Text adapted from “Clydesdale celebrates its 150th birthday in 2007” by Owen McGhee MBE and material from the accompanying 150th Clydesdale anniversary slideshow by Gordon Simpson
Clydesdale Amateur Rowing Club’s History stretches from its official formation in 1857, though evidence exists to suggest that the club was actually first formed in 1856; the first club annual report which was dated from 1856 identifies the official formation of the club as occurring “in a small meeting, convened in Steele’s Coffee-Room, where, with Arethusa Albert Small Esq. as chairman, your secretary moved, the creation of an humble rowing club”.
The club formally began life as ‘Clydesdale Gentlemen Amateur Rowing Club’, founded by James Henry Roger, the then owner of the Bodega retailer based in 11 Exchange Place (the current site Rogano restaurant). Roger’s obituary of 1913 states ‘the Bodega Company occupied the premises in Exchange Square, which afterwards came into Mr Roger’s own possession and is carried on under the style of the Rogano’.
The club was originally based further down from our current home in the West Boathouse on the south side of the river, on what was then South York Street (renamed Moffat Street in 1930).
Roger’s obituary credits him with being the stroke of Clydesdale’s ‘famous Cronies’ crew’ and ‘in 1869 he pulled stroke in the crew which won, on the Gareloch, the first eight-oar race in Scotland’. It also notes that Roger went onto serve on the bodyguard of Queen Victoria when she opened the Loch Katrine waterworks.
The West Boathouse
Roger provided considerable financial assistance to the construction of the West Boathouse, as was typical of his efforts as a major driving force behind the early development of the club. Designed by Alexander Beith McDonald, the West Boathouse completed construction in 1905, built by Glasgow Corporation Office of Public Works for usage by ourselves and our nearest and closest friends and rivals, Clyde Rowing Club.
Minutes from the time show that initial discussion over which club would use which side of the Boathouse was quickly resolved upon J.H. declaring that should Clydesdale not occupy the favoured East section, his financial support would be withdrawn.
The West Boathouse remains the only listed rowing club in Scotland. An Edwardian sporting building with a unique timber structure for its time, the boathouse has served the club continuously since its construction. As well as serving as the scene of whist drives, beetle drives, dances, dinners, Burns Suppers and festive parties among other celebrations and community events, the boathouse served as the headquarters for a barrage balloon squadron during WWII.
Rowing circa the 1860s was a popular gambling sport, with sums paid to winners equivalent to current professional athlete salaries. Large amounts were routinely waged on competing crews.
Prior to acquiring the first club boat trailer, Clydesdale members transported their sectional boats to races in the back a truck which was used during the week for transporting ink. As club members travelled in the same truck, their resulting ink coverage upon race arrival led to the club being commonly known by competitors as ‘the black and blue club’.
In 1857 the first known main regatta took place on the Clyde. It was a huge event in days were football and horse racing was not as popular, with many bets placed on Clyde races and spectators sitting along the river bank on Glasgow Green.
On September 27th 1862, ‘The Illustrated London News’ (above) reported on the “annual regatta of the Clydesdale Amateur Rowing Club”, describing it as the “Scottish Henley”.
Today, the Summer Regatta is still a prestigious event and runs over the same course as in 1857. The long course is 1500m, starting at Polmadie bridge and finishing at Clydesdale Boathouse, and the short course runs from just past the South Portland suspension bridge.
An 1880 painting displayed at Kelvingrove Art Gallery titled ‘Glasgow Regatta, the Closing Stages’, by John McNiven, may have been painted close to our first clubhouse and possibly depicts a Clydesdale crew. A mural in the Blue Room of Ibrox Stadium similarly depicts rowers close to Glasgow Green, with Glasgow Rangers historically forming from rowers’ kickabout sessions on the green.
The club has won many honours over the years, producing outstanding athletes and launching the careers of world champions and Olympians. Clydesdale members have won men’s and women’s Scottish and British Championship events, won in international arenas around the world and rowed the Atlantic.
Gillian Lindsay was both World Champion and Olympic silver medallist, as well as holding the distinction of being the most successful woman sculler of all time at the point of her retirement.
Katherine Grainger, another silver Olympic medallist, is currently the most decorated female Olympian from Great Britain and while not an alumnus is a longstanding friend of the club, who’s first outing was in a Clydesdale tub pair. Ali Watt still holds the record for the fastest time in winning the British Women’s Sculling Championship in 1999.
One of the club’s earlier champions was Harold Paterson Murdoch, winner of the Senior Sculls at the Tailteann International Regatta in 1928. George Parsonage and Duncan Paterson hold the record of winning the most regattas in the club’s history.
Renowned coaches include Alex McIlwraith, who won Scottish Coach of the Year in 1958 whilst coaching the first race of two veteran club members and past presidents, Gordon Simpson and Owen McGhee. Gordon has since won BBC’s ‘Unsung Hero’ award for his tireless efforts on behalf of the club, while Owen has raised thousands for Motor Neuron Disease Scotland. Willie Turner, a winner of the Scottish Rowing Volunteer of the Year Award, has coached many junior members over the years.
Peter Grieve, for many years treasurer to the club and Vice President of the then Scottish Amateur Rowing Association (now Scottish Rowing), served as the first mentor of a great many Clydesdale members on the river.
Jimmy Ross, one of the club’s finest captains, served as an esteemed ‘SARA Starter’. He was presented with the Torch Trophy in 199s by the Duke of Kent, for his services to Rowing.
Iain Somerside, past president of SARA, played a major role in the development of our National Rowing Academy.
Finally, three of our former reigning Club Presidents and veteran squad members – Gordon Simpson, Duncan Paterson and Owen McGhee – together hold the accolade of having attended both our centenary regatta in 1957 and our 150th-anniversary event in 2007.