 1913 crew, was also killed in March 1917 while serving as a pilot.

In total, Mainzer lost 39 members to the conflict.

(Many thanks to Rolf Stephan, club archivist and Axel Lang curator of an exhibition on the 1913 European Championship crew for their help with information on Mainzer Ruder-Verein 1878.)

 

Links

In this World Rowing article to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, Martin Cross describes his own journey in a sculling boat down the Somme and how War and the Somme Campaign has touched the rowing communities of many countries.

For eye-witness accounts of the first day of the Somme, listen to this podcast from the Imperial War Museum

Notes

†The Imperial War Museum website includes a register of war memorials. All clubs which have memorials to members lost to war should check that their’s is included.

‡Beaumont was Jesuit public school in Old Windsor, sometimes known as “the Catholic Eton”. It closed in 1967.

In search of John Graham Chambers: sport’s serial law maker

By , 10th February 2016 09:30

On 10 February 1866, an article appeared on the front page of a new weekly newspaper welcoming the establishment of a new athletics club in London.

The Amateur Athletic Club wouldn’t be an athletic club as we would understand the term today.   It’s “object” was to establish “a ground at which numerous competitions in Amateur Athletic Sports and Foot Races may take place.”  It was also intended that as soon as funding allowed, club members would be able to enjoy the use of “a Club House, Gymnasium, Racquet Courts, Swimming Bath &c.”.

The AAC saw itself assuming the same role in athletics “that the Jockey Club holds toward racing or the Marylebone Club towards cricketers.”  One of its earliest resolutions was to organise “an Annual Champion Meeting for Athletic Sports on the day before the Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge”.

Land_And_Water_Masthead

Appearing in just the third issue of Land and Water, the article represents something of a landmark in the history of organised sport.  The article’s author was John Graham Chambers, then 23 years of age and a recent graduate from Cambridge University. A double rowing blue and former president of Cambridge University Boat Club, Chambers had also been one of the instigators of the first Inter-Varsity athletics match in 1864.

Although his personal interest wasn’t declared in the article, Chambers – who would later become editor of Land and Water – was deeply involved in establishing the Amateur Athletic Club. He was appointed to the working committee and would become the general manager of the Club’s grounds, once they had been secured.

Land_and_Water

Chambers’ leading article from Vol I, No.3 of Land and Water, 10 February 1866

He was one of the first to write a rule-book for athletics.  A contemporary at Cambridge and close friend of the Marquess of Queensberry, he was the principle author of the eponymous rules of boxing.  He was part of a group that revised rowing’s rules of racing and also took an interest in the rules of billiards.  As a member of a sub-committee of Stewards, he devised a management structure for Henley Royal Regatta that was later adopted by de Coubertin for the International Olympic Committee.

As well as the first national championships in athletics, Chambers would also stage the first boxing tournaments under the Queensberry rules and some of the earliest track cycling races – when the only bikes were penny farthings.  He would also host the second F.A. Cup Final.

Chambers’ name crops up in all sorts of sporting histories of the 1860s and 1870s but the numerous strands of his own story don’t appear to have been pulled together.

His involvement in sport touches on a number of sporting and societal themes that resonate loudly 150 years later:

  • Governance of sport and governing bodies
  • Betting and its threat to the integrity of sport
  • The close relationship between sport and the media
  • Accessibility and inclusivity
  • Economics and sustainability of sporting venues
  • The influence of Old Etonians
  • Full beards being fashionable!

In his personal life, Chambers missed out on what would have been a substantial inheritance – due to the illegitimacy of his father.  As it happened, he only survived his father by a year: even by Victorian standards, his death at the age of just 40, must be considered premature.  If histories are written by the winners, perhaps Chambers’ story has not been told because he died too young to write it himself.

I’m already indebted to several historians – some professional and others enthusiastic amateurs like myself – who have provided leads, tips, advice and encouragement.  If any readers have come across any other references to Chambers, please share them with me by leaving a comment.

Thanks.

Oarsmen who were Founding Fathers of Football

By , 19th October 2013 11:31
3 Kings Bench Walk, FA, Morley

3 Kings Bench Walk – the office of Ebenezer Cobb Morley’s legal practice

UPDATED 21 October 2013

26 October 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Football Association at the Freemason’s Tavern, Great Queen Street, London.

On 30 April 2013, the FA launched a campaign to trace the descendants of those who were present at that inaugural meeting – the Founding Father’s of football.  They published a list of eight men.  Seven had been elected as the original officers at that inaugural meeting. Charles Alcock rose to prominence shortly after.  On 21 October 2013, the eight were commemorated with a plaque at Wembley.  Three of the eight were oarsmen.

Further research by Scottish sports historian Andy Mitchell reveals that five of the fifteen men known to have been present in October 1863 had a rowing connection.

Ebenezer Cobb Morley was born in Hull on 16 August 1831, the son of another Ebenezer Morley, a Congregationalist minister. He was baptised at his father’s Holborn Street Chapel.  Local press reports suggest Morley Senior was a leading figure in the British Schools movement in the Hull area.

