Written by David Richardson (President 1980-82) and edited by Matthew Layton, (President 2021-22).
Student rowing at Manchester predates the University, with the first reference being a senior coxed-fours race in 1862 between Owens College and the “Laboratory” (possibly the then-new Physical Laboratory), over 1 mile was instituted on the river Irwell below Quay street. It is thought likely that the crews boated from the Nemesis Rowing Club Boat House at New Bailey Street – the beginning of a long association with the Nemesis which had been founded some 15 years earlier in 1847.
The race developed over succeeding years, with coxed-pairs and single-scull (3/4 mile) and junior coxed pairs (1 mile) added to become briefly a big social occasion in Owens College, with all classes cancelled and the Principle leading the entire staff and students, plus spouses, parents, siblings, and Manchester establishment to promenade the riverbank in Pomona gardens (then on the south bank of the Irwell in what eventually became the docks). Other athletic events were added in an early version of a “festival of sport”.
Sadly boats were hard to obtain; few college members rowed – and they were described as “abysmally embarrassing” – and most importantly the course was too short, with fouls (both inadvertent and deliberate) frequent. Above all, for such a “gracious and public College occasion”, the water stank.
Despite the “Jack Ward Cup” being instituted in 1870, once the accompanying athletics events moved elsewhere in 1871, the social occasion went with them, and the regatta promptly died a death.
However, even as the Pomona Gardens extravaganza collapsed, a race at Agecroft on 9 May 1874 was a portent of things to come. Manchester University was formed in 1880, but Owens College continued and in 1889 the Owens College Boat Club was founded. In 1894 the students renewed their links with Nemesis when they were invited to use the facilities and boats of the club (again boating from New Bailey Street) at special rates.
A number of students took up the offer, and by 1903 the Owens College Boat Club was being mentioned in the national “Rowing Almanack”. The Club continued after Owens College was absorbed by the University in 1904 and the “Manchester University Boat Club” (operating through Nemesis) was founded and affiliated to the Athletics Union on 25 October 1907.
The AU generously donated £5 towards a new boat, but sadly this largesse was inadequate and the first “MUBC” folded in 1909.
Inter-War student rowing in Manchester
A long hiatus followed the collapse of the first MUBC in 1909, not least due to the First World War. The War also killed off a number of the Manchester rowing clubs, including Nemesis, which folded in 1920. However a meeting early in 1932 decided to try again, and accordingly, the current MUBC was founded using Agecroft RC facilities. The revived club affiliated with the AU in June 1932, with full membership on 16 November 1933.
In 1935 Agecroft built a new boathouse at Kersal Cell in Salford. Manchester University bought the old boathouse in Irwell Street (near the Douglas Green Weir, on the south side of the river) from Salford Corporation. However, this meant that MUBC had to be bought boats by the AU as it no longer had use of Agecroft’s fleet. It is thought that these were mainly fours and pairs – eights rowing was not widely developed outside of major rowing centres at this time.
All was well until December 1940 when the Irwell Street boathouse was destroyed by the Luftwaffe in what became known as the “Christmas Blitz” because the heaviest raids were the week before Christmas. The Club and its three surviving boats were at once offered a new base by Agecroft at their Kersal Cell boathouse and rowing continued (in a modest way) for the rest of the War.
Move to the Bridgewater Canal
Plans were developed after the War for a new boathouse next door to Agecroft. Unfortunately, these were shelved in 1949, since the development of the Wythenshawe grounds required all available funds in hard times. However, on the back of this disappointment, new plans were put in place for a move to the Bridgewater Canal.
The post War MUBC was still based at Agecroft’s boathouse. However, in 1958 the club began to row in eights. The available river at Agecroft was quite short – the course ran from the Mill wall above Jubilee Bridge to 20 yards past the Agecroft boathouse – and so the need for a longer course resulted in a firm decision that MUBC would move to the Bridgewater Canal. Change was in the air because the Women’s Club (“MUWBC”) was established in November 1960, ending nearly 100 years of all-male rowing.
On 12 October 1963, the new boathouse on the Bridgewater Canal, off Dane Road, Sale, was opened and a Scratch IVs event was put on to mark the occasion.
The boathouse was owned by UMIST, although at that time (and for many years after) there was no distinction made between Manchester University and UMIST rowers.
