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09 July 2012

A long tradition of rowing in Hackney

ONE of the most physically demanding events in the Olympic and Paralympic Games is rowing, requiring incredible strength and stamina.

It could be said to be both the oldest and newest sport included in the Games, with men’s rowing scheduled for the 1896 Athens summer games – the first modern Olympics – although the races had to be cancelled due to bad weather. The women’s competition was introduced at the Montreal Games in 1976, and Paralympic rowing first featured at Beijing in 2008.

There is a long and proud tradition of rowing in Hackney, thanks to the proximity of the Lea River, upon which at least 12 rowing clubs existed before 1881. Many of them were short-lived; by 1899 at least 22 had been set up, then dissolved. However, there were still 39 active clubs, of which 20 were amateur, and 19 tradesmen’s clubs.

Possibly the earliest founded club, and seemingly the most proficient, was the Albion, whose reputation was so formidable that during an 1880 regatta there were no challengers against them in the Senior Fours races.

Processions of boats marked the opening and closing of the Lea River rowing seasons – with amateur races held between May and July, and tradesmen’s competitions on three days in July or August over a slightly shorter course.

From 1863 until 1880, a popular annual summer regatta was held each August – with many riverside businesses such as ferries, public houses, pleasure boat and punt hire companies relying heavily upon the seasonal income generated by river users and spectators.

Spring Hill has always been an important location for rowing and from the 1880s onwards it housed Verdon’s boathouse, which was used by eight clubs. This continued through the 1950s – when Tyrrell’s boathouse was the base for the North London Amateur Rowing Association – to today.

It is now home to the Lea Rowing Club, formed in 1980 through an amalgamation of the last five clubs using the Spring Hill site. The Lea runs through the Olympic Park, although the 2012 Games’ rowing will take place at Eton Dorney in Buckinghamshire. However, there is a connection between Eton Dorney and Hackney. Dorney Lake was developed – and is owned by – nearby Eton College, and it was Old Etonians who were instrumental in founding the Eton Mission Rowing Club in 1895, now based on the Hackney Cut, off the Lea River.

One former Eton Mission rower was Henry Allingham, who prior to his death in 2009 was the oldest living man in the world. He returned to celebrate his 113th birthday at the club that year. Henry was born near the Lea River in Harrington Hill in 1896 and rowed with the club from 1909 to 1914, before he left to fight in the First World War.

He returned to row again between 1919 and 1922. He said: “I thought I couldn’t row properly and I learned to row here and got better and better. I got a lot of pleasure out of rowing and just watching people rowing.”

No doubt many people will be inspired to take up rowing following the excitement of the Games and the gently flowing Lea is a perfect place to start.

Rowing can be enjoyed by young and old, whatever the weather – though it can’t be relied upon to guarantee as long a life as that enjoyed by Henry Allingham.

This article was compiled by staff from the Hackney Archives service, for more info visit: www.hackney.gov.uk/archives

Lea River Regatta, 1969

Lea River Regatta, 1969

Lea River Regatta, 1969 Rowing on the Lea, circa 1969

Archives,Hackney History,News

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