© 2018 by Derby Rowing Club

A brief history of Derby Rowing Club

DERBY Town Rowing Club was formed at a meeting held at the Bridge Inn, St Mary's Bridge, in May 1879 by "a few young members of a Conservative Club". As well as appointing its first captain and committee, the meeting decided on an annual subscription of 10s 6d, with a 2s 6d entry fee, and set about trying to find a permanent site and boathouse from which to operate. 


Negotiations with the Great Northern Railway Company for the renting of two bridge arches on the Chester Green side of the river were successful and members also procured timber at auction which had previously been a circus building owned by Charlie Keith.


Measuring 57ft by 20ft and erected alongside the railway embankment, this building was completed in 1880 and was so small that members were sometimes forced to change outside!


Membership in those early years was recruited primarily among Midland Railway employees.In that same year, a crew carried the club's colours on "foreign" waters when G Walker, J Moore, J Webster and T Bates competed at Burton. The boat was transported to Burton on the roof of a railway carriage!


In the years that followed, the club grew in membership until the original wooden boathouse, or "rabbit hutch" as it had been affectionately known, was no longer adequate. Inquiries were made about the old Derby School boathouse upstream from the Derwent Club but nothing came of it.


Having been offered a corrugated iron boathouse by the Great Northern Railway Company, estimates were obtained of £89 if the club erected it or £102 if labour was needed. However, it was decided to have a brick building and a quotation of £62 from Derby builder G Pemberton was accepted – only for the plans to be scuppered when the railway company said they might need the land at a later date.


By 1893, a new boathouse had become an urgent need and a wooden one with a corrugated iron roof, supplied by Handysides, was built at a cost of £45, It had a dressing room added at the far end with the luxury of a wooden floor. Facilities were quite primitive. There were no lockers, no lawn, nor piped water or electricity. 


The only lighting was by oil lamps and with no showers, the best that could be hoped for was a sluice from a bucket of river water on the landing stage!


By 1898, the club was 20 years old and had a membership of more than 60 but was still awaiting its first win at an open regatta. The year 1901 saw the enlargement of the clubhouse when an upstairs dressing room was added to accommodate an increase in membership. 


The first regatta success came in silver jubilee year, 1904, when Jack Ison, G Mottashaw, A Richardson, Laurie Binch and T Stone won the Derwent Plate for maiden fours at the Derby Regatta.


Two years later, a special general meeting approved the dropping of the word "Town" from the club name.


In 1907, the boathouse was further extended as membership passed the 100 mark and the following year a wash-house was added with water contained in an overhead tank. Mains water did not arrive until the late 1940s. In 1923, a larger two-storey boathouse was built, again in wood, and this was to last until 1962 when the whole building had to be demolished because it was falling to pieces. At the end of the Second World War, the club's financial balance stood at £200. This was steadily increased until the 1960s, when there were sufficient funds to build a new clubhouse and Derby Corporation agreed to a 99-year lease on land purchased from British Rail on the opposite side of the river to the existing boathouse. The cost was £5,287 and the firm of Arthur Holmes, of London Road, undertook the contract.The club was lucky to have a director of Condor Engineering among its members and this helped to keep the costs down.


When the new, brick-built, clubhouse was complete, the work of dismantling the old one was undertaken by club members who were able to carry all the equipment and boats across the frozen River Derwent to their new home.


Every member of the club duly arrived to be walked across the river. Late in the afternoon, it was possible to see pieces of grass and moss floating under the ice. With health and safety in mind, it was decided to position a large, heavy metal seat in the centre of the river where the ice would be thinnest. It was then left overnight.


Next morning, the seat was still in place but there was doubt over whether it was still safe to cross the ice so a boxer dog by the name of Worthington, which belonged to one of the members, was sent on to the ice tied to a piece of washing line. The dog ended up winding the line and itself around the seat so three members had to go out onto the ice to rescue it! The three sat on the bench, had a photograph taken and then carried it to the new boathouse.


On June 26, 1963, the new boathouse was complete and was officially opened by the Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire, Sir Ian Walker-Okeover. He was presented with a special commemorative tankard manufactured by Denby Pottery.These tankards were unique and every year, 30 were made for the club with a different design and were presented to the winning crews in the club's opening and closing races.


A large crowd attended the new boathouse's opening and witnessed a row-past of the club's senior four, who had already won trophies in the previous year and continued their success in 1963.They entered the Wyfold Fours event at Henley Royal Regatta, winning through the heats and semi-final before losing in the final by two lengths to Nottingham and Union Rowing Club. The Nottingham crew went on to row for Great Britain later in the year.


Two years later, in 1965, the club won the Wyfold Fours and the eights managed to get through to the semi-finals. This was followed, a year later, by representation for Great Britain at the World Championships in Bled, in the former Yugoslavia.


While they have not managed to repeat this success since, 2013 finds the club with a very good Wyfold Four and a good young eight in the Thames Cup.


The movement for equal rights for women in the 1970s saw the club introduce a ladies' section in 1973 which, from small beginnings, has blossomed into one of the top squads in the country.


Each Saturday and Sunday you will see a trailer full of boats off to a regatta, with car loads of male and female rowers off to race against other clubs.


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