History of Heriot's Rowing Club

From 1953 - by Alastair Moir

In 1953, Donald Hastie expanded the options for sport at the School by persuading one of the masters, Mr Paterson, to run a rowing club. Initially the option was open only to pupils in years 5 and 6, apart from coxes recruited from year 3, and about a dozen boys expressed an interest in taking up the sport. As the School possessed neither a boathouse nor equipment, the oarsmen became members of the St Andrew Boat Club and used their boathouse - strangely enough this is now the Heriot boathouse - while boats and oars were borrowed from Edinburgh University. Compared with the equipment used by our present-day pupils, the clinker-built boats were only slightly advanced from hollowed-out logs, adjustments requiring carpentry and metal-working skills. Nevertheless, training was started with blisters and muscles developing on unlikely parts of our anatomies with a direct correlation.

Given that most of us had little idea of what was involved, we made quite reasonable progress and our morale was boosted when the School purchased 4 oars (!), pencil type in light blue with a black star. Coaching was by Mr Paterson and volunteers/conscripts from the University and our first experience of a regatta was courtesy of the University who took some of us through to Glasgow to see what was involved. My main memories of this were a spectacular crash on the river between the Edinburgh and Glasgow Eights and a rather good dance at the Glasgow Union.

A few weeks later we took our oars, put them up the stairs beside the driver of a No10 tram and thence to the Waverley Station. Looking back on it, we must have appeared a mob of nut-cases as we walked from Queen Street Station to Glasgow Green with oars on our shoulders and we duly got thumped by the highly experienced crews of the Glasgow Schools Rowing Association. The racing was in Committee boats, no trailers and minibuses then, and, although theoretically matched, local knowledge of the boats was a definite advantage. Fortunately, the oarsmen who followed us were rather better prepared for the fray and Heriot's became a name to reckon with in rowing circles.

After a successful season in 1973, the club had varied fortunes; sometimes winning at the younger age groups but finding competition tough at the top levels. However, a programme of training was developed using the School Gym, the rowing tank at the Commonwealth Pool (regrettably now demolished) in addition to the normal water training and, by 1980, Heriot crews were beginning to dominate Scottish junior rowing.

Heriot crews had, for many years, forayed into the North of England at Durham, Berwick, Lancaster, and Newcastle but after an excursion in 1980 to the Tideway Head of the River in London and the National Schools Regatta at Nottingham, our crews set the National Schools' Head of the River in London and National Schools' Regatta at Nottingham as two of our targets. Our progress can be judged in that, over the next ten years, we won the Schools' Fours event 3 times at Nottingham and were usually in the top five crews in London.

60s, 70s & 80s - by Alastair Moir & Bob Neill

The Sixties

The shrewd and amiable Tom Dennis was in charge of GHSRC in the early 60s and he worked in close liaison with the St. Andrew Boat Club, who were at that time the owners of the Boathouse. An outstanding coxed four emerged which won the Scottish Schools' Open Fours Championship in 1961, rowing in the fast clinker called "Alison Primrose", which was the first boat purchased by the School. Tom did very well to convince the School to make such an expensive investment.

History teacher Richard Foster then brought considerable rowing experience up from England and he took charge of GHSRC for several years before heading back South to Bedford, where he later became a headmaster. He recruited Bob Neill from the Physics Department as his replacement in 1967 and Bob has looked after the rowing since then, with the valuable aid of other schoolteachers and volunteers coaches, most of whom have had a Heriot's rowing background.

The Seventies

Rowing is an expensive sport and new boats were soon required for the growing number of pupils opting to take our sport. Giant Jumble Sales and "Wreck-a-Crew" Sponsored Rows became quite regular events and they helped us to raise the funds for new equipment. One Sunday in March 1974, 1300 man-miles were rowed up and down the River Clyde. Mr. Neill himself actually sat in the bow of an eight and almost died covering his 30-mile share of the agony. In the early 70s, two highly successful boys'crews (G and S crews) developed and they put Heriot's on the rowing map by recording a large number of regatta wins and Scottish Championship victories. At that time, coaching was in the hands of Iain Campbell, who was affectionately known as " Rent-a-Whip". Fitness had a lot to do with our success and regular Thursday evening training sessions in the recently-opened Rowing Tank in the Royal Commonwealth Pool became established as the principal weapon in our armoury. The Club began to make an impact in the North of England, recording several impressive wins at Durham and Tyne Regattas. Before winning one Junior U15 4+ event at Durham, our lads had to see off 15 English crews. We were not too popular on the River Wear that weekend ! Mr. Neill foolishly promised to throw himself in the river if GHSRC won such a prestigious event so, true to his word, he plunged into the shallowest pool he could find under the Elvet Bridge.

