History – Our Story

Founded in 1865 and sited at the historic West Boathouse in Glasgow Green. Situated a beat away from the heart of the city, Clyde Amateur Rowing Club invites you to join us in experiencing one of the most underused but spectacular amenities on Glasgow’s doorstep!

Origins of Rowing in Glasgow

When what is now Glasgow was a group of villages separated by a broad tidal river, the way to get from place to place was to wade across at a ford, or to row. As the city grew, and other forms of transports developed, people progressed to rowing more for fun, than out of necessity. Images of the Clyde from the early 19th Century (Swann’s View from Arn’s Well) shows boats with rowers in groups of four, with a steersman, whilst in the background the smoking chimneys of the Gorbals and in the foreground the washerwomen drying and bleaching clothes on Glasgow Green.

Inevitably rowing for fun, transformed into racing, in order to determine who rowed best – and how else to determine best, than to determine fastest.

The Noughties

Today, the club is as inclusive as its ever been, and this is reflected in the number of members and the number of different levels and categories that the club participates and competes in. Both experienced rowers and complete beginners are welcomed to the club, in addition to those looking either to simply get fit, or participate in the social events at the club.

We are keen to celebrate our history, but also recognise that diversity and change are part of life and try to embrace what Clyde ARC can be, as well as what it is.

The members of Clyde ARC continue to achieve great things as a club and as athletes; in this way, Clyde ARC continues to make history as well be part of history.

Rangers Football Club

For a long time, Clyde ARC had no idea that there was a possible link to Rangers FC. Instead the club was aware only of a brief and uncategorised link to Celtic Football Club, as the minutes from 1905 (tbc) note a donation from the Parkhead club to Clyde ARC of £5. In those days, this was a lot of money however the minutes do not note for what purpose this was donated or what provoked such generosity.

The link to Rangers FC, the “other” Glaswegian football club, (unless you like Firhill), was only recently uncovered by Gary Ralston in his research for his book: The Gallant Pioneers: Rangers 1872.

Since time immemorial, in a vein similar to the rivalry between Rangers and Celtic, our nearest and dearest rowing rivals – Clydesdale Amateur Rowing Club, understood that members of their club had founded Rangers FC. This was thought to be evidenced by the Clydesdale (1865-1900) minutes which indicated that rowers from Clydesdale had been engaging in the new sport of association football, to the detriment of their rowing commitments. However, on inspection of the minutes, Ralston found that unfortunately none of the 4 accepted founders of Rangers FC (Moses and Peter Mc’Neil, William McBeath and Peter Campbell) are listed within the Clydesdale membership lists during that period.

Furthermore the history of Rangers, by John Allan, is similarly vague, again noting that the founders had been rowers, rather than that they were members of any specific club.

Instead Ralston’s research indicated that it was in fact members of Clyde ARC who were responsible for the founding of Ranger FC. This is evidenced through the 5th “founding member” of Rangers: Tom Vallance.

Vallance was quite the athlete and competed in various sports with success during his early life. Ralston’s research uncovered an article from the Scottish Athletic Journal in 1885, profiling Vallance and mentioning his membership of Clyde Amateur Rowing Club.

It is quite possible that not all of the founding members were members of the same rowing club, however another interesting indicator that it was members of Clyde ARC and not Clydesdale ARC, who founded Rangers FC, is found within the symbol of Clyde – the Clyde Star.  The six pointed, light blue star is the official symbol of Clyde ARC and appears on the club flag, club badge, club rowing kit and is referenced in the club constitution. The first known picture of the Rangers squad shows the 1877 team, resplendent in white shirts, with a light blue, six pointed star on the left breast. According to Ralston, the presence of the star was an interesting puzzle to many Rangers enthusiasts. On uncovering the link between Vallance and Clyde ARC, and the official symbol of Clyde ARC, the mystery is arguably solved.

A final note on this saga, is something that is forgotten in both clubs’ keenness to lay claim to such a link. Sadly the founders of Rangers FC chose to leave the sport of rowing for the greener grass of association football. Whichever club these boys hailed from, the world of rowing could not keep them.

Penny Brothers

Thomas, Laurence, Alexander, William and James Penny were all members of Clyde ARC during the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Their presence at the club is noteworthy, for although families of 5 brothers cannot have been uncommon during those decades, there is no known record of any other 5 brother families as members of any of the Glaswegian rowing clubs.  The eldest brothers, Tommy and Laurie, were twins, born in August 1905, however they did not join the club at the same time. Tommy joined in May 1925, with Laurie joining his twin at the club in March of 1926. Thus Tommy was 20 at the point at which he joined the club, and Laurie 21.

