It is unfortunately difficult to establish the exact history of Huntingdon Boat Club as most of the early records of the club were destroyed in 1958 when the boathouse where they were stored was flooded. Much of the history of the club was also held in the minds older members and sadly many of these members have long since passed away. However there is still a nucleus of members and families who have had a long association with the club, and it is from their memories and remaining documentation that was not destroyed in the flood of 1958 that this history is taken from. Tracing the post 1958 history to modern times has been somewhat easier as much of the documentation and records are still in existence.
Huntingdon Boat Club was founded in 1854 with the aim to “Promote and further the interest of rowing in Huntingdon”, which remains as true today as it was then.
Huntingdon Boat Club was one of the first clubs to be founded away from the Thames Valley and was the first boat club to be founded in County of Huntingdonshire , as the area was known then. A further sign of the longevity of the club is demonstrated by the designation of Boat Club as opposed to Rowing Club, which tends to be used by clubs founded after 1860.
Huntingdon Boat Club can be identified by its distinctive club colours, which are officially described as Cardinal Red and Dark Blue. Reasons why these colours were chosen remains unsure. The racing singlets or “Vests” worn by Huntingdon’s crews can be identified by a Red body panel with a single thick Dark Blue diagonal stripe running form to right to left. Huntingdon’s rowing and sculling blades are painted in Red and Blue halves.
River Great Ouse
Huntingdon Boat Club is lucky enough to train on a 5,000 metre uninterrupted stretch of the river Great Ouse from the town of Huntingdon to the village of Houghton , where the famous water mill built in the 18 th century is located. Houghton mill was the last active water mill on the river Great Ouse and when it stopped milling in 1930 the river ceased to be a working river. Nowadays the river is solely used for leisure and boating activities. The stretch of river between Huntingdon and Houghton has changed little since the Boat Clubs formation 1854. The only major change being in the 1970s when the island known locally as “Swan Island” which was in the centre of the river just off the Huntingdon town bridge was removed to improve navigation and drainage. Unfortunately despite attempts to cure it the river still suffers from flooding, in recent times the worst flood came in Easter 1998 when heavy rain caused the river to rise rapidly causing a major flood. The boathouse itself came very near to flooding with the water only stopping centimetres away from entering the boathouse.
Archdeacon Vesey, of Castle Hill House Huntingdon gave the club a 99-year lease on the first location of the club. This location was known as “Skipper Hall’s” yard. The site is now occupied by Huntingdon Marine and Leisure and is located between the A14 flyover and the ancient river-bridge. The original boathouse in Skipper Hall’s yard is still standing and is now used as a workshop by Huntingdon Marine and Leisure. Lack of ownership of the site by the club and the expiry of the 99-year lease prompted Mr Hall to ask the club to vacate the site. It was now the early 1950s and there were various suggestions on where the club should move too.
Both the Town Council and the Mayor were approached for help in securing a new location the Mayor of Huntingdon at the time was Mr Bradshaw and having been a Patron of the Club for many years he managed to arrange a tenancy at the “Old Bathing Station”. Which was situated on the Alconbury Brook close to it’s joining with the river Great Ouse, almost directly under the present A14 bypass high level Road Bridge .
The new bridge having taken the place of a wooden railway bridge, which stood only about 1.5 metres above the water. The Bathing Station as its name implies, was a changing area for people wishing to bathe in the river and was located opposite the old gasworks on Mill Common.
It was officially finished and opened in 1954. Unfortunately, the site suffered badly from flooding and members and sponsors had to give any funding for improvements. However, the RAF Rowing Club also shared the facility owning the adjoining boathouse and, the two clubs sometimes competing in combined crews enjoyed a successful period of rowing during the mid 1970s. Lack of space, poor facilities and increasing vandalism together with a general drive to further the sport of rowing encouraged the Club Committee to strive to find another new home in the mid 1980s.
Proceeds from wise investment and endeavour early in the last century together with help from Huntingdon District Council and Huntingdon Town Council enabled the construction of a new boathouse on land leased from the District Council situated on the riverside park just off the town centre. Building work began in early 1987, the first brick being laid by Mr Leslie Colebrook who was the Mayor of Huntingdon at the time. The new facility was finished in late 1987 and officially opened in December of that year by John Major, MP for Huntingdon. In 1997 the club held its 10-year anniversary since moving to the new premises. To celebrate the event the Club held a ceremony to name some new racing boats. The Right Honourable John Major MP also attended the event. The Old Bathing Station site where the club was based until 1987 has now been completely redeveloped and regenerated with modern housing and flats occupying the site where the boathouses once stood.
Huntingdon Regatta & Water Carnival
It was at Huntingdon regatta where Sir Steven Redgrave, then rowing for Greater Marlow School won his Novice Sculls pot. Unfortunately in recent years the club has not been able to hold its annual July regatta. This has been a great loss to the club and the town as a whole, however there are plans to have the regatta reinstated and bring a regatta back to Huntingdon, which the town so rightly deserves. Records of the original Huntingdon regatta can be dated back to the 1800s, when it is was known not only as a regatta but also as an “water carnival” and consisted not only of rowing events, but also swimming races, punt races, decorated boats, and other carnival activities. In those days the regatta was held between the Town Bridge and the Old Wooden Railway Bridge . In 1957 the regatta moved to the stretch of river known locally as the “Houghton Wale” which runs between Hartford and Houghton. It was at this point where the carnival events stopped and the event became known as Huntingdon regatta and solely focused on Rowing and Sculling events.