The Eighties

This turned out to be the golden decade for Heriot's Rowing. During it, our boys regularly monopolised the Scottish Junior Rowing scene and they recorded many impressive performances at British events, held in places like London and Nottingham. The girls recorded their first regatta win in 1980, at the City of Glasgow Regatta, beating Hutcheson's Grammar School in the final. Since then, there has always been a friendly rivalry between our boys and girls to see who could take more scalps per season. In that same year, Heriot's competed in London for the first time and managed to gain 281st place in a huge open race called the Tideway which involved 420, mainly adult, crews. From them on, GHSRC has visited London each March to participate in the British Schools' Head of the River Race (HORR). We also put the British National Schools' Championships into our annual programme of events and became the first Scottish winners of British Schools' Fours in 1982 with an outstanding crew of Ben Helm Niall Morrison Iain MacLaren and Derek Clark, coxed by Leonard King. Later in life, Ben rowed in a Great Britain Lightweight Four which broke the world record in Paris. Derek Clark went on to coach the Swiss National Junior Squad and then a winning Oxford (v Cambridge) crew in the University Boat Race. Another star of the early 80's was Hamish Burrell who taught a future World Champion, Katherine Grainger, to scull and then took charge of coaching for the Irish Rowing Association (no, not the IRA !!). In 1981, Heriot's bought the present Boathouse from St. Andrew Boat Club,thus ensuring the future of GHSRC. Although our Boathouse is still a very basic structure, it has served us well over the years, being ideally located on the non-tow path side of the Union Canal near Colinton Road. Monday evening gymnasium training sessions were introduced in 1981 and have since been an integral part of our fitness programmes for all serious rowers in GHSRC. Minibus transport was in short supply in the early 80s so we developed a system of taking 3 crews to most regattas. Usually these crews competed in JU18, JU16 and JU15 events. This system guaranteed continuity and was partly responsible for our long run of successes. During the 80s, many Heriot's crews were selected to represent Scotland but our most successful boys' crew at this level won the Home Countries' International Match in 1987, boating Dearg Stobie, Andrew MacLean, Nicholas Lockhart and Mumtaz Ahmad, coxed by Rhona Henderson. Since then there have been many international wins, mainly by our girls, in eights, fours and pairs. In 1987, our boys won 1st, 2nd and 3rd places in the Scottish Schools' HORR, demonstrating a depth of talent which we have never since equalled. Mathematics teacher Mike Martin joined our coaching staff in the second half of the decade a did a tremendous job during his time with us. In 1988, his girls' squad recorded victories in York, Chester and Bedford as a prelude to taking gold medals at the British National Championships and the Home Countries' International Match. While this outstanding crew (Suzanne Robinson, Joanne Knox, Susan Prior, Fiona Hutchison (NARC) and Jennifer Morrison) were setting the heather on fire, our boys were determined not to be outdone and our A-Crew took gold medals at the British Schools' Fours and Junior coxed fours in Amsterdam. The Golden Decade ended on high notes, with our boys and girls doing very well throughout Session 1988-89. The boys won the Scottish Schools' HORR., sealing an unbroken run in this landmark event throughout the 80s. Later in this season, a GHSRC girls' eight won the Under 18 schoolgirls event on the Thames and the boys won silver medals at the British National Schools Championships and in Amsterdam. Mike Martin took up a new post in 1989 at Abingdon School, where he has enjoyed continuing success on a larger platform and Alastair Moir received the Torch Trust Trophy from the Duchess of Kent for his splendid services to rowing. Coaches like Mike, Alastair and Ian White are hard to come by and we simply could not have operated without their enthusiasm and dedication. Other coaching stars have followed in their footsteps during the 90s and beyond but that's a story for later!