This is by no means a complete history of Newcastle University Boat Club. For many years there is little record of what was happening in the boat club. Therefore the aim of this history is to bring together the information we do have and to create a basis upon which further stories and memories can be added. If you notice any mistakes or gaps then please let us know so that we can constantly be updating. We’re also interested in collecting members’ stories, race reports and anecdotes which will contribute both to this the Club’s history and our compilation of personal histories.
Four men in a tub,
Of the D.U.B. Club.
‘Armstrong Boating Song’
The A.C.B.C, or Armstrong College Boat Club, was founded in March 1911. The subscription was 5s. and the club’s aim was to “promote the art of rowing”. Aspiring oarsmen could buy the rules of the club from the secretary for 1s., everyone had to pass a swim test before they could row and training was Wednesday and Saturday afternoons on the river. The A.C.B.C. held the same status as any other Durham college and mostly competed in intercollegiate races and regattas. The original boat house was at Scotswood next to Tyne ARC and was the property of the Northern Canoe Club who rented it to the club. The first club buys were a tub 4+, a tub pair, two cutters, two skiffs and a number of oars. Durham lent the club a 4+ and Tyne donated two sculls. From its inception the club was successful. One of their first races was against the Varsity 3rd crew who they beat and whose place they subsequently took at Durham Regatta. Further successes were to be had at the club’s first Durham Regatta when nine Armstrong oarsmen won eleven prizes including a win in Junior Sculls for F. C. Judges.
Attendance suffered during World War I when the club fell to just six or seven rowers but things soon picked up after 1918 and in 1920/21 the club won Trial 4+s and the winning crew was selected by the DUBC President to represent the university against Edinburgh. This was the first time that an Armstrong crew had been asked to represent the university and the club did itself proud by beating Edinburgh as well. At this point the club held all three DUBC cups for 4+s and no Armstrong 4+ had been beaten by another college throughout the season.
At this time Armstrong College also held interfaculty races which included teams such as the Engineers, Pure Science and Agrics. In the 1960s there were also intramural races between the various halls: Henderson, Eustace Percy, Havelock and the ‘Commuters’, otherwise known as the flat dwellers.
The 1920s and The Introduction of Women
The 1920s were a time of victory for the A.C.B.C. In 1925 both the first and second Varisty crews were stroked by Armstrong men and in 1926 the only intercollegiate cup that eluded them was the Senate Cup, a race for Senior Fours. The Lowe Pairs, Trial Fours, President’s Sculls and Graduate Cup were all held by Armstrong crews despite the fact that races were postponed for two days due to the Queen’s Funeral and boats were hampered by the slushy ice covering the river. Another national event which effected the club was the General Strike which disrupted training and combined with the pressure of exams led to Armstrong pulling out of Durham Regatta due to lack of rowers.
“The glory of rowing cannot sufficiently be extolled and no healthy women should go down from College without the experience” – A sentiment surely shared by all oarswomen and one which in 1924 led to the creation of the A.C.W.B.C. or Armstrong College Women’s Boat Club. At a meeting held on the formation of a women’s club Mr Lipscomb, the Men’s Captain took the chair giving “an eloquent address on the disadvantages of rowing for women”. Despite this the club took form with their own captain and committee, however, there were certain conditions. The women were only allowed to use the “men’s property” on Tuesday and Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings and practices were to be held “under the able tuition of members of the men’s boat club”. Although initially plagued by low attendance the women’s boat club was to have its own successes in the future.
During the 1927-28 season, the club won the Picard-Cambridge Trophy for the first time in what was to be a five-year winning streak. The race was for Junior, fixed seat, strake-boat fours and the first winning crew were described as “real live fire-breathing baby-eaters”. No wonder they were victorious.
In 1929 the club moved into their new boathouse at Stella which was described as the finest and best equipped on the Tyne, by 1933 it even had hot showers. It was paid for by subscription to Armstrong College and was the property of the Athletic Union and the undergraduates of the college and was passed on to King’s College Athletic Union.
The 1930s – King's College BC
By 1931 the A.C.B.C finally held all the Varsity Trophies after having waited to win the Senate Cup for nine years, an achievement described as a “truly commendable feat”. The following year the club still held five of the Varsity trophies, despite the Graduate Cup B crew capsizing at the start, and despite a dip in success in the intervening years, the club held the same record again in 1934-35.