Little is known about the younger Morley’s education but he isn’t believed to have attended public school.  He trained in Hull as a solicitor, qualifying in 1854 and at some point, he moved to London where he took chambers at 3 King’s Bench Walk, Temple.

Where and when Ebenezer took up rowing isn’t clear.  Perhaps it was when he moved to Barnes in 1858 where he lived at 26 The Terrace overlooking Barnes Bridge and what is now Thames Tradesman Rowing Club. He joined London Rowing Club, on the Putney Embankment, close to the start of the Boat Race, and threw himself whole-heartedly into the club and the sport.

Various episodes of his rowing career are captured in Chris Dodd’s 2006 history of London Rowing Club Water boiling aft.  He joined the committee at London in 1860.  He founded Barnes & Mortlake Regatta in 1862 and served as Regatta Secretary until 1880.  He became Hon Solicitor of London in 1862 and appears to have provided legal advice to the club for the rest of his life.

According to Water Boiling Aft, in May 1863 just six months before the founding of the FA, he rowed to his home town of Hull from London with three other London members, The journey, which traversed the canal network to the Trent, Ouse & Humber, totalled 300 Miles and 148 locks.  In 1864 he rowed at 2 for London in a heat of the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley.

In 1865, Morley was elected to London’s the 12-strong Badge Committee which oversaw training, coaching and crew preparation.

He acted as starter for the London Rowing Club Athletic Sports held at Lord Ranelagh’s Beaufort House on 17 February 1866. Sporting Life reported a crowd of more than 1000.   He would also officiate at varsity athletics meetings held on Boat Race day.

London Rowing Club

London Rowing Club HQ – owned by the London Boat House Company Ltd

In 1870, he presumably handled the incorporation of the London Boat House Company which protects the ownership of London RC’s HQ to this day.  He certainly witnessed the signatures of the original directors of the company.

So with all of this going on, the question arises, how did he get involved in creating the world’s most popular sport?

Local forms of football had been played in villages and towns across the country for centuries, often on holy days such as Shrove Tuesday or Good Friday. A handful are still played today.

Pupils at many public schools developed their own versions of football adapted to their local environments.   For many schoolboys, football was an expression of their rejection of the authority of their schools. Progressive head masters recognised that organised sport opened up opportunities to counter and reshape this culture.  It also chimed with growing emphasis on the fully rounded individual and the concept of “muscular Christianity”.

As pupils from this period started to move on to university they discovered that differences in rules meant games were largely restricted to groups of old-boys from a particular school.

At Cambridge in 1848, there was an early attempt at devising a compromise set of rules by which old-boys from all schools could play. These “Cambridge Rules” were updated in 1856 by a group of undergraduates that included old-boys from Eton, Harrow, Shrewsbury, Rugby and the University including the Old Etonian H. Snow – who had raced at 7 in that year’s victorious Boat Race Crew.  The Cambridge Rules were updated again in October 1863 shortly before the meeting at the Freemasons’ Tavern. (At least one of the contributors to the 1863 revision, R.H. Blake Humfrey, had been a “wet-bob” while at Eton.)

Ebenezer Morley’s recorded football history starts when he founded Barnes Football Club in 1862.  The club was based at Lime Fields, a short walk from his riverside home.

The correspondence pages of the burgeoning sporting press had been debating the rules of football for some years.  In 1863, Morley himself wrote to Bell’s Life to propose a meeting with the objective of  “…bringing about a definite code of laws for the regulation and adoption of the various clubs which indulge in this exciting and health promising winter pastime.”

A meeting was convened at Freemason’s Tavern on 26 October 1863.  13 clubs from the London area were represented but Charterhouse was the only major public school to attend. 11 of the clubs joined the Football Association formed at the meeting.

Morley was elected as the first secretary, a position he held for three years until 1866.

The FA’s first rule book was developed over the course of five meetings up to the end of 1863.  There were protracted discussions over the extent to which the ball could be handled and whether hacking should be permitted.   Morley was firmly in the camp that wished to limit handling and outlaw hacking.  His view was that, “If we have hacking, no one who has arrived at the age of discretion will play at football, and it will be left entirely to the school boys.”

Influenced by the 1863 Cambridge Rules, the game defined by the first set of FA rules was still something of a hybrid that retained more handling of the ball than allowed today.  It was the solicitor Morley who minuted the meetings and drafted the first FA rules.  The minute book, in Morley’s long hand, is on public display at the British Library until 17 December 2013.

The first “official” match played under FA rules was between a President’s Side (selected by Arthur Pember, an investigative journalist) and a Secretary’s Side selected by Morley.  The match was played in Battersea Park on 9 January 1864.  The Presidents team won 2-0.

1866 saw the first match involving a representative FA team – against Sheffield FC. Morley scored the first goal.  Sheffield is recognised by FIFA as being the oldest surviving football club in the world having been founded in 1857.

This match was significant for a number of reasons. The FA wore white shirts – setting the precedent for later England sides and the match was played under FA rules. The match duration was fixed for 90 minutes and the ball chosen was Lillywhite’s No 5 – the first recorded instance of either duration or ball size being specified. Both became football fundamentals.

