Origins of Thames Rowing Club
In 1860, the City of London Rowing Club was founded by a small group, chiefly clerks and salesmen in the city rag trade. They based themselves in Putney at Simmons Boathouse (where Chas Newens Marine is now situated) and a room at the Red Lion Hotel on Putney High Street. Their initial aim was the modest one of ‘organised pleasure or exercise rowing’. It would be 1864 (by which time the club’s name had been changed to Thames Rowing Club) before a growing interest in competition led to the club’s first recorded win, in a race against the Excelsior Boat Club of Greenwich.
But from these small beginnings would grow one of the largest and most successful rowing clubs in Britain.
In 1870 the club won at Henley Royal Regatta for the first time, taking the Wyfold Challenge Cup from the Oscillators Club of Surbiton and the Oxford Etonians in a race that, according to the Rowing Almanack, was ‘a pretty hollow affair, the Thames crew winning as they pleased from first to last’.
This early period was the time of the great Victorian amateur. Many Thames members were keen on all sports and the club itself also had an influence beyond rowing.
From 1866, Thames organised cross-country races around Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park as part of the oarsmen’s winter training. These are generally accepted as the first open cross-country events to have taken place in Britain. One eventual result was the foundation of Thames Hare & Hounds, the first cross-country club, which would itself go on to an illustrious history and an important role in the birth of the Amateur Athletics Association.
Another addition to rowing training was boxing, with a ring frequently set up in the hall at the clubhouse. George Vize, a member of five winning crews at Henley, became amateur heavyweight champion of Britain in 1878 and a founder member of the Amateur Boxing Association.
Over the next 20 years, Thames had its first great flowering. The club recorded 22 wins at Henley by 1890, including four victories in the most prestigious event, the Grand Challenge Cup for eights. With the completion of a spacious clubhouse on Putney Embankment in 1879, Thames was established as a mainstay of amateur rowing.