Harry Rutherford's
Festival of Britain Mural

Sunday, 15 September 2013


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.

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“Rowing?  Don’t be daft!  There’s nowhere in Hyde that’s suitable for rowing!”

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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.

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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.

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St Georges, however, also had an additional and unique attraction.  Their rowing club!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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War Memorial
 In remembrance and deep gratitude to their chums who fell in the World War 1914 - 1919. 
Private's T. H. Metcalfe, W. Whitehead, Corpral A. Robinson, Private's W. Wilson and H. W. Bancroft

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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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

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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.

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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.

Eric Lancashire

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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.

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Now the 1910 maps shows the boathouse is on the opposite bank and on the Hyde side of Captain Clarkes Bridge. 

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The area is now overgrown but with care underfoot it can be explored and signs of it's former glory picked out.

My thanks to Bill Lancashire and his father Eric for today's post.


Marjorie said...

A wonderful bit of history. Super pictures. What a pity the people are not named, though the writer would have known them.

Captain Birdseye said...

This was the second boathouse of St.George's rowing club, the first was on the Ashton Bros side of the canal near Throstle Bank.

Werneth Low said...

Yesterday on a visit to Hyde I drove down Woodend Lane as I was trying to match an old postcard with what is there now. I'd completely forgotten about Captain Clarke's bridge until I reached it and then saw that, just beyond, was a private road so turned the car round, parked up and walked down to the towpath to take photos. I looked across at the jungle where once the boathouse was and remembered that it had been there. And now today we have this post. Thank you so much. By the way, I never realised how mucky Woodend Lane is - my car looks like it's been driven through a ploughed field!

Chris Han said...

Wow, a fantastic post, a great read, thank you.

Tom said...

Werneth Low:
If you have the time send me one of the pictures and I will include it.

Chris Han said...

I'm a bit surprised they removed the memorial to the fallen, I thought that would be a bit sacrilege.

Do we know if it was destroyed or maybe they just moved it?

Tom said...

Hi Chris I think it was remove to St Georges... but I have no idea if it is still there now.

Bill Lancashire said...

In response to Marjorie, I suppose that if pressed I could possibly obtain the names of some of my Dad's old rowing club chums. But I'm not so sure because he is now coming up for 94 and unfortunately he suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease. Having said that, there is every chance that he can still remember names from the thirties. It's just that he can't recall what he had for his dinner!

Another bit of bad news is that he had a fall on Friday evening and is now in Tameside General with a broken hip.

Dave Williams said...

There's some conjecture about what happened to the memorial and I recall that we did a post some months ago about an old Reporter article on the subject, but when I tried to provide a link to it I couldn't find the original post. I'll put a post on in the next day or so showing the original newspaper article.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone remember the members of the rowing club signing over ownership to St George's church on the promise that they would reopen it in a few weeks? It then never reopened.

Melvyn Bowler said...

I do, I was the last secretary of the Rowing Club, and remember that time well.

This would have been around 1958, and around 1959 I passed on the minute books and membership records to Hyde Library, who, I believe, passed them onto some kind of local archive kept at Staleybridge Library. The documents are probably still there, gathering dust.

There was not much rowing happening in those last few years. The Club had a successful table tennis team which played in the local league. The billiard table was rarely used, and the main pastime was playing cards in the kitchen, and talking to girls outside on Captain Clarke's bridge (and sometimes we invited them inside).

We did no harm and the Club certainly kept us off the street. The members were mainly local St Georges lads (I went to St Georges infant school, and my Grandfather is in some of the above photos, he was a rector at the Church).

Unfortunately "the powers that be" were at the time very narrow minded, and the Booth Brothers and Mr Warburton resolved to shut us down. They succeeded.

We had an extraordinary meeting at which a very slight majority voted to hand the Club and land over to the Church. I spoke against the handover, and the Booth Brothers spoke for it, and, I believe, intimidated the members. When I wrote up the minutes afterwards I discovered that some of the votes were by lapsed members, who were not entitled to vote. So the handover was legally invalid. However, the "powers that be" made sure that the transfer was done without myself or anyone else being involved. There is no doubt that this transfer was illegal.

By that time I was in the Royal Navy, and no longer in Hyde.

The boathouse, boats, club area and grounds were then left to rot.

That is how the St Georges Rowing Club ended, a sad reflection upon all concerned - including myself.

Melvyn Bowler


Great Post. I was born 1946 and remember going in a rowing boat down the canal with some guys from the club possibly in the mid
1950's. I wasn't a member but really enjoyed it as I hadn't been in a boat before. John Kenyon