A Brief History of Marlow Rowing Club

Marlow Rowing Club is one of the biggest clubs on the upper reaches of the River Thames, using the Marlow and Cookham Reaches for training and competition under Winter Hill and Bisham Hanging Woods. Its clubhouse is next to the town's historic suspension bridge over the Thames and the famous Compleat Angler Hotel.

The Club competed from about 1810 and raced at regattas in the Thames Valley and at Henley but was formally founded at a dinner held at the Marlow Town football club in 1871, crews had been competing under the Marlow Rowing Club name for many years prior to the official founding of the Club. The Club's history reflects many of the changes in English society. It was affected by the Victorian schism between amateur and working men and professional sportsmen. Marlow Rowing Club is an amateur club and many regattas inserted amateur into their title such as the famous Marlow Amateur Regatta founded in 1855. The official definition of an Amateur was finally produced by the Henley Royal Regatta Stewards in 1874. It referred to gentleman pursuing a pastime and not racing for money as was prevalent at that time and no artisans (ie working class and manual labourers) were allowed to compete as an amateur! A tankard from Marlow Regatta 1855 resides behind the club bar which was won for coxed fours with both Wethereds brothers are engraved on it. They later became officers of the club. Marlow Amateur Regatta has only recently dropped Amateur from its name.

The Club’s first major win following its “official” formation was at Henley Royal Regatta in 1872 when it won the Town Challenge Cup for Fours. The Club won it four further times consecutively between 1874 and 1877 and on the last occasion the competition was raced in 1883. In the late Victorian period, prominent local families such as the Boytons, Claytons, Higginsons and Wethereds supported the Club and attracted friends from the universities and London to row on the Marlow and Cookham Reaches. They were very successful in competition although 5 members of the major trophy winning crew of 1913/14 became casualties in the First World War.

From a social beginning, a competitive club sprang up and became locked in friendly rivalry with other local clubs, rowing up and downstream to their regattas, or loading boats on coal-lorries to take part in Tideway events. Marlow first competed in the Head of the River Race in 1932, starting 67th out of 131. Since 1945 Marlow Rowing Club has been shaped by a number of able coaches, and highly motivated club and international athletes who have helped to change the expectations of the Club. Bill Findlay, Bryn Evans, Alan Clay and Roy Light came close to winning the Wyfold Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta, beaten in the final in 1954 by the Royal Engineers. Often working from a narrow base of local athletes, coaches like O. H. Collins, Bill Hobbs, Lesley Langton, Derek Mays-Smith, Mike Spracklen, John Pilgrim Morris, Francis Smith, who discovered and coached Steve Redgrave, produced good, well-organised crews.

Contribution to International Rowing

Mike Spracklen, the internationally renowned coach, captained the club in its successful 1959 season, when it won over 20 trophies. In the previous year Mike and his partner Geoff Baker won gold medals in the Empire Games Double Sculls. In 1964, Marlow finished tenth in the Head of the River Race, thirty seconds behind the winners. At the end of a successful season in small boats, the Club won the 1964 Daily Telegraph Cup at Maidenhead Regatta in a closely contested final. In the 1960s and 1970s the Club was small in numbers compared to today.

However club spirit was strong and a series of excellent crews were produced from a small squad of local athletes, competing successfully around the country, and in particular at Marlow Amateur Regatta, winning the Town Cup and Pairs against first class opposition. Neil Christie and Andrew Justice rowed in the 1976 Olympic Games.

A local junior, Steve Redgrave, began his outstanding career at Marlow in 1978. Coached by Francis Smith, Redgrave formed the nucleus of a crew that further helped to change the Club's expectations.

The Club won its next Henley trophy in 1981, when Steve and Eric Sims won the Double Sculls, and he repeated the feat with Adam Clift in 1982. Redgrave continued this successful run, winning the Diamonds Sculls in 1983, the Prince Philip in the winning Olympic Coxed Four in 1984, the Diamonds again in 1985, and holding the Silver Goblets with Andy Holmes in 1986 and 1987. In all he has won 21 Henley medals, the last one in the Queen Mother Cup in 2001, twelve World Championship Medals, 9 Gold, 2 silver and 2 Bronze, 3 World Cup Golds and 3 Commonwealth Games Gold medals. His Olympic record is second to none with 5 Gold medals and 1 Bronze medal, the fifth Gold being achieved in the coxless fours at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Steve and his wife, Ann (Marlow Rowing Club's first woman club captain) live in Marlow with their children. He is a life member of Marlow Rowing Club, along with Matthew Pinsent.

Marlow Rowing Club’s contribution to international rowing has been immense particularly over the last 30 years. It has produced winning athletes at all levels both men and women at senior, junior and veteran (now called Masters). It has not only produced probably the greatest oarsman of all time but also many other winning internationals and coaches not least of which was Mike Spracklen who coached Steve Redgrave to his first two Olympic Gold medals. He then went on to coach the US and Canadian national squads winning World and Olympic gold medals.  

Other international successes continued. Gillian Lindsay won the Double Sculls World Championship in 1998. Alex Beever, Lisa Eyre and Sue Walker were World Champions in the Coxless Four in 1997, and were Bronze Medallists in the Eight in the same year. Cath Bishop, was the British and World Ergo Champion and World Record holder, and a World Silver Medallist in the Coxless Pair in 1997, and won the Pairs World Cup in 1998. Altogether, twelve athletes from Marlow Rowing Club prepared for the 2000 Sydney Olympics where Gillian Lindsay and Katherine Grainger won Britain’s first ever Olympic Women’s Rowing medal in the silver medal winning eight. Cath Bishop and Katherine Grainger then won silver in the pair at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

In total Katherine Grainger (originally from St Andrew’s Boat Club) has won five Olympic medals and is Great Britain's most decorated female Olympian. Zac Purchase has an Olympic Gold and Silver medals in the lightweight double sculls and four World gold medals. Naomi Riches has Gold and Bronze Paralympic medals from London and Beijing to accompany her haul of five World Golds.

January 2018

with thanks to Chris Lenton.