Tommy and Laurie quickly became established at the club, becoming committee members within 2 years and winning some prestigious events. As early as 1926, Tommy and Laurie were winning events held by Clyde ARC and other Scottish rowing clubs such as North British Amateur Rowing Club. Competition appears to have been mainly focused in coxed fours and pairs, however Laurie also won a number of events in the single scull.  In 1929, the Laurie won the Henderson Sculling Cup, the President’s Prize for Pairs (with McKenzie) and the McArthur Cup. This was the first time that anyone had won all 3 events in a single year and he finished off the season with a win in Junior Pairs, with Tommy, at the Scottish Championships.

Tommy and Laurie continued their successful pairs partnership in 1930 and 1931, winning the Junior and Senior Pairs events at the Scottish Championships, however, by this stage, more of the family had joined Clyde ARC.  Sandy and Bill both joined in 1930; Sandy was then aged 21, but Bill was only 16. Perhaps he was encouraged by his elder brothers who saw an opportunity for an ideal (small) coxswain for their pairs and fours rowing, but perhaps he was influenced by his elder brothers enjoyment of the sport and an aspiration perhaps to engage in a “grown up” activity where they could compete together and against each other.

Tommy and Laurie continued to compete in the pair, with Bill as their coxswain, and also in coxed fours. Photographs show the brothers with their season’s medal haul, looking quietly satisfied. The minutes record their dedication to their training and exhort other club members to “take a leaf from their book”. Evidently their hard work paid off, and deservedly so.

The final brother – Jimmy is projected to have joined the club in 1932, at which point, he would have only been ten. With Bill now 18, it could be that he (Bill) was able to compete on a more even basis with the elder brothers and that a coxed four crew, was now a viable option for all 5 brothers. Whatever the motivation was, the Four Pence, Ha’Penny Crew raced prominently during the 1932 season and won the McLay and Vogt Cups.

The end of the Penny brothers’ era came with the advent of WWII. Clyde ARC contributed members to the war effort (i.e. the Armed Forces) and the club did not train or race seriously during the war years. Post war, the club membership was decimated. The Penny brothers returned in 1947, however they were now older and presumably with a different view of the world. Tommy and Laurie would then have been 42 and even Jimmy, the youngest, now aged 25. Finding that the club and life had changed irrevocably, they left the club for good in 1952.

Clyde in the early 20th Century

The earliest minutes currently within the club’s possession date from the early 20th Century, at a time when boat races were a major spectacle. The then Glasgow Herald records crowds in excess of 50,000 lining the bank, and bookmakers taking bets on the outcome of the races. The present Clyde Boathouse – one half of the largest timber framed building in Scotland and a listed building – was built in 1904/5. In 1914 the club had a very successful year, dominating the Scottish Championships, winning 6 of the 7 championship races. Later that year, war broke out and virtually the entire membership (then no women being included) enlisted in the forces. Only the Clyde 1914 Sculling Champion, survived the war to return to Glasgow.

WWII and post war era

At the outset of WWII, the club remained open in the hopes that the International Situation would abate itself. As the months progressed, the severity of the situation and the recognition that this would take some time to resolve became more apparent. In 1940, the Committee met to agree the closure of the club until the end of hostilities. This was to preserve the precious funds finally saved by the Committee after the lean years of the Depression and out of respect for club members serving in the Armed Forces.

During WWII, the military requisitioned the premises and the clubhouse suffered and after the war the membership was at another low. Minutes from 1946 – the first post war notes, record the need for an action plan to restore the boathouse to good condition and address issues such as boats and membership. The notes also remark positively that of the members how had supported the war effort in the Armed Forces, far fewer (2) had paid the ultimate price in WWII, than in WWI. In 1947 an application for membership is recorded for Mr Gordon Day – then a Junior (intermediate, not schoolboy) rower. His application was accepted. Gordon is still rowing on the Clyde today.

Concerns of over membership and finance meant that Glasgow Schools Rowing Club entered the building relegating Clyde ARC to sub-tenants. Glasgow Schools Rowing Club was a powerful force, with over an alleged 600 members at one time, however from those members developed adult rowers who were recruited into Clyde ARC (amongst other clubs). The club prospered again, and contributed to the Scotland Commonwealth Games squad in 1958.

