Rowing on the Great Ouse
This year is the rowing clubs 150th anniversary and to mark this key milestone we’ll be posting interesting articles and videos celebrating the club’s rich history. To begin with we have an article Written by local-historian Peter Ibbett.
The Great Ouse drunkenly meanders on its way from its source near Brackley in Northamptonshire to its discharge into the Wash at Kings Lynn but from time to time it allows itself a sober straight line which has enabled a group of rowing clubs to develop along its banks. St. Neots has one of the best club houses and annual regattas in the country. Rowing is believed to have originated in the town around 1865 with the first open regatta on the river in 1874. One problem facing the club was the unpredictable nature of the weather. Summer thunderstorms were a problem with regattas of 1878 to 1882 staged from partially flooded meadows. A St. Neots Chronicle article of 1880 expressed the opinion that ‘a day’s rain equals a flood’ and supported a deputation to the government demanding some relief.
In 1974 the new Riverside Park had provided improved access, drainage and landing stages as well as a much wider finishing stretch. Another freak of the weather on 2nd January 1976 produced a severe south-westly gale which totally demolished the old brick and tiled boathouse destroying all 15 boats and leaving the club with only 3 sculling boats housed in another building. With Insurance payments, rowing community, Town Council and local support the club rebuilt providing the Great Ouse with one of its jewels:- the beautifully maintained club house facing the willow lined Regatta Meadow.
Members of the rowing community enjoy the round of annual regattas cheerfully completing for club honour, personal enjoyment and the occasional medal. Howard Bonham (of the High Street Butchers family) won a Senior Fours medal at St. Ives in 1926 which illustrated the famous bridge with its then multi-story chapel in its centre. His blind brother Reg was a Novice Fours winner at Boston in 1927 illustrating that disability is no barrier to sporting success.
The St. Neots Museum has an excellent display featuring the Rowing Club. If you have any photographs or information to add to their collection please let them know or contact Peter Ibbett.