The Golden Days
The Golden Days
In the first half of the 20th century, two names loom large in the history of Thames RC: Steve Fairbairn and Jack Beresford.
Fairbairn was an Australian graduate of Cambridge, with boundless charisma and innovative – although highly controversial – views on training and technique. Fairbairn rowed successfully at Thames in the 1880s while studying law, before returning home to Australia to manage the family farm. Settling permanently in London some years later, he became a renowned coach at both Thames and Jesus College, Cambridge. He was a major influence on the sport in general: founding the Head of the River Race; corresponding widely with coaches across Europe and further afield; writing a number of books on rowing and coaching; and becoming generally accepted as the father of modern rowing.
Under his tutelage in the 1920s, Thames reached new heights. Ironically though, still greater achievements were to come for TRC following Fairbairn’s departure to London RC in 1926 after a titanic row with his fellow coach Julius Beresford, ‘the Old Berry’.
Berry took over as head coach and, continuing Steve’s work, for in spite of their arguments they had very similar ideas of rowing, Thames won four events at Henley in two successive years, 1928 and 1929. No club has replicated this feat since.
At the same time, Thames was home to Britain’s greatest ever single sculler, Julius Beresford’s son Jack. Jack Beresford won silver at the 1920 Amsterdam Olympic Games in an epic race with Jack Kelly, before going one better with gold in Paris in 1924. He won the Diamond Challenge Sculls at Henley four times and the Wingfield Sculls for the amateur championship of Great Britain a record seven times.
Then, with Thames crews, he won three further Olympic medals: silver in the eight in Antwerp, 1928; gold in the coxless four in Los Angeles, 1932; and gold in the double scull in Berlin, 1936. It would be 60 years before Steve Redgrave bettered his record.
In the decades following the Second World War, like many British clubs Thames struggled to cope with the increasing professionalisation of international rowing coupled with waves of social change. Although success never completely disappeared, the club reached a low ebb in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with its role and future very much in doubt. It was to be a long road back to greatness.