The early thirties also brought successes for the A.C.W.B.C. when in 1932 they won two clinker races against Durham and Bristol and one cutter race against Bristol. However, the late 1940s and early 1950s really saw the women’s side of the boat club take off, now as K.C.W.B.C. (King’s College Women’s Boat Club). In 1948 the KCWBC “swept the river” at Durham when both the novice and B crew beat Durham. The B crew “did not display the raggedness of some former women’s crews when tired” and “it was heard on the bank that they gave the best exhibition of women’s rowing ever seen on the Wear”.
The Tideway Head of the River was first held in 1926 but the first mention of a Durham VIII that included KCBC oarsmen was in 1949. At that point, there were three categories: First, Sandwich and Clinker. First was the fastest twenty-five boats from the previous year, Sandwich was the remainder of shell VIIIs and any new entrants and clinker were the remainder of clinker VIIIs plus any new entrants. The Durham University crew started 90th finishing 41st in a time of 20 minutes and 57seconds, the winners being London RC.
1951 a KCWBC VIII was entered for the first time into the University Women’s Rowing Association Eights Regatta in Oxford. It was also the first time that they had rowed on swivel pins. The crew made it through to the second round where they drew with Oxford, forcing a half course re-row which they regrettably lost. However, the same year saw the club win the Durham Intercollegiate Ladies Challenge Cup.
In 1951 the land on which the boathouse stood at Stella was requisitioned by the British Electrical Authority for the Stella South Power Station. The club had to move in with Tyne RC where they were able to store only four boats whilst a new boathouse was designed by Mr. Fielden and Mr Wharfe of the University’s School of Architecture and subsequently built. It finally opened in 1953 and was this time described as the “finest boat house in the North of England”. In 1963 the campaign to attract freshers was boosted by the fact that there were baths at the boat house and in 1968 the renovations continued with the conversion of the hot water boiler from coke to oil-fired, a fact keenly mentioned in the King’s Courier.
1957 saw the introduction of circuit training and 1959 brought with it the first training launch. Previously coaches had stood at three points along the river between Newburn and Scotswood from where they could see crews row past.
In the summer of 1961, a selected men’s VIII went to Norway to the Norske Studenters Roklub where they entered international and local races. The boathouse stood on an island in between two 2k regatta courses and was only accessible via boat and was an entirely men only island. In 1963 three King’s oarsmen rowed in the Varsity crew that won the Tideway UAU trophy, coming sixteenth overall.
In 1963 the ancient Federal University of Durham was abolished, creating two new Universities: the modern Durham University and the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne. No longer part of a Durham College, and cut off from its more southerly counterparts, King’s College BC rebranded to simply become “Newcastle
In 1969 the club had three crews in the top 170 despite the first VIII having fallen to 130th the previous year. A year on and the top VIII had swept their way back up to 42nd out of 337 crews whilst the second and third VIIIs came 109th and 177th, clocking up times of 19.41, 20.18 and 20.47 respectively, the first VIII coming 3rdin the UAU Ortner Shield behind Durham and Southampton. Also entered in this year was a “Gentlemen’s VIII”, who having not trained since last years HORR fell from 205th to 279th in a time of “3 days, 5 hours, 7 minutes and 6.33 secs” but were undoubtedly going to look “the most immaculate crew when the Tideway photographs appear”.
The top IV of 1969 due to a mix up in entries for Henley were entered into the British Universities Sporting Federation at Pangbourne where they had to borrow a boat, “the only compliment which might be paid to this driftwood was that it floated after a fashion”. Despite this and a “hair-raising trip on the London Underground with the oars” the crew went on to win, beating Cambridge, Bradford and London in the final.
The Social 70s and 80s
The social side of the club has always been strong. In 1970 students were invited to “a glittering ball. Entrance 5s. Free beer, chicken, women, straw, music, bogs, etc, provided”. Unfortunately the days of Rutherford 1985 have faded when the Senior C VIII “crunched aspirins on their way to the start to try to cure the hangovers from the previous night”.
Rivalry between the club and Durham is also a strong theme throughout the club’s history, especially when the club moved up to competing at a university rather than a college level. In 1971 the first VIII came 32nd at Reading Head, only 4 seconds behind the “invincible” Durham which apparently led them the make seven changes before HORR. Unfortunately these changes seem to have made the difference. Despite breaking an oar in a clash, the first VIII came 26th out of 337 crews, the best result for 8 years, however this placed them second in the UAU shield just behind Durham.
By 1982 NUBC had won the men’s Championship VIIIs at the Northern Universities Regatta for eight consecutive years. Helped by these victories and the size of the club, 64 and 80 athletes respectively, the club won the Victor Ludornum in both 1981 and 1982 and then again in 1985.
