Row, row your Clapton boat, merrily to Henley

Lea Rowing Club in Clapton: Jennie Brotherstone, nearest, Katherine Berlie and Louise Etheridge (purple top) near club’s Springhill Boathouse Hackney N © 280614

A GROUP of women rowers, and some men, are paddling down the River Lea from their Clapton boathouse and up the Thames to Oxfordshire to save their club from closure.

Starting on Wednesday 2 July 2014, the expedition, using two quad shells, each carrying four rowers and a cox from a squad of 30, and battling strong tides in the London River and crossing 19 locks, is expected to take three days to cover the 65 or so miles to Henley. 

The Lea Rowing Club (LRC) members aim to arrive on the Friday morning 4 July 2014 in time to watch the start of the Henley Royal Regatta.

The club leases its boathouse from Hackney council, and has been offered a 99-year lease. To secure the deal, LRC needs to raise £960,000 within the next 12 months, on top of £145,000 already raised by long-distance cycle rides from London to Paris and to Cornwall, bake sales and other charity events.

One of the rowers, Jennie Brotherston, 34, described the project as “crazy… a long and difficult row”. It was more than a fundraiser: they also hoped their paddle up the Thames would strengthen the profile of rowing.

Lea Rowing Club in Clapton and on water Jennie Brotherstone, nearest, Katherine Berlie and Louise Etheridge (purple top) near club’s Springhill Boathouse Hackney N © 280614
The boathouse on the south side of the Lea

She said: “We will be using two Explore Rowing recreational fours and rowers of all abilities will be taking part.” Beginner rowers would be paddling alongside the club’s elite, and coaches would be accompanying them in support vehicles for impromptu training.

Accommodation had been offered by the many clubs along the route. Katherine Berlie, 27, told Loving Dalston: “In some cases we’ll have to sleep on the floor in gyms.”

They will hit the water at Clapton on Wednesday at 7am, reaching the first lock at Old Ford in Bow an hour later. Then they face more locks before they push into the  choppy waters of the Thames at Leamouth, opposite the 02 Dome.

Some of the rowers splashing their way to Henley had not even stepped into a boat until recently. Berlie said: “I live near by and used to be woken by the megaphones and mikes of the coxes and trainers.

“The opportunity to join them seemed too good to miss. The boathouse is only five minutes from my home.”

In the Victorian era more than 150 rowing clubs used the river: in the 1860s the E5 9BL area was nicknamed the “Henley of the Lea”.

In Springhill: Two Centuries of River Lea Rowing Dick Anderson describes beautifully and with the help of rare photographs the clubs’ working-class origins, their struggle for survival on a polluted river and through two world wars, culminating in the creation of the Lea Rowing Club in 1980. Pollution, and introduced weeds, are still a problem for rowers.

The book costs £15 and £11 from every sale will go to the club’s redevelopment fund. Order via the publisher Lapesse or buy from the café near the boathouse.

* This is the route of the row. If you want to donate to the club, which is a charity, or chance your arm at rowing, contact it via the club website.

David Altheer 300614 

* Heading for Henley-on-Thames: main picture shows Jennie Brotherstone, coxing, Katherine Berlie and Louise Etheridge training near the club’s boathouse in north Hackney

* Footnote: the row was completed in the allotted time.

2801614 ©
Profits from the newly published book above will go to the rowing club’s Springhill Boathouse

* Emboldened underscored words in most cases indicate a hyperlink, a reader service rare among websites. If a link does not work, it is probably because the site to which the URL refers has not been maintained.

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