7. Rowing Class Struggle

Rowing has always been seen as an elitist sport. The main events of the Henley Regatta and the Oxford & Cambridge boat Rowing Class Strugglerace reinforce this impression. But the history of the sport is different particularly in London where the watermen looked after the rivers. Competitive rowing was started by the watermen for wagers and pilot boats racing to guide ships into part. Like the fire engine crews in America in the 1850’s racing to claim their wages by reaching the fire first.
Rowing Class Struggle

It is the story of a class struggle between amateur and professional rowing which lasted a 100 years. In 1919 the amateurs were not allowed to race at Henley at the last minute. There was a plea to the Palace but not in time. King George V reportedly refused to attend Henley after this. The Eton Mission Rowing Club on the River Lea played a big part in training up excellent amateur rowers. It was only in 1936 that Henley dropped its discrimination against amateurs.
Rowing Class Struggle

Rowing competitively was beyond the reach of a few so that the amateurs’ equipment let them down.  In the 1950’s the elite banned the amatuers entering the sport so that the working class watermen could not earn their living rowing. The elite had other sources of income so tried to force the sport to remain amateur. By the early 1950’s  the Thames Amateur Rowing Association, was the Thames branch of the National Amateur Rowing Association. It was the governing body which looked looked after the manual workers who were not allowed to join the ARA as they didn’t recognise their Amateur status. This changed when the TARA threatened to organise and run their own events.

In the 1950s these two organisations merged to become the Amateur Rowing Association of Great Britain. But in 1982 racing at Nottingham the Radley crew sabotaged the Springhill crew by running into them. Eton went onto to claim the race. In 1998 British rowing finally dropped the amateur status from its rulebook.

Rowing clubs were many and small on the River Thames and up and down the River Lea. These have now mostly disappeared and joined together to form bigger clubs like the Lea Rowing Club at Springhill. Ironically still seen as elitist the Lea Rowing club has an open recruitment policy attracting all rowers to the club.
A few books have been written but this class struggle is submerged under the elitism of the sport.
Rowing Class Struggle

Copyright Adrian Scott North London Counsellor Blog 2016
All rights reserved
Disclaimer: This weblog is the view of the writer and for general information only.
This article is designed to provoke argument and critique

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