In the beginning.....a resume of the origins of ARC written in 1968. By kind permission of Arthur Truswell.
It all began on a warm summer evening, June 26th 1958, in the Bear Room of the Guildhall. Alderman C G Barber, conscious of the fact that any riverside town with a population of over 10,000 should be able to boast a rowing club amongst it's activities, had called a public meeting to test the support for such a club. There was a good turn out, the meeting decided that a club should be formed, and a small Committee was set up with Alderman G Fitzgerald O'Connor as Chairman. It was decided that in order to start raising money for the necessary equipment there ought to be some rowing taking place, on no matter how limited a scale, as soon as possible. Thanks to the generosity of Abingdon School, through their rowing master Roger Mortimer, a tub pair was placed at the new Club's disposal and with a set of oars bought from Oxford for 5 after a whip round amongst the Committee, we were soon in action. The first crew took to the water on Sunday, June 29th:- Graham Dark(Bow), Barry Roberts(Str) and John Westall (Cox). Over the next few weeks the Captain had the job of blending together an odd mixture of old hands and raw beginners. Enthusiasm was high and it was decided to enter a novice crew at St Neots Regatta on August 2nd. Although they won their first race, beating Crowland by 1 lengths, they were beaten in the next round by a crew of Nottingham schoolboys.
By the end of September of that year we had acquired three boats; two tub fours bought from Nottingham Britannia and collected on a lorry by Ivor Juggins, and a clinker IV given to us by Kettering. But we had nowhere, still, to house the boats. After a number of promising schemes had all fallen through for one reason or another we faced the winter of 1958/59 with some trepidation. We managed to keep rowing by storing the boats on the grass outside the School boathouse and changing in the bicycle shed. By the following spring there was a useful looking novice IV in training, Pete Chester, Tony Haynes, Chris Longstaff, Bob Wiggins and John Scottorn (Cox) and under Alec Spurway's coaching this crew had a good season, winning Novices at Huntingdon and Juniors at Saltford, Sourport and Burway.
The Nissen Hut
Meanwhile Hilary Donkin had been going ahead with plans for our first modest boathouse, a Nissen Hut to be erected in a corner of the Abbey Meadow. At the season's end all rowing stopped whilst week-ends were devoted to putting the building up and the job was successfully completed by Christmas 1959, largely due to some good work by John Armitage and Bob Wiggins. One felt that the worst of our problems were now over and that we could look forward confidently to some successful rowing.
Unfortunately this was not to be the case. During the building operations we had lost many members and the successful crew of the previous season had broken up. Consequently the 1960 season was a lean one; although a Junior/Senior IV rowed at several regattas, in a borrowed boat, it met with no success and was eventually abandoned in order that its members could devote their energies to coaching some more beginners.
Over the next two seasons the Club was engaged in a period of consolidation and could easily have folded up as it's predecessor had done in 1878.
Now that the first rush of enthusiasm was spent the turn over in membership was high and the Club's ancient equipment was not good for morale. However, a keen nucleus of members survived the crisis an the turning point came in December 1961 with the purchase of the Club's first new boat, a clinker IV built by Tim's of Oxford.
The year 1961 was also noteworthy for the inaugural Abingdon Head of the River Race, an event which has since gained popularity, under Ron Stovold's secretaryship, to become the second largest long distance event for fours in the country.
1962 was another lean season, with a Junior crew that didn't quite make the grade. However, at the season's end this crew provided the basis of a four which reached the head position in the Oxford City Bumping Races, thereby crowning five year's steady progress in this event. Later that year the Club bought a second new clinker IV (Diana - Ed), a sister boat to the one purchased earlier.
By 1964 the Club was much more soundly established and that year enjoyed a successful season with a young crew that won three trophies at regatta, in addition to retaining the Oxford 'Bumps' Cup for the third year in succession. Also during 1964 the Club was able to buy a pair of clinker sculling boats (Triton and Proteus - Ed), thereby filling a long felt need in this aspect of watermanship.
Thus having started from scratch, the Club had, in the space of six years, assembled a useful fleet of boats and a group of keen oarsmen. The future at that stage, looked to be very promising. Unfortunately however there was yet one more serious obstacle to overcome.
In the five years that had elapsed since we built the Nissen Hut the Borough Council had made marked improvements to the open air swimming pool in the Abbey Meadow and had further developments in mind which would make our position untenable. There was no alternative to looking for another site; suddenly we were back again to the problems of 1958. Eventually a site on the Wilsham Road was agreed upon and we set to work clearing a veritable jungle and opening up a way to the river by felling twenty great willow trees. All rowing came to a stop for the second time whilst we worked on the new site, right through the winter of 1964/5.
With the aid of a substantial Government Grant and by deciding to undertake the construction ourselves, we were able to plan all the boat accommodation likely to be needed for several years. Building started on April 30th, 1965 and went on through that summer. Largely due to the efforts of a local resident, Peter Cobb, who so generously gave up so much of his spare time to help, the building was completed by early November and we moved out of the Nissen.
Since getting established in the new premises the Club has gone from strength to strength. The first season, 1966, was notable as the one in which we had our first winning four in a shell boat. Dick Hladik was Captain and his enthusiasm and hard work set such a good example to his crew that they were able to notch up the maximum allowable number of wins at Junior-Senior level, at Peterborough, Huntingdon and Pangbourne.
Unfortunately, a change of job meant that Hladik had to leave Abingdon, but in his successor David Westman, the Club has been fortunate in finding a worthy captain. Westman is a strong believer in the value of land training, particularly during the winter months. In the winter of 1966/7 he instigated for a squad of ten people, the most strenuous training programme that the Club had yet undertaken. The result was that the Club won sixteen trophies during the 1967 season.
At the end of the year the Club took delivery of another new boat, a fine coxed shell four built by Bowley of Chester. The Club is poised ready now to move into the top ranks of British Rowing and take on the best crews in the country.
We are confident that in these first ten years we have laid the basis of a Club which is going to grow and thrive, making an ever increasing contribution to Abingdon's sporting life. We hope that by it's continued success at regattas all over the country the Club will bring more credit to the town's name. But, we are not complacent. Plans are in hand for an extension to the boathouse, to include a small gymnasium and a club-room. We hope that for our members at least the attractions of the former will exceed those of the latter and that, given this encouragement our rowing members in future are going to be even fitter and stronger. The new club-room will provide our non-rowing members with pleasant surroundings in which they can meet and organise the many supporting activities which are so necessary to a club such as ours.
Together we go forward to write the story of the Abingdon Rowing Club for the next ten years - the teenage years of our young club. We trust that by our endeavors our offspring will develop, in that time, into a healthy, sturdy, adult.