At the 1867 AGM, Morley stood down as Secretary and became President of the FA. He would later be succeeded as secretary by Charles Alcock who has generally usurped Morley as “the father of football” in most football histories.

As president, it was Morley who presented the Cup to the victorious Wanderers side after the first FA Cup final in 1872.

Morley remained president of the FA until 1874 when the oarsman fades out of the history of football.  However, he remained involved with London RC for the rest of his life.  He died at his home in Barnes on 20 November 1924 at the age of 93.

The second oarsman at the inaugural meeting of the FA was Herbert Thomas Steward.  His involvement in the FA appears to have been short-lived but he was unconsciously involved in creating another structure that has enormous influence in world sport today.

Steward was born on 9 November 1838 in Westminster.  He was the son of Thomas Francis Steward, a maths teacher at Westminster School. Census returns suggest he lived in Deans Yard, within the school grounds, in 1841, 51, 61 and 1871 by which time he was 32 and his mother was widowed. Steward attended Westminster School as a pupil.

Growing up in Deans Yard, he would probably have witnessed games of Westminster’s version of football which has been described as “A particularly rough dribbling game” and allowed players to catch the ball and then kick it out of their hands. Running with the ball, however, was outlawed. The 150th anniversary football match between Westminster and Charterhouse was played on 18 September 2013.

Steward first comes to prominence in 1863.  At the Freemason’s Tavern, Steward represented Crusaders FC.  Like most of the founding members of the FA, it was a club that drew together old boys from a number of public schools.  The Club quickly resigned from the FA because other schools weren’t participating – many commentators at the time were convinced the FA would fail without the support of the major public schools and their old-boy clubs. Crusaders would re-join some years later.

Earlier the same year he had been elected as the first Captain of Leander, the exclusive rowing club, serving until 1865.  He was Honorary Secretary of the Club between 1866 and 1879 and both Captain & Secretary of Leander in 1868. He became a Steward of Henley Royal Regatta in 1879.

In 1881 he was a member of a sub-committee of the Henley Stewards that was asked to consider new governance and financial structures to secure the long-term future of Henley Royal.  It was this sub-committee that proposed the creation of the Committee of Management.  The proposal was endorsed by the Stewards but only fully implemented in 1885.

Steward was elected President of Leander in 1892, Chairman of Henley Royal in 1894, and achieved a triple crown in 1897 by becoming Chairman of the ARA (which had been founded in 1882).

In 1888, three years after the full implementation of the Henley Royal constitution that Steward had helped to formulate, Baron Pierre De Coubertin attended the regatta.

De Coubertin described the structure of the self-selecting group of Stewards, the smaller Committee of Management and its Chairman as “three concentric circles” made up of “those who were deeply committed, those who could be educated to the cause, and those whose position and influence could be useful.” This model was adopted as the basis of the IOC constitution at its foundation on 23 June 1894.  (Arthur Oliver Villiers Russell, the Second Baron Ampthill  was one of the original members of the IOC.  He had been a member of the 1890 and 1891 Oxford blue boats, won the 1891 Grand and was a Henley Steward between 1894 and 1935.)

Leander Henley

Leander Club, Henley – designed by HT Steward

Professionally, Steward was an architect and surveyor.  In 1904, he would be President of the Surveyor’s Institution.  He designed Leander’s Henley clubhouse that opened in 1897.

HT Steward had four children. Both his sons would be elected Stewards of Henley Royal: Herbert Arthur was born 1878, elected Steward in 1913 and died 1948; Clifford Thomas was born 1881, elected Steward 1909, died 1943.  Herbert Arthur’s son, & HT’s grandson, CTS Steward was also elected a Steward and served 1971-1981.

The FA published a profile of HT, as one of the Founding Fathers, on its website in August 2013 which appeared to have overlooked CTS Steward. It concluded that HT had no direct descendants beyond a daughter of Herbert Arthur who died having had no children in 1861.

The other oarsmen present at the birth of the FA were Thomas Dyson Gregory (London RC & Treasurer of Barnes & Mortlake Regatta), George Twizell Wawn (London) and Theodore Bell (Kingston RC).

(Based on notes prepared for a presentation to the Rowing History Forum, at the River & Rowing Museum, Henley-on-Thames, 11 October 2013)

Sporting sesquicentenaries

By , 3rd July 2013 06:59

The (English) Football Association celebrated its 150th anniversary – and its pioneering role as the oldest national governing body in the sport of (association) football –  in 2013.

Henley Royal Regatta, which had a massive influence on the early development of rowing as an amateur sport, celebrated its 150th anniversary, in 1989. As only he could, Peter Coni, the then Chairman applied the adjective “sesquicentenary” to the celebrations.

With a light stream and strong tail wind, especially on finals day, the regatta was notable for new course and intermediate records in several events. In winning the Grand Challenge Cup, one of the two events staged at the first Henley in 1839, Hansa Dortmund became the first crew to cover the Henley course in less than six minutes.

