Birmingham Rowing Club’s involvement with the Henley Royal Regatta is distinguished if irregular.
It won’t be represented when the regatta starts this week but is hoping to tap into the publicity the event will give to rowing to help promote plans for a £2 million re-development of its facilities.
The club did not enter a four at Henley and sadly Steve Byford failed to qualify for the Diamond Sculls. A great pity – an injury did not help – as his story is quite remarkable.
He started as a complete novice last season and, by the end of the season, had worked his way through all the intermediary levels to be ‘elite’. The hope is that he can continue to progress.
The club though has plenty of ambition and, with Birmingham Canoe Club, has a redevelopment plan for its headquarters at Edgbaston Reservoir to create a state of the art water sports centre with facilities for other sports and community activities. Planning permission was granted last December.
Birmingham Rowing Club president Peter Veitch said: “The new centre will include boathouses, changing rooms, a gym and café, all built to a high quality to replace the existing facilities.
The Club has been based at the Reservoir since its foundation in 1873 and operates from 1960s vintage industrial buildings and some freight containers which provide poor quality accommodation for the children and adults who row and canoe there.
The centre will provide a base for Birmingham Rowing Club, B-Row, the University of Birmingham Boat Club and Birmingham Canoe Club. It is a very exciting development.
“Currently, we are investigating the possibility of obtaining charitable status, which would greatly help our cause. However, new boat launching facilities form part of the project and we hope to make a start on those by the end of this year.”
Down the years the club has seen a series of Henley Regatta highlights
1904 saw SE Alldridge, bow, JW Frame, SH Johnson and FC Glover, stroke, win the Wyfold Cup in the final against London in controversial circumstances.
The Birmingham boat was going much the faster when a series of bumps occurred, London being right out of its water. The Birmingham craft passed the post locked with London. Then a shout came through the official megaphone on the umpire boat ‘Birmingham, the race is yours. I disqualify London for fouling’.
A fantastic outcome. It was to be a long time before another BRC crew was to even compete at Henley – in the 1970s with Chris Llewellyn, Paul Warnett, Colin Loveday and John Fazakerley.
Birmingham rowers make big splash at Henley Regatta
However there were exceptional individuals who kept the club’s flag flying.
Ken Tinegate arrived back from World War II, where he had served in the Royal Artillery, to find he was the only active member and no boathouse – it had been commandeered by the
Admiralty for the use by the Sea Scouts.
But such trifling matters were not to put him off. In both 1949 and 1950, along with Boris Brown, of Loughborough Boat Club, he reached the final in the double sculls at Henley, only to be beaten on each occasion by a very strong pair from Denmark.
And the pair represented their country at the same event in the 1950 Empire Games in New Zealand, winning a bronze medal.
It is recorded: “Had they not suffered the misfortune of having their boat smashed by a piece of driftwood on their last practice – a mishap which compelled them to compete in a strange boat – they might well have won.”
However, ten years later George Justicz, one of Birmingham Rowing Club’s best ever performers and a former captain, went one better.
Justicz had already had success at Henley in 1956 stroking a Royal Engineers crew to victory in the Wyfold Cup. Then in 1960 and 1961 he won the double sculls together with Nick Birkmyre, of Ariel.
Many further Regatta appearances have followed down the years though with no such comparable success. But that has never hampered the club and today it has a thriving and rapidly developing senior men’s and women’s squads plus a junior squad who compete all over the region all year round.
“No need to worry about not having people to row with – we take anyone of any ability,” said Mr Veitch.
Many of the club’s members will be in attendance at Henley this week.
Birmingham may be a long way from the sea but there is still plenty of enthusiasm for rowing.
The Henley Regatta will once again be the highlight of the British summer social calendar; with the iconic five days of action starting today.
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