MESSING ABOUT IN BOATS
By Eric Lancashire Written in 1993
If you were to stop most people in Hyde today and ask them if they could direct you to the rowing club, they’d probably look at you as though you were stupid.
However, if you’d asked that same question sixty or so years ago, most Hydonians would have directed you down Woodend Lane and across Captain Clarke’s Bridge. There, adjoining Woodend Farm and built into landscaped gardens that sloped down to the canal, stood St Georges’ Rowing Club, an elegant single story building, housing sports and leisure facilities, plus a boathouse that accommodated three craft.
In those days, before the war, all the churches had thriving ‘Young Mens Sections’, and it was from the ranks of these organisations that football, cricket, table tennis and billiards teams were raised to compete against each other in local leagues. There was intense rivalry between the various teams and at St Georges, Harry Renshaw was one of the undisputed stars of the table tennis competitions.
I’ve read that the club had originally been founded in the 1880’s, but had been disbanded and re-formed in 1903. By the early 1920’s they had managed to obtain land beside Captain Clarke’s Bridge and in 1922 they built their clubhouse and laid out the gardens. In the middle of this well-tended terraced landscape they had erected a war memorial inscribed with the names of those young men from the rowing club who had fallen during the Great War.
To be a member of the rowing club you also had to be a member of St Georges’ Church, and a condition of membership (as it was with all the sports teams) was that you attended Church or Sunday School at least twice every month. The club was always well patronised and in my days it was organised and supervised by Mr Nicholas Warburton.
The clubhouse incorporated a games room, which contained a table tennis table and billiards table. There was also a smaller card room, plus a tuck shop where you could buy biscuits, snacks, cups of tea and soft drinks.
Below the clubhouse, at canal level, were housed the boats. Two of them, the ‘Grace Darling’ and ‘St George’ each had two pairs of oars and including the rowers could carry six people, one of whom acted as steersman. A small skiff, the ‘Mary’ had room for one rower plus two passengers. In addition there was also a canoe, but this was not a popular craft on account that it was prone to capsizing and depositing its occupants into the canal.
I seem to recall that the fee to take out the boats was one penny per person and on summer evenings the members would perhaps row up to Woodley and back. On Saturday afternoons, however, remember that most people worked Saturday mornings in those days; the favourite trip was to row from the clubhouse along the canal all the way up to the bottom lock at Marple and then back again. This voyage would take up most of the afternoon with different people taking their turn at the oars and having to navigate through the narrow Woodley Long and Hyde Bank tunnels. At Woodley someone would have to get out of the boat and pull it through the long, dark tunnel by a rope, usually stumbling into unseen puddles in the pitch black and managing to get their feet soaking wet in the process. But to get through the ‘Leggin Tunnel’ at Hyde Bank, where there was no towpath, you had to ship oars and paddle the boat through as best you could.
Apart from these minor difficulties the rowing was easy and uninterrupted, and we would glide past now long disappeared landmarks such as Gee Cross Mill and the old swing bridge. The only other obstacle to smooth rowing on our voyage up to the locks was the aqueduct at Marple where the canal soars majestically across the Goyt Valley. Here, yet again the canal became too narrow for rowing and one of the ‘crew’ had to disembark to tow the boat until the canal once again opened up.
Laying Of The Foundation Stone 20th May 1922
Mr N. Warburton hold the trowel
I walked down to the site of the old clubhouse recently, probably for the first time since the war. The building and the war memorial have gone and the gardens are all derelict and overgrown with weeds, brambles and trees now, but when I was there I saw something that I’d never seen before. Set into the ground, on a small raised patio near the old entrance gate were two stone plaques. They were covered with moss, but when I wiped this away I was able to read them:
This land was given
Mr and Mrs N Warburton
as a memorial to their son
Harry Hurst Warburton
killed in Italy
February 23rd 1946
whilst on active service
with H.M. Forces
Also to those who fell
in the Second World War
1939 – 1945
Flight Sgt R.H. Nash
Flying Officer F. Plant
Trooper H.H. Warburton
It’s all a long time ago, but the memory of those times spent rowing with friends along the peaceful canal, passing green fields with grazing cattle will always remain with me. I left the club shortly before I was called up to the Navy early in 1940, and when I returned to Hyde after the war, well by then I was married and had a young family.
That’s probably what happened to most of the members and I suppose the rowing club just faded out of use. Neglect, time and changing lifestyles did the rest.
On the 1875 map the boat house is on the Gee Cross side of Captan Clarkes bridge, more towards the bridge that led towards Foxholes.