However, for those who were in the Stewards Enclosure on Sunday July 2nd, it was the final of the Ladies Plate, the second most senior event for eights, which created the drama and the abiding memories.

As one of those witnesses, it proved very difficult to concentrate on my return to work the following day.  I can confess that my productivity on that Monday morning was woeful as I felt compelled to commit my recollections to paper.

It’s interesting that the observations about the reserve of British spectators is now out-dated. Perhaps the “Dorney Roar” of London 2012 owes something to the passion that can be generated by the active rowing enthusiasts who make up the overwhelming majority of the spectators in the Stewards Enclosure.  Re-reading the text on the eve of Henley 2013, it dawned on me that the  man “waving the gnarled piece of wood” was the legendary Harvard coach, Harry Parker who sadly passed away on 25 June 2013, aged 77.

This is what I wrote 24 years ago.

 

THE DAY NOTTS COUNTY WON THE LADIES PLATE – TWICE

Jim and I extracted ourselves from the Bridge Bar half an hour before the end of the tea interval in order to ensure we had a good view of what the programme told us were the last five races of the day. Leaning over the rail of the upper deck of the floating grandstand, we chatted about the races to come and the records that had tumbled earlier.

Less than five feet away, the legendary Steward and commentator Angus Robertson was quietly practicing: it was probably “R Floryn and N Rienks of Die Leythe and Okeanos, Holland on the Bucks station and P Luzek and I Gruza of Dukla Praha, Czechoslovakia on the Berkshire station” for the final of the Double Sculls Challenge Cup was due off at 5.25. Just before tea he had finally seen-off K Broniewski of AZS-AWF Warszawa, Poland, in the final of the Diamonds to yet another round of applause, and had coped admirably with the surprise breaking of the AZS Szczecin & AZS Wroclaw 1987 Fawley record in the Prince Philip.

The Ladies Plate between Harvard, reputed to be the fastest crew in America, and Notts County Rowing Association was the first race after tea at 5.15. This was the one Jim was most interested in: apparently C Bates (10 st 11 lb), the Notts County bowman was a friend of his. Jim was telling me about some selection wrangle which was bubbling in the background as the race started.

Henley Royal Regatta 1989 Ladies Plate final Notts County vs Harvard

The first final

From behind me, Mr Robertson reported the progress of the crews to the massed crowds. Notts came hurtling down the course, leading to the barrier in a record equaling 1.48, lengthening out to Fawley in a record breaking 3.01 and shattering both Harvard and their semi-final full course record with a five length verdict in 6.13.

For a crew that gave away 2st 2lb per man and maintained a rate in the 40s and high 30s for most of the course, the Notts crews still had enough breath to make an incredible din as they crossed the line!

That, we thought, was that for the Ladies Plate and we turned our attention to the Visitors which was already approaching the Barrier. (Why did the Stewards revert to five-minute intervals more normally associated with Wednesday racing for the first three finals after tea? In the third race, Floryn and Rienks in the Doubles had reached the mile signal before commentators could catch up with them.)

At some point during the remaining races, probably between races 16 and 17, a man appeared behind me, and entered into deep discussion with Messrs Robertson and colleagues. In his right hand he was waving a gnarled piece of wood 6-8 inches long and about an inch and a half thick. I remember thinking it was an odd thing to carry around the Stewards Enclosure. I was about to make a wise crack about the fact that our visitor was not wearing either a jacket or a tie but thought better of it!

The visitor departed and Mr Robertson issued an urgent instruction to his radio operator to find ‘the Chairman’. Officials were dispatched in all directions. At this point, I was all-ears but I had missed out on all the intrigue. The Chairman arrived and another sotto voce discussion took place before the Chairman left decreeing that whatever it was he had ordered had better be done ‘fast!’

The result of the Special Race for Schools had hardly been announced when Mr Robertson scurried away.

Jim and I departed for the Fawley stand and the prize giving. I told Jim what had been happening behind me: he had been engrossed in a conversation with somebody else.

When the announcement was made that the prize giving would be delayed by fifteen minutes, the Holmes instinct in me (Sherlock rather than Andy) now told me that something was definitely up.

But what? Jim and I walked around the back of the Fawley stand and saw an empty space: there was no Nottingham green between the German Grand winners and the purple blazers of UL who had vanquished Ridley in the Thames.

Then Mr Robertson made another announcement. A piece of wood had become lodged in the fin of the Harvard boat and the race Umpire, who was co-incidentally the Chairman, had ordered a re-row at 8.00 pm. The crowd waiting for prize giving audibly gasped.

The prize giving came and went, and a surprisingly large crowd waited for eight o’clock and the second final of the Ladies’ Challenge Plate.

Somehow I managed to lose Jim, so I returned to the floating grandstand. He reappeared a little later with a young lady who also appeared to know the 10 st 11 lb Notts bowman. (She wasn’t a member of Stewards, but nobody seemed to notice, or care.)

