The Imperial College Boat Club will celebrate their centenary with a special dinner and a row past at this year’s Henley Royal Regatta.
Imperial is among the leaders for university rowing in the UK, and this year marks 100 years since the Imperial College Boat Club was founded by Imperial students on 12 December 1919. Charles Bristow, a student at the time, was elected as the first Secretary of the club. He went on to become the Boat Club’s President and was instrumental to strengthening the club’s reputation for over 60 years.
"I am really proud to be Captain during our centenary year - it’s a great opportunity to celebrate our legacy.” Jack Walsh Captain of the Imperial College Boat Club
Charles was also the visionary behind designing the Imperial Boathouse, which is located on the Putney Embankment by the River Thames, and was opened by British athlete Lord Desborough of Taplow in 1938. The Boathouse, largely funded by students past and present, symbolises the pride of the Boat Club as a world-class base ‘built for students by students’.
“For me, there is no better feeling than rowing from Hammersmith Bridge with other members of the Boat Club, and encouraging the rest of the squad to start training at 6am on a Monday,” says Jack Walsh, a third-year Materials Science and Engineering student and Captain of the Boat Club.
“Rowing through London in sync with your best mates as the sun rises over Putney Bridge is as good as it gets. I am really proud to be Captain during our centenary year - it’s a great opportunity to celebrate our legacy.”
Rowing to victory
Since its inception, the Boat Club has been hugely successful. Four years after it opened, the club earned their first-ever victory at the 1923 Henley Royal Regatta, in the Wyfold Challenge Cup - a rowing event for men's coxless fours.
In 1974, change came to the Boat Club when the women’s team was established with approximately 12 members and three successive founding captains in the first year - Jenny Jones, Judith Hackitt and Isobel Pollock-Hulf. The women’s first major win at Henley came in 1996 at the Henley Women’s Regatta.
Most recently, the Boat Club won at the Henley Royal Regatta last year, with the men’s team winning the Prince Albert Challenge Cup and the women’s team winning the Princess Grace Challenge Cup.
Key achievements of the Boat Club include 4 Olympic gold medals, 2 Olympic silver medals, 11 Henley Women's Regatta wins, 28 men's Henley Royal Regatta wins, and 3 wins at the Head of the River Race.
Prominent names in the Boat Club’s history include alumni Louis Attrill, Simon Dennis, Luka Grubor and Steve Trapmore, who went on to become members of the British men’s eight that brought home gold medals at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. The crew was coached by Martin McElroy, another Boat Club alumnus.
In 2016, Imperial alumnus Melanie Wilson and fellow Boat Club rower Zoe Lee won silver in a memorable race in the women’s eight event at the Rio Olympics. It was Team GB’s first ever medal in this event.
The most well-known and inspirational of the Boat Club's coaches and Directors of Rowing is Bill Mason, who was largely responsible for the international domination experienced by the club in the 90s, coaching crews to 45 Henley Royal Regatta finals. He was also chosen as Chief Coach of the Great Britain women's rowing team for the Olympic Games in Atlanta, 1996.
Reminiscing on his time with the Club, Bill said: “I have never worked in a club with such great spirit.”
Waves of change
“It’s more than just a Boat Club - it’s our whole university experience because we spend so much time here." Helen Kirkpatrick First-year Aeronautics student, and member of the women's team
Today, the Boat Club has 116 student members, and welcomes students with all levels of experience and a strong commitment to rowing. Currently, three athletes from the Boat Club are part of Great Britain’s senior rowing team and are in full time training, with the aim of competing in the Olympics. The Boat Club is also the reigning European university champions in the men’s eight.
Helen Kirkpatrick, a first-year Aeronautics student and member of the women’s team, said: “It’s more than just a Boat Club - it’s our whole university experience because we spend so much time here. My coach has been really supportive, especially during trials and helping me to improve. I’ve seen a huge difference.”
Early morning starts have been a constant at the Boat Club throughout its history – but other things have changed. Captain of the Boat Club, Jack, explains that he has been working with the Club Captain of the University of Bristol’s Boat Club, Tommy Nicholson, to establish Rowing Together for Healthy Minds (RTHM).
He said: “It is a student-led campaign aimed at encouraging the rowing community to discuss mental health in sport. We want everyone to discuss mental health more openly and improve awareness to tackle any feelings of isolation or loneliness.”
Since starting this project in 2018, Jack and Tommy have established an official partnership with mental health charity MIND, and have encouraged over 100 boat clubs across the country to commit to discussions about mental health.
Looking to the future
The Boat Club’s rowing season runs from September until the final event and the highlight of their racing season – the prestigious Henley Royal Regatta, which this summer falls between 3 – 7 July.
The club will celebrate their momentous 100-year anniversary with a celebratory dinner for alumni, current students and friends of the Boat Club. It is being held on Saturday 30 March at the Hurlingham Club. The club will also mark the milestone with a celebratory row past at the Henley Royal Regatta on Saturday 6 July, with former club captains making an appearance on the day. The Boat Club are also hosting a barbecue on the day, with all alumni welcome to attend.
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