CLUB RACING

Most of the rowing in those days was club racing, very few regattas were entered unless it was a local lower Thames event, club races were keenly competitive, crews were selected at the club meeting (see more later) on the Monday following the previous club race or, if the first race of the season, about six weeks earlier. Eight club races per year was the norm, as did Poplar & Blackwall R C, so most summer Sundays there was boat racing on Greenwich reach.

A member having been selected for a club crew would train with that crew and could lose his seat for non attendance on training mornings. A club race morning was quite an affair with special racing shirts in the crew colours being issued to crew members including the coxswain.

There was a large local following of the club racing, mainly from public houses, race sponsors were often among licensees with the race being named after the Pub.

A Sunday mornings sport and drinking before 12 o’clock was unknown in those days unless it was on a licensed river boat whose bar opened as soon as it left the pier.

A club race consisted of two heats and a final with two boats progressing to a four boat final unless a’la Len“dead heat”Coker the second and third crews tied, when it would be a five boat final, losing crews were jokingly warned by the winning crews not to use all the hot water at the Tilbury. Winning first heat boats had to row back to the start but second heat boats were towed with the crew going aboard the river boat and the cox’un steering the empty boat on tow, which as a cox’un I can say was great fun although these days I think Health & Safety would have something to say.

Earlier I mentioned the “Tilbury” as did Freddie Howlett, the full name was Tilbury Contracting and Dredging Co Ltd at Dreadnought Wharf in Thames St Greenwich who allowed the club the use of the works canteen and wash room for changing facilities, the wash room consisted of six small hand basins, no showers here, with a limited supply of hot water hence the exhortation to the losing crews. Members walked around the street to Wood Wharf where the barge was moored to get afloat. It was however great fun and a steep learning curve for an eleven year old coxswain, both in rowing and life in general as expounded by the older members. A memory that still lingers is a rowing member saying to me at twelve years old “win this one for us cox’un, don’t cut the corner at the barges and I’ll buy you a pint”. The race was duly won and the following evening the club meeting was held in the Mitre Hotel, as youngsters we were not allowed in the bar but on the way through I called out “don’t forget my pint Charlie” and was bought a “Brown and Mild” that took 3 hours to drink, this of course over time being the first pint of many.