Mr Robertson was already in his place at the microphone and there was chatter about esoteric subjects such as rule 30M. The Steward recounted to an enquirer that he had seen the Harvard cox reach under the boat and pull out the offending branch as the boat had crossed the line. He was totally confident that the rules had been applied fairly. Henley was all about fair play, and justice “must be seen to be done”. I asked what would happen if they dead-heated the re-row. Without hesitation he said: “That’s easy, they turn around, go back and do it again!”.

From Jim’s friend I heard how the Notts crew had had a bevy or two to celebrate already, had showered, changed into blazers for the prize giving, and de-rigged their boat.

Margaret Marshall, well-known Notts County ‘groupie’ came upstairs to the floating stand as well. She couldn’t keep still for nerves. It was one of those incredibly tense sporting moments. Nobody was certain whether the lightweights could pull off a second victory and the fairly stiff tail wind that had helped them down the course the first time had virtually disappeared.

Henley Royal Regatta 1989 - Ladies Plate Final re-row Notts County vs Harvard. Photo: Ian Volans

Approaching the finish line in the re-row

Eight o’clock eventually arrived and the race started. Notts again left the stake boat at a heart-stopping rate and Mr Robertson announced that the Barrier record they had equaled earlier had now been reduced to 1.47. Fawley was reached in 3.01, the same time as in the first final and as the crews, still overlapping, passed the mile signal the enclosure opened its collective throat.

The British have often been accused of being too reserved and not getting behind its sportsmen and women. I am coming to the conclusion that this is not an accusation that can be leveled at the Stewards’ Enclosure. I also suspect that the nine Australians who went down by one foot to Leander in the 1988 Grand Final would agree. Harvard are probably revising their opinions too. A friend who had been standing on the river bank said that he did hear a man shout for Harvard, “but only once.”

Coming past the progress board, Harvard were still too close for the comfort of those on the bank, but at least a couple of the Notts oarsmen seemed to be unconcerned as they started punching the air.

After taking a couple of seconds to compose himself, a very relieved-looking Angus Robertson allowed himself a smile before announcing the result of the Ladies Challenge Plate: Notts County had won by two-thirds of a length in yet another new record time of 6.11.

 

HRR 1989 Ladies Plate Final

HRR conventions used to note record breaking times in the programme.

 

Hundreds of spectators waited to applaud Notts as they completed a quick lap of honour past the stands and a sizeable crowd gathered to see the crew come into the landing stage to be congratulated first by Chairman Coni handing out medals and then by the Harvard crew who almost managed to capsize the pontoon. The applause only stopped when the boat was in the boat-tent.

Henley Royal Regatta - After the rerow of the Ladies Plate final. Photo: Ian Volans

HRR Chairman Peter Coni and Harvard congratulate Notts County after the re-row

This is the stuff that legends are made out off and like all legends some aspects will be embellished in the retelling. In years to come it may be told that the Notts crew drank the Bridge Bar dry between the two races, or that the Harvard crew had one of the course booms lodged in its fin. Whatever the myths of the future, the truth on the first Sunday in July, 1989 was that Nottinghamshire County Rowing Association ‘A’ crew gave away over two stone per man and still beat the ‘fastest crew in America’ twice in a period of 2 hours 51 minutes and 11 seconds, setting record times on both occasions.

Driving home, my thoughts returned to the final of the Grand. The achievement of Hansa Dortmund in becoming the first crew to race down the Henley track in less than six minutes would have been the abiding memory of any normal Henley Finals Day. However, Finals Day of Henley’s 150th birthday regatta was far from normal.

Tom Kay, the three-man in the Notts County crew, posted his own recollections of the two finals in June 2017.

Guardian Writer’s Relay – Day 51: honouring St Albans champion of golf

By , 8th July 2012 09:24

The Guardian has been celebrating the Olympic Torch Relay with its own online writer’s relay. Each day, guest writers are asked to describe what it means to them to see the flame visiting their own home town.

For the Torch Relay’s journey through St Albans on Sunday 8 July, SportingLandmarks was asked to contribute.

Update: On 27 July, the day of the London 2012 Opening Ceremony, the Guardian summed-up what turned-out to be a great project.

Will London 2012 give Britain’s sporting heritage its Moment to Shine?

By , 21st December 2011 13:27

The ‘towns on route’ have been announced and 6800 torch bearers have been unveiled. The complex planning process for the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Torch Relays is entering its final stages. Over the next couple of months, the planning team must agree the street-level routes with local authorities across the country. But will the organisers miss the chance to create a legacy that would benefit the nations tourism industry beyond 2012?

The curtain-raiser to the Olympics since the infamous Berlin Games of 1936, the Olympic Torch Relay was transformed into a major sponsorship property by the Los Angeles Organising Committee in 1984. LA’s controversial ‘Youth Legacy Kilometer’ initiative also pioneered the idea of torch-bearers being nominated by the public: nominations were invited from individuals or companies who made a $3,000 donation to a special youth sport fund. Since LA, the fund-raising element has been dropped but the operational model, with incremental refinements, has been passed on in relay from one Games to the next.