In 1986 “the ugly issue of apartheid muddied the usually tranquil waters of the Boat Club” when £400 (a contribution towards the £3,800 needed per year to run the club at the time) was accepted from Barclays Bank, whose offer of money to the union had been rejected due to their involvement in South Africa. Despite this, or perhaps due to this, victories were achieved at York Small Boats Head by the 1st IV and elite pair and Tyne Head in Senior III VIIIs. The former was also a successful Head for the club in 1988 when won Senior I and II sculls (James Valerino), Open and Senior I pairs (Simon Mepham and Nick Scott), Open IVs and Professor Jones won Veteran Open double sculls for York City. To balance these successes the Senior III IV was beaten by the Novice 1st IV.
The 90s and New Equipment
The club saw an influx of new equipment in 1990 and 1991 when a donation from Catherine Cookson provided for a new men’s VIII, Tom named after her husband, and a new women’s IV, named Dixie, which subsequently went on to win College Coxed Fours at Henley in 1995, the only win for Newcastle at Women’s Henley.
Summer training was taken to a new level in 1993 when eleven guys from NUBC ran from John O’Groats to Lands End to raise money for charity. The adventurous group which consisted of Captain Rob Whitacker, Charlie Pryor, Hugo Elliott, Dan Innes, Dan Robb, Rob Latham, Dick Alhadeff, Tim Wadie, Ben Jukes, Jan Safranek and Hadley Dean (the van driver), completed 840 miles in just 9 days. No wonder they went on to win Open coxless IVs (the fastest crew on the river by 20 seconds) and Senior I IVs at Rutherford Head.
The first Durham vs. Newcastle boat race was held in 1994 (originally a race for Senior Men and Women and Novice Men, a Novice Women’s race was added in 2004) the same day as the Oxford vs. Cambridge and saw an eleven year run of victories for Durham. However, the men’s first VIII made university history in the same year when they made it to the third round of the Temple Challenge Cup at Henley. Further success was won by Jan Safranek and Rob Latham at National Championships where they won Bronze in a pair. Henley was also a successful year in 1996 when the club beat Princeton in the second round by half a length in “a very fine race”, a victory that made it into The Telegraph and The Times under the headlines “Newcastle Ride Wind” and “Princeton lurch to defeat in wild weather”. Clearly training on the choppy waters of the Tyne does occasionally have its advantages. The Times even mentioned stroke man Alex Robinson dying his hair a different colour every day for good luck.
NUBC’S Most Successful Graduate… (Yet)
2000 saw the club’s most successful graduate, Ed Coode, narrowly miss out on a medal in Sydney and 2001 was the first year that the club competed in the Stan Calvert Cup, an annual victory for NUBC over their Tyne rivals Northumbria. In this year the novice men won Gold at BUSA and Ros Carslake, another NUBC trained international athlete, reached the semi-finals of Henley.
At BUSA 2002 Andy Stubbs, Will Dodsworth and Gareth Buckley laid down the power strokes whilst Dickon Leigh-Wood and Gregor Horn recoiled the rhythm and balance back down the boat to narrowly defeat Nottingham for Bronze behind Durham and Oxford Brookes in Men’s Championship VIIIs. BUSA also brought success for the club in 2004 when the novice women won Gold in both VIIIs and IVs and subsequently went on to qualify for Henley.
In 2005 the club won both the Senior men’s and Novice women’s races in the Newcastle-Durham Boat Race, therefore, securing the club a draw and its first non-defeat in Boat Race history. Henley Royal Regatta also saw the Senior men’s 8+ make it to the second round, something not achieved for some years, and a Newcastle/Tideway Scullers composite quad reach the semi-finals.
NUBC has now taken on a full-time head coach, Angelo Savarino, whose new Italian training program has produced outstanding results for the club this year. At BUSA Head (British Universities Sports Association) Newcastle managed to secure second place in the Victor Ludorum, one place above Durham, but one of the biggest achievements has been the Senior men’s victory at the HoRR in which they won both the Senior II and the Universities Pennant, again just pipping Durham to the post. The biggest regatta of the rowing year, the British Universities Regatta, further backed the Angelo’s claim that ‘there is no such thing as over-training’ and all the year’s hard work was made worth it by the club’s rise to fifth in the Victor Ludorum from last year’s fourteenth. The 2006 Boat Race, a three-one victory for Durham, shows, however, that the club still has work to do if it wants to be fully victorious on the Tyne. Hopefully next year will see the club build on the successes and learn from the defeats of this year to make 2007 a real winning year for NUBC…