Summary of Recent History of the Cambridgeshire Rowing Association up to January 2003
Up until late in the 1970’s rowing in Cambridge was the preserve of men.
When at a Cambridge Regatta meeting it was proposed that women should be allowed to enter the event Dr Bevan, then President of the CRA, proposed after a short discussion that the meeting move on to the next item on the agenda. However it was only a matter of time and a year later the Regatta included events for women but in a final defiant gesture to the past the Secretary resigned!
Nowadays women are very much a part of the rowing scene and are involved in all aspects of its activity as well as its organisation. Who in these times would expect otherwise?
John Newman of the Scouts’ Boat Club introduced this event in the mid-nineteen sixties in order to offer competitive rowing during the winter months. It comprised three Head Races. In January and February the traditional course was rowed from the Gun Shed to Stourbridge Common whilst in March the course was extended to finish at the City / ’99 boathouses to help crews training for the Tideway Head. In these early days there was only one division but as time has progressed the races have been open to clubs in the region other than those affiliated to the CRA. These clubs pay a co-option fee to the CRA but have no voting rights.
There are now three divisions all are which are kept within a number that the organisers consider to be manageable on the grounds of water safety and all races finish at Stourbridge Common.
The event is now run jointly by the City RC and X-Press BC.
The first race starts at 9.00am and it is quite a feat of organisation to have everything in place so early on a Sunday morning.
CRA Time Race
This is now rowed between the Pike and Eel and the Fort St George footbridge.
It was considered 25 years ago to be an out dated event however Bill Key took over the organisation mainly to preserve it as a CRA event.
In the last three years its popularity has soared and each year has had a record entry. In 2002 for the first time it was used as an indicator of the speed of new crews wishing to enter the Bumps.
This event has also increased in popularity over the last few years though at one time it was thought by some to be an out moded event which was holding back the progress of local oarsmen to achieve international status. Indeed the City RC left the CRA for a number of years in the 70’s for this reason. It was even suggested that the bumps become a fun event with names of crews drawn out of a hat.
The event has gone from strength to strength under the guidance of the Secretary John Jenner who has been in charge of the event for nearly 30 years.
In 2002 five divisions were rowed. This was made up of 3 full men’s divisions of 17 crews, 1 full women’s division (now rowed in eights) and a 5th division containing the surplus of men’s and women’s crews.
This made a total of 57 Men’s eights and 24 Women’s eights (81 in all) which including the cox means that 729 people took part plus coaches and bank party.
Compare this with the Bumps from its commencement in 1886 to 1931 never being rowed in more than one division of 18 crews.
Apart from the large number of women now rowing the numbers of active oarsmen has increased considerably by people rowing for longer or taking up the sport at a mature age.
As an example the Cambridge Veterans crew has an average age of over 55 with two of its members aged 62/63.
One of the Champion of the Thames crews is formed from women who didn’t take up the sport until after they had raised a family.
Nearly all the CRA clubs now support Veteran crews though the X-Press perhaps has the largest proportion.
The regatta mentioned in the history above was a closed event for CRA clubs only.
This has not been run since the early 1960’s.
In the late 1960’s the Open Cambridge Regatta was inaugurated by John Allin, Barry Knights, David Bailey with help from many others.
The course was from Stourbridge Common to Ditton though in subsequent years the direction was changed and it was rowed from Ditton to Stourbridge Common.
Over the years it became a very large event indeed and many of those involved devoted much of their spare time (and often business time) to its organisation.
In fact when it reached its height it had a larger entry than Henley Royal Regatta.
It was specified as a Regatta that junior crews had to attend for selection into national crews so very large entries came from schools such as Eton, Radley, Westminster, Kingston Grammar and Abingdon.
How such a large entry could be handled defied belief as in those days the Banham’s holiday fleet returned to Cambridge in the morning and departed with its new and often very unskilled pilots in the afternoon. In fact the only way the event could handle the large entry was to race some of the local crews off on the Friday evening. The university oarsmen were so well disciplined (if that’s the word) that many of them were knocked out before the main Regatta day and still paid the full entry fee without actually attending the event.
The other problem was that the Novice events were all rowed in “committee boat” so a very large flotilla of clinker eights and fours, which were kindly supplied by the college boatmen, had to be taken down to the regatta field on the Friday afternoon and returned on Saturday evening.
Another novelty was that the umpires followed the races on mopeds which was quite spectacular but on reflection not particularly efficient though good fun.
The event was also supported by the City Council and the enclosure was adorned with flower beds and full afternoon of entertainment was arranged for the general public.
The draw used to take all Saturday night to ensure that despite crews doubling up there would be no problems in the programme being run smoothly. On one memorable occasion the committee, having worked through the night, received several entries from University of London at 9.30am on the Sunday morning. Because it included an exceptionally good Elite Eight John Allin insisted that the relevant part of the draw be revised in order that they be included. The race order was finally completed at 2.30pm 18 hours after the draw had been started.
Unfortunately the Cambridge Regatta became so large that many of the stalwarts involved were unable to spare the time in the organisation.
It continued up to the mid 1990’s but became a much smaller event until eventually was abandoned.
Head of the Cam
This was started at the same time as the Open Regatta and again was a very large event including crews from all over the UK as well as all the college clubs.
Although it is still held it is a much smaller event than it used to be.
Present Local Rowing Programme
Both the Regatta and Head of the Cam were CRA events and initially had strong support from all the clubs but this general support waned as the individual clubs introduced their own events.
The Winter League, Head of the Cam, Time Race and Bumps remain CRA events but other events now include:
January Cambridge Head to Head City
May Cambridge Sprint Regatta City
June X-Press Head X-Press
June Skiff Bumps Granta Skiff Club
September Cambridge Autumn Regatta ’99
September Cambridge Veterans Head Cantabs
October Cambridge Small Boats Head Rob Roy
October Cambridge Autumn Head Rob Roy
November Cambridge Winter Head Cantabs
And so Cambridge Rowing has gone from strength to strength and supports a very full and varied rowing programme although nowadays most clubs regularly attend Head Races and Regattas around the UK and Abroad. No other town can boast such a wide variety of rowing events.
The Bumping Races, apart from those held by the University of Oxford, are unique and stretch back nearly 150 years.
The local clubs cater for all ages and sexes and are very active throughout the year.
Boat Storage has become a problem. The ’99 and City have their own boathouses whilst the CRA can store up to 80 craft more accommodation is still required and steps are being taken to try to find additional land for the purpose.
The increased popularity of rowing has put a great deal of pressure on the use of the river and the Camtoo project to add a new cut of water around Stourbridge Common has much merit.
An international rowing course is also being planned which would add a large additional piece of water for both training and racing.
Local rowing is looking very healthy.
Cambridgeshire Rowing Association.
3 January 2003