LOCOG first outlined its vision for the Relay to “connect people to the Olympic Games, its heroes and its spirit,” in May 2010. “The Olympic Torch Relay will bring the 2012 Games to people’s doorsteps and showcase the best of the UK from dynamic urban areas to places of outstanding natural beauty and sporting and cultural landmarks.” To their credit, the LOCOG planning team appears to have bettered its initial target of the Relay route passing “within a one hour journey time” of 95% of the British population.

LOCOG’s initial Relay announcement bore an almost uncanny resemblance to the equivalent announcements from Vancouver, Beijing, Turin, Athens, Salt Lake and Sydney and even the Commonwealth Games Baton Relays of Delhi, Melbourne and Manchester. Strict observance of the established operational model appears to be stifling originality to the extent that sporting relays have become formulaic.

In their efforts to capture the public imagination and differentiate one Relay from the next, recent organisers have resorted to uplifting taglines. The invitation to “Light the Passion, Share the Dream“, was possibly misconstrued by the demonstrators that were attracted to various international legs of Beijing’s relay. London positions the Relay as “A moment to shine”.

Sadly, LOCOG appears to be in danger missing a trick. Britain’s unique sporting heritage gives LOCOG the opportunity to give the 2012 Relay a very distinctive feel and re-connect it, and the watching public, with the origins of many modern sports.

History is important to the International Olympic Committee. The Olympic Museum in Lausanne is currently the only permanent publicly accessible manifestation of the Olympic Movement. It is in the midst of a £30 million refurbishment.

DeCoubertin, who was inspired to re-establish the Olympics by William Penny Brookes, an octogenarian GP from Much Wenlock in Shropshire, once said that “holding an Olympic Games means evoking history”.

It is the century of iconic sporting moments and the spirits of athletes like Spiridon Louis, Dorando Pietri, Harold Abrahams, Jessie Owens, Fanny Blankers-Koen, Ogla Korbut, Mark Spitz, Kathy Freeman, Steve Redgrave that underpin and sustain the Olympic brand. It’s the heritage that keep the IOC’s corporate sponsors and the world’s media coming back for more, decade after decade.

Without this heritage, a latter-day de Coubertin would find it impossible to persuade a single country, let alone a single city, to invest the billions required to host simultaneous world championships for so many different sports.

When inviting the world’s athletes to come to London during the Year-to-Go celebrations in Trafalgar Square on 27 July, IOC President Jacques Rogge talked of the Games “coming to the nation that invented modern sport and the concept of fair play.”

The IOC website acknowledges how Britain created, codified or popularised 15 out of the 25 current summer Olympic sports. Thanks to Scotland’s role as the home of both golf and rugby sevens, the tally will rise to 17 at Rio 2016. It’s an unfortunate oversight that the Relay route bypasses the birthplace of sevens at Melrose.

In recent years, history has been out of fashion within Britain’s educational establishment. In spite of this, the subject has remained popular with the public and continues to attract respectable audiences on television, even in our multi-channel age. Television historians have been elevated into the ranks of celebrity. Given the chance, history can still engage and excite school children – especially when there are local and sporting dimensions.

The final presentations to the 2005 Olympic Congress that secured the Games for London were littered with references to Britain’s sporting and Olympic pedigrees. However, LOCOG’s enthusiasm for history appears to have waned.

Yes, LOCOG did name their official mascots after the aforementioned Much Wenlock and the Buckinghamshire birthplace of Paralympic sport at Stoke Mandeville. But, beyond including these two towns and a handful of other sporting venues in the Relay, references to sporting heritage have largely disappeared from more recent Relay announcements. The only reference to “heritage” in the towns-on-route announcement relates to one of the presenting partners.

While retaining the ambition to make the 2012 Games themselves “historic”, LOCOG has placed modernity at the heart of its brand values. Unfortunately, to its international audiences, “modern London” has taken on new meaning since the summer riots of 2011.

Places all over the country have significant associations with the development of sport. Incorporating just a selection of these places into the detailed street-level route could provide a narrative thread running through the 2012 Torch Relay that would demonstrate to the nation and the wider world how deeply sport is embedded into the DNA and landscape of these islands.

This needn’t be chauvinistic. The Relay provides a unique opportunity to celebrate the places all over the country and the diverse, if sometimes flawed, characters that helped shape world sport. A deeper understanding of our own sporting heritage would help prevent future embarrassments like the FA’s failed World Cup bid.

Examples are many, varied and often surprising. The magnificently named Major Walter Clopton Wingfield reputedly demonstrated lawn tennis for the first time at Nantclwyd Hall near Wrexham. John Graham Chambers, who drew up boxing’s Queensbury Rules, and was the driving force behind the first national championships in modern athletics, was born in Llanelli. Matthew Webb, the man who arguably did more to popularise swimming than any other person by conquering the English Channel unaided, was born in Dawley, just a few miles from Much Wenlock. He learned to swim in the River Severn in the shadow of the famous Ironbridge.

Charles Alcock who conceived the FA Cup and international football and also hosted the original Ashes cricket test match in his capacity as secretary of Surrey CCC, was born in Sunderland.