Huntingdon Head of the River
Presently, the only major Rowing and Sculling event in Huntingdon is the annual Head of the River Race held in October each year over the 4’500 metre upstream course from Houghton to Huntingdon. This event attracts clubs not only from our neighbouring towns but also clubs from all over the United Kingdom . Records of this event can be traced back to the 1960s when the event was known as the Great Ouse Sculling Championships.
Club Trophies and the GORSA Cup
Each year, members of the club compete in the annual club races competition held over a 450-metre course. This event is open to all affiliated members of Huntingdon Boat Club and is held in fours and pairs. The winning cups for these events provide a record of the members of Huntingdon Boat Club dating back to the 1870’s. The Fours cup was presented to the club 1874 and the Pairs cup presented to the club 1927. Winning crews of these cups receive their own personal medals, which are presented to them at the annual dinner dance.
The Robert Davey trophy is presented at the annual dinner dance to the Huntingdon Boat Club oarsman who has won the most regatta races during the previous season.
The Maurice Brown trophy is also awarded at the annual dinner dance, this trophy is awarded to the club member who has contributed the most to the running of the club over the previous year.
The regatta trophies that were presented to winning crews at Huntingdon Regatta are no longer raced for due to the lack of a regatta. These trophies are still owned by the club and provide an accurate and invaluable record of the clubs and individuals who visited and won at Huntingdon regatta from the 1800s to 1989 when the last regatta was held.
The Great Ouse Rowing Supporters Association (GORSA) cup which was an annual race in fours between the clubs of Huntingdon, St Ives & St Neots held each year at alternate regattas is also unfortunately no longer raced for.
Crews from Huntingdon Boat Club race at Regattas and Heads all around the United Kingdom and Internationally. Success has been achieved in all boat classes from Single Sculls to Eight’s and throughout the age ranges from Junior to Veteran, Male to Female and also Mixed crews. Our impressive fleet of racing boats reflects this success. Originally the club had a very small fleet of boats and crews found it difficult to compete and were constantly having to borrow boats from other local clubs. This was a source of constant frustration particularly during the clubs most successful years of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. We now have a fully stocked boathouse with every type of racing boat needed in today’s modern rowing environment. The club is totally committed to upgrading its fleet of boats and providing the best possible racing and training equipment for its crews. This commitment was reinforced in 2004 when the club, with the help of a generous donation from the Davey family purchased a new racing eight. In 2006 the club received a grant of £10,000 from the Huntingdon Freeman’s charity. This grant money was put towards the purchase of a new Double Scull, two Single Sculls and a Coaching/Safety launch. The commitment to purchasing and upgrading equipment remains the major priority as equipment gets more hi-tech and advanced, however as the years progress modern equipment also becomes more expensive and the club is constantly looking for ways to fund new equipment. Without the continued commitment and hard work of the committee, members and friends of the club we would not be able to compete at the highest possible level.
Throughout the clubs history it has seen many of its crews competing at National and International events. These have included: The Tideway Head – for Eight’s; The Fours Head, the Pairs Head and the Tideway Scullers Head. These events are held on the river Thames rowing over the famous Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race course in the opposite direction from the University crews. The highest finishing position a Huntingdon crew has achieved came in 1990 when a Senior Eight attained the position of 72 in the Tideway Eights Head. Crews have competed at the Gent International regatta in Belgium on many occasions and many crews have also competed in the National Championships of Great Britain. In 2000 a significant milestone was achieved when a crew reached the final of the Men’s Open Heavyweight Double Sculls at the National Championships of Great Britain. That same crew also went on to compete in the Double Sculls Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta the following year this was another first for the club as no other previous Huntingdon Boat Club crew had ever competed at the world famous regatta before. The club has seen its Veteran crews competing at the World Masters Regatta on two occasions in 2003 at Vichy in France and in 2005 at Strathclyde in Scotland . In 2005 another first was achieved when a combined Huntingdon and RAF Veteran crew competed at an International rowing event at St Petersburg in Russia . Many of the clubs crews over the years have also competed at the Boston Rowing Marathon over the famous 31-mile course from Lincoln to Boston . This event is to rowing what the London Marathon is to running.
- Elite VIII winning at Huntingdon regatta beating many Henley Royal Regatta crews.
- Veteran B Coxed IV winning a Gold medal at the Veteran National Championship.
- Elite Coxed IV winning the Town Trophy at Huntingdon regatta beating many national crews.
- Senior B Coxed IV winning the Stanley Baldwin Cup at Stourport regatta in 1970 beating many national crews.
- Gold medal for women’s Junior Single Sculls at the Welsh National Rowing Championships.
Bronze medal for Single Sculls at the National Rowing Championships.