First Henley Crew
The opening of the new boathouse in Sale instigated a period of new growth for the club. Funding was secured for a new VIII and blades, and the arrival of a number of good oarsmen from quality rowing schools quickly led to numerous regatta victories.
1966 saw the first crew to represent MUBC at Henley Royal Regatta. Coached throughout the season by Geoff Clarke of Royal Chester, with further finishing coaching from Mike Davis (former Oxford University Boat Club President and stroke of the 1960 GB Olympic VIII).
Entering the Thames Challenge Cup, MUBC raced against the previous year’s finalists Nottingham Britannia RC in the first round, winning with a verdict of 2¾ lengths.
At that time the BBC was experimenting with televising Henley and the principal commentator was Harry Carpenter, more well known in those days for covering major boxing matches. During the race against Nottingham Britannia he got quite animated and declared: “… and here comes this exciting new crew from … Manchester United”!
Following the first round victory, the club were unfortunate to draw London RC on the Thursday, where they lost to a suspected Grand VIII masquerading as a Thames Cup crew!
Many thanks to Anthony Willats (6 Seat and President 1965-66) for his recollection of these events.
Beginnings of the “Two Cities Boat Race”
The first annual “Two Cities Boat Race” versus Salford University was instituted in 1972. For many years this was held as part of Agecroft Regatta, and consisted on only one (mens) race in eights.
The Club boated a number of good crews through the seventies (including entries at Henley), but struggled as the decade came to an end. The 1979/80 season saw the Club only able to put out a four, but strangely they omitted to tell the AU and so the crew had a great season, racing all over the North using a budget intended for a rather larger club…
There was something of a renaissance in 1980, with over 60 members recruited at the start of the academic year, a new state of the art “Carbocraft” eight – the first shells made of honeycomb sandwiched between composite fibers- bought in the following spring, and a renewed presence at Henley.
1982 saw the 50th Anniversary of the re-founding of MUBC. A celebration dinner was organised at the University Refectory (now demolished) and the guest of honour was Dr Boris Rankov, who held (and still holds) the record for Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race appearances – he rowed in all six times.
The merger of the men’s and women’s Athletics Unions was mirrored by a merging of MUBC and MUWBC, and the newly combined MUBC had its first female President in 1983/84. The Club continued to be strong for a number of years, with another “Carbocraft” eight bought in 1985, and regular experienced and novice eights boated by both the men and women.
A Brief History of UMIST RC
UMIST Boat Club (as it was then called) was founded in November 1994 when UMIST changed its partnership with the University of Manchester and was required to establish independent sports teams from Manchester University. Prior to the foundation of UMIST Rowing Club, UMIST students used to compete as Manchester University, UMIST contributed about 20% of membership to the club.
The club initially hired equipment including “the coffin” used by the novice men. Good Action, the 1st boat owned by UMIST, was delivered in early 1995. It was named after the founding President and Captain, Matthew Acton and Nicholas Goody. This was the first year that UMIST RC appeared on the starting list at Head of the River Race.
1996 saw the club’s first race victory, at the 1996 BUSA (British University’s Sports Association) regatta in Men’s championship Double Sculls. The verdict was very easily, won by a row over in the straight final (1 no show, 1 no boat, 1 flu stricken).
The club’s first genuine race victory was the 1997 North of England Head by the Novice Women beating 18 other crews in their category. Later that year, a Men’s Novice 4+ won three regattas over the summer period.
UMIST RC prides itself on having produced the winning sculler in the Manchester Vs Salford University Boat race for at least 4 years despite never officially competing!
The 1998/9 season was the most successful in the club’s history with the Novice Men’s Eight winning heads at local, regional and national level. 1999 saw the Novice Men’s Eight win the Novice Pennant at The Head of the River Race 1999, thereby becoming the ‘fastest novice crew in the country!’. At the BUSA (British Universities Sporting Association) Championships, the club picked up bronze and silver medals, and for the first time, gained more points than Manchester University RC.
The 1999/2000 season was a season of consolidation for the club, as the men’s First VIII competed at a higher category and the club focused on developing depth in the squads. The season still saw the crews come away with notable wins at local and regional events.
UMIST has been on tour three times to date, once to sample the fine hospitality (and Guinness) of Ireland and Northern Ireland and twice to the Euroregate in the city of Lyon (France). The club has won runners up medals at the Euroregate in 1997 and came 4th in 1999.
In 2004, UMIST RC once again rowed as MUBC on the creation of the new University of Manchester.