The story of Harry Clasper challenges the stereotypical perception of rowing as the preserve of public schools, Oxbridge and the Thames. At different times a miner, ships carpenter, wherryman and publican, Clasper became a folk hero on the Tyne racing against professional watermen from the capital. He also revolutionised racing boat design, introducing keel-less hulls and outriggers – the forerunners of the boats that will race at Eton next year. More than 100,000 Geordies are reported to have turned-out for his funeral in 1870.

The Sydney 2000 Olympic Torch Relay was instrumental in transforming scepticism among Australians outside the host city into widespread enthusiasm nationwide. In Britain, many who live outside the M25 tire of the continual, often subliminal, assertions of the cultural and economic superiority of London. Actively celebrating the sporting contributions of the communities along its route could help protect the Relay and the Games from such cynicism.

It’s also a sad reality that Torch Relays rarely generate much media coverage outside the host nation. The exceptions are as they enter the host city towards the end of their journeys or when they attract protesters.

As the 2012 Relay unfolds, a hundred or more overseas teams will be arriving in the UK for pre-Games training camps. Involving some of these visiting athletes as torch bearers at landmarks associated with their own sports would give the international media the stories that would justify covering the event. When even the Economist is questioning the tourism benefits of the Games, extending the world’s gaze beyond London could help transform the nation’s sporting heritage into a lasting sports tourism legacy that benefits the whole country.

In her 2011 RTS Huw Weldon Lecture, Bettany Hughes said, “It is the purpose of history to allow us to look confidently into the future.” Her observation that “History is essential to nourish the next generation,” echoed the aspirations that Seb Coe had for sport when he addressed the IOC in Singapore in 2005. Reconnecting the British people with their own local sporting heritage could give a boost to another struggling 2012 legacy programme by inspiring more people to take up sport themselves.

LOCOG’s own campaign to encourage the public to nominate unsung heroes as torch bearers was branded “Moment to Shine”. London 2012 still has the opportunity to give Britain’s unique and fascinating sporting heritage its own moment to shine.

Portobello revives regatta days

By , 27th July 2010 12:21

Always interested to read about efforts to re-establish long-lost sporting events – especially when the event in question is linked to the traditional livelihood of the area.

BBC – Portobello revives regatta days.

The Tideway: a Mecca for rowing

By , 27th March 2010 11:20

Before the Redgrave era, the Oxford & Cambridge Boat Race was virtually the only rowing ever seen on British television.  First contested at Henley-on-Thames in on 12 March 1829, the Boat Race moved to a stretch of the tidal Thames between Putney and Mortlake in 1845.

This is Matt Pincent’s 2011 Guide to the Boat Race Course.

Today, this 4 mile 374 yard stretch – sometimes referred to as ‘the Championship Course’ but more commonly as ‘the Tideway’ – is now the home waters of more than 40 rowing clubs and also plays host to ten races in the spring and autumn that attract hundreds of crews, thousands of rowers – both male and female of all ages – and every boat class from all over the UK – and further afield.

View The Tideway: a Mecca for rowing in a larger map

First staged on 10 August 1830 – in the year after the first Boat Race – the Wingfield Sculls is a side-by-side ‘match’ race for the title of  Amateur Sculling Champion of the Thames and Great Britain.   Instigated as a wager by barrister Henry Wingfield, the race was initially held between Westminster and Putney before moving to the Championship Course from Putney to Mortlake in 1861.

A womens race was established in 1929 which, with the exception of the two world wars, was contested until the early 1970s.  It was re-instigated in 2007.  Now raced in early November, the 2009 races were won by British Olympians Alan Campbell and Sophie Hosking.

Steve Fairbairn, a four-times Cambridge blue (1882-3, 1886-7) and subsequently a highly influential coach, founded the Head of the River Race in 1926.  Famous for his maxim that ‘mileage makes champions’, Fairbairn conceived of the HORR as a target to aim for during the long hours of endurance training that make up the average oarsman’s winter.

Twenty three eights entered the first Head of the River Race on 12 December 1926 although only 21 made it to the water.  Raced as a time trial – or ‘processional race’ – on the ebb tide from Mortlake to Putney, victory went to London Rowing Club in a time of 20 min 1 sec.   The race grew steadily until, for logistical and safety reasons, the entry was capped at 420 eights around 1980.  The 3780 competitors range cover the entire spectrum from complete novice to World and Olympic Champions.

Appropriately for an event that marks the end of winter training, it usually takes place on the Saturday of the weekend that marks the start of British Summer Time.  Molesey Boat Club took the honours in the 2010 event.  DRC Hanover’s second crew, who finished 307th out of the 388 finishers, can take some pride from the fact that their time of 19 mins 59.2 secs would have won the very first race!

A women’s eights race between Mortlake and Putney was first staged in 1927.  Initially contested by Ace and Weybridge Ladies Amateur Rowing Club racing side-by-side, the two clubs returned for a rematch in 1928 and were joined by Alpha in a three boat race in 1929.  With five entries, the Womens Eights Head of the River Race adopted the time trial format in 1930.  Now held two weeks before the HORR in early March, entries have reflected the massive growth in womens rowing generally expanding from 27 in 1977 to 270 in 2003.

