Rowing Club Stories 7 - Rowing


Those who have read my previous accounts of the activities of Leicester Rowing Club in the 1960s and 70s could be forgiven for wondering if there was any actual rowing going on! The truth is that there wasn’t much going on at all! The few regular members were far too busy building up the infrastructure of the club to get out on the water regularly and many of the outings that were achieved were dedicated to teaching any new members the basics.

Despite this, we did manage to cobble together the occasional crew and go to a few regattas. Wins were infrequent but did happen occasionally and when they did we all celebrated to the full. All the time, the membership was growing – painfully slowly – but we were getting there.

During this period, I went away to college for three years, returning each vacation when I hoped to get a row (There was no rowing at the college I attended). Because Leicester had already established a crew in my absence or was doing nothing, the best chance I had to get a row was to go to whichever regatta was on and walk about asking if anyone had failed to arrive! In the days of committee boats rowers sometimes got lost on the way and I managed to get a seat on several occasions and rowed for various clubs in the process. I don’t suppose this would be allowed now but things were much more relaxed then and the clubs seemed happier if nobody had to pull out because somebody had failed to arrive. Anyway, it seemed to make no difference to the results because I can’t remember winning on any of these occasions and the clubs were duly grateful, keeping me well supplied with beer afterwards!

The Ambulance

Eventually, we were entering more and more races and the need for some form of transport became evident. As I have mentioned in a previous story, we often went to events by train, taking the blades with us in the guard’s van, and used committee boats. But times were changing and we were being obliged to take our own boats as well, so a suitable vehicle had to be obtained.

Once again, Peter Barnacle had an idea! I don’t know where he found it, but he managed to obtain an old ambulance! This was an impressive vehicle, made by Bedford, it sported front mudguards that swept back as running boards to form steps for the front doors. On top of the mudguards, either side of the huge bonnet were a pair of large headlights. The lean burn engine had not even been thought of so it was equipped with two enormous petrol tanks, one on each side.

We fitted a boat rack along the roof from the back to two poles attached to the front bumper. Inside, we constructed wooden bench seats along each side. We were now ready for action; boat on the roof, blades in the middle of the floor and crew on the benches.

The only journey I remember well was to the Head of the River Race. We took an eight and, although I wasn’t in the crew, I went along for the ride with several other supporters. I don’t think the result was anything to shout about but we all had a good day and eventually had everything loaded up and we set off back to Leicester. It was beginning to get dark and we had rigged up a red light to the stern of the boat which extended a considerable distance behind the vehicle because, in those days, eights didn’t break down into manageable sections and had to be transported in one 60 foot length.

As dusk settled, Peter, who was driving, turned on the lights but forgot that the light on the stern of the boat was connected to the interior light in the back. He remembered when he stopped at some traffic lights and the furniture van following pushed us forward a few feet! “Quick!” he shouted, “Turn the light on!” He jumped out of the cab and shouted to the unfortunate lorry driver, “Didn’t you see that light?” The only damage was to the front of the furniture van which sustained a dent with two holes, where the rudder pin loops had gone through. Oh, and the driver’s pride was a bit dented too!

Our adventures with the ambulance were fairly brief. If I remember right, it came to an end when it was vandalised and we sold it for scrap. A sad end, but fun while it lasted.

Teddy’s Lorry

Our president, Teddy Friesz, was the owner of an aluminium foundry and had a 3 ton tipper lorry. He allowed us to use this at weekends to transport the boats and we constructed a rack to make this possible.

My first rides in this were in the back with the blades. It was not the most comfortable way to travel and I suspect the insurance company wouldn’t allow it now but we took it as being all part of the fun. We travelled to places like Nottingham and Burton and rigged up a cover when it rained. Roundabouts are a bit of a challenge when you are in the back of a lorry – you tend to roll about a bit!

Eventually, I was promoted to driver and quite enjoyed it. When we took the eight, I had to be particularly careful to miss the lampposts on small roundabouts and tight turns. On one occasion, a police motorcyclist pulled alongside by the Jury Wall and asked where we were going. When I told him, “Nottingham” he said, “Follow me!” and he went ahead, stopping the traffic at the junctions and waving us through red lights until we were safely on Melton Road!

Thank goodness for sectional boats!


Malcolm Neal