289 crews finished the 2009 race which was won by a composite of GB national squad oarswomen stroked by multi-Olympic medalist Kath Grainger.  With the snappy crew name of  Gloucester/Imperial College/Marlow/Reading University/Thames/University of London, the winning crew recorded a time of 18 mins 10.67 secs.

School and junior crews get the chance to race over the Championship Course in the Schools Head held on a weekday around the Womens’ Head determined by the tides and academic calender.  Founded by Westminster School in 1946, 17 crews took part in the inaugural race, four sank and the event was deemed a great success!  Originally a race for eights from London Corinthians Sailing Club to Westminster School Boat House, fours were admitted quite quickly and quads joined the party in 1987.

In the late 1980s, the course was lengthened – by moving the start up-river to the Bandstand – and subsequently split into two with a long start at the Mortlake end of the Championship Course and a short start remaining at Corinthians. Entries mushroomed, reaching a peak of around 390, making it necessary introduce measures to limit entries to around 300 crews on safety grounds.  In 2010 the short course was dropped and all crews now race over the full Championship Course.

While entries are still dominated by the traditional rowing schools, the much broader participation base of British rowing has been reflected in a steady rise in entries – and category wins – from state schools and junior crews from non-school rowing clubs.  256 crews completed the course in 2010.

The Scullers Head of the River Race – for single sculls – was established by Vesta Rowing Club in 1954.  Raced at the end of November over the full Championship Course from Mortlake, Jamie Kirkwood of Imperial College led home the 418 finishers in a time of 20 minutes 55.38 secs in the 2009 race.

The first Fours Head of the River was raced in 1955 as the Tradesmen’s Rowing Club’s Association Head of the River Fours.  At the time, watermen and other people who worked with their hands were not considered to be truly ‘amateur’ by the Amateur Rowing Association and so raced under the auspices of the a separate governing body – the National Amateur Rowing Association.

Initially raced between Chiswick Steps and Putney Pier, the Fours Head was extended to the full Championship Course from Mortlake in 1990.  Now held in mid November, the event is open to quad sculls, coxless and coxed fours. Even though entries are limited to 550 crews, the Fours Head remains the largest single race in British rowing.   Sponsored by brewers Fuller Smith and Turner, the chance to attend the prize giving at the Griffin Brewery has become an additional incentive for competitors!

In 1982, Vesta added another date to the rowing calender when it established the Vesta Veterans’ International Eights Head of the River RaceVeteran crews – to be known as ‘Masters’ from the 2010 regatta season – compete in categories determined by the average ages of the eight rowers.

Raced on the Sunday morning of the HORR weekend in March, the direction of the course is determined by the tide tables.  When raced from Mortlake, it is raced over the full Championship Course.  When raced on the flood tide – in the same direction as the Boat Race as in 2010 – the race starts from Hammersmith Bridge to provide sufficient space above Putney Bridge to marshal the typical entry of around 200 crews in safety.  199 crews finished the 2010 race including six Vet G/H crews containing rowers aged over 70.

The Pairs Head of the River, which also accommodates double sculls, was first staged in 1971 and is raced in mid October over a ‘short’ course of 4,000 metres between Mortlake and Hammersmith Bridge.  372 crews finished the 2009 race.

Veterans also have the chance to race between Mortlake and Putney in fours and quads in the mid November Veterans Fours Head of the River.

Fairbairn’s contribution to both the Head and the Boat Race is commemorated on the Surrey towpath.  The monument is the first mile marker for the Boat Race (and Wingfield Sculls) – or the start of the final exhausting mile for competitors in most of the head races.

It’s not only oarsmen and sailors who compete over the Championship Course.  Every Easter weekend, hundreds of very weary canoeists traverse the course as they approach the finish of the 125-mile long Devices to Westminster International Canoe Marathon – the world’s longest annual canoe event.

Britain’s sporting museums, galleries and collections

By , 21st November 2009 22:39

The map below shows the locations of sporting museums, galleries and collections in Britain.  It includes institutions involved in Our Sporting Life as well as other museums and collections mentioned in the June 2006 Sports Heritage Network Mapping Survey by Annie Hood.

Many are dedicated to a particular sport. Others are museums with a more general remit which include significant collections with a sporting connection.

There are currently 56 collections featured on this map. It’s probably no surprise that 11 of the museums – the biggest group – are dedicated to football. As one of the longest established organised sports, cricket accounts for seven establishments. Follow the link at the foot of the map to see a listing of the museums alongside a larger map.

Museums related to hunting have been included on the grounds that national hunt racing, equestrianism, and shooting sports have the pastime in their ancestries. Its also worth remembering that before Victoria ascended the throne in 1837, in Britain the word “sport” was most often associated with hunting and angling.

It’s interesting to see that sporting museums can be found the length and breadth of Britain. Let me know if you know of any I’ve missed.

PS: its a shame Google maps doesn’t offer icons for archery, motor sport, cricket, shinty, fencing, shooting, badminton, rugby or tennis!

View Britain’s sporting museums and galleries in a larger map

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