Origins of Clyde ARC

By 1865 rowing clubs had been established on the Clyde both up and down river of Glasgow (some using the Humane Society Boathouse, which was then on the south bank), as well as on the Nith to the south, the Forth to the east , the Dee to the north and elsewhere all around the coast. Amongst these clubs who established themselves was Clyde Amateur Rowing Club. Sadly little is known to the current members of the exact date that Clyde ARC came into existence, or by whom it was founded. Certainly, it is likely that Clyde ARC existed prior to 1865, at least informally, since, like a number of Scottish rowing clubs, its existence was formalised in 1865 with the recognition of the Constitution. Many of those clubs still exist today, however a great many other clubs, across Scotland, that once thrived, have not survived. Clyde ARC is one of the clubs who survived through the recognition that change is inevitable. Clyde ARC has constantly evolved with time and has adapted to the changes in the sport from 1865, in order to survive to the present day.

The 1980's and 90's

In the 1980’s and 90’s the club again concentrated on creating crews to dominate the Scottish rowing scene. This time, the Clyde ARC women’s squads that had begun in the 1970’s were able to be developed as well as the men’s squads, in addition to newly conceived  (at international level) lightweight squads of men and women and a thriving junior section.

The use of new technology such as plastic hulls was pioneered by the club, when in 1983 Clyde was the first club to purchase a Janousek – the G’day Foster and to use it with Dreissigacker oars. In addition to this, first class coaching was provided and many of the athletes who joined the club went on to represent Scotland and Great Britain at the Home International, the Coupe de La Jeunesse, the World Junior Championships and the Nations Cup (U23 event). Details of these successful crews are available within the Making History section.

The athletes at the club, both men and especially the women were taught to “know their place” – on the podium.

The presence of Clyde members at international events became expected within the club and the endeavours of the competitive athletes were supported by club stalwarts such as Gordon Day, Mike Haggerty, Raymond Dixon, Dave George and Ralph Gillies. These crews and athletes helped create a “can do” culture within Scottish rowing which would benefit the growth of junior and women’s rowing in the UK, however the loss of key members and coaches towards the end of the nineties left the club with little infrastructure and again the need to regenerate.

The 1960's and 70's

In the 1960’s the club grew further, largely in association with the schools to which it provided coaching, but in 1968/69 Glasgow Schools Rowing Club moved out, enabling Clyde to take sole tenancy of the clubhouse. However the club was not without a partner for long. The club assisted the gestation of Strathclyde University boat club, as it had decades earlier with Glasgow University and shared the premises until the 21st Century. This partnership was beneficial to both clubs for more than 30 years and many of the current members came through this relationship with the university.

Early in the seventies, a chance meeting led to an influx of yet more students  – this time from Aberdeen University, and later in the 1970’s the club opened its doors to female members. The club was able to resource large regattas and became known for the popular Clyde Rowing Weekend. This had originally begun with little prospect of success, due to the early point in the season at which it was run  – the only date available due to the popularity of regattas and the desire of every Scottish club to run one during the summer months. Clyde, however laboured hard and the regatta was at one point the second biggest rowing regatta in the UK and was voted regatta of the year.

The completion of Strathclyde Park –  the jewel in Scotland’s rowing crown, with its 6 lane 2000m straight course offered vastly superior racing and to make use of the facility, the regatta dates were commandeered. Far from withering on the vine with the removal of a source of income, the club threw its efforts into a new approach.

The 1920's and 30's

ebuilding the club post war, was challenging, however the club had sufficient resources to assist Glasgow University establish their own club in 1920. The regeneration of the club progressed more quickly than anticipated after WWI, and the club quickly returned to recording a decent membership and a great deal of rowing and racing activity. It was during the 1920’s that the club welcomed the first and second members of the Penny Family. 3 more of the family would join the club, contributing not only to the club’s racing history and prestige (the famous  Four Pence, Ha’Penny crew of the 5 Penny brothers: Thomas, Lawrence, Alexander, William and James Penny), but also making significant contribution as committee members. Other members of the club, key to its survival and place in Scottish Rowing history, also experienced their heyday during the 1920’s and 30’s such as Hugh MacLeod.

The club’s progression through the dark days of the 1930’s and the Great Depression was not an easy one however. The club found it difficult to make ends meet with a yearly income of approximately £60 and yearly rent due of £40. The club membership and the ability of the members to pay their subscriptions was varied. The club minutes record significant financial worries during these years and various ideas were put forward to ease the financial pressure under which the club found itself. Incredibly, the club took out a tobacco licence in order to be able to supply its membership with their weekly tobacco requirements, and club members were expected to assist the club funds by purchasing their tobacco solely from the club. Other ideas, more suited to an athletic clubs ethos and aspirations, included requests for reduction in rent due to the Corporation (Glasgow City Council) and proposals to rent space from other clubs (Glasgow Printer’s Rowing Club) as well as the idea of relocating the club to another part of the Clyde, nearer to Rutherglen. The club finally prevailed with their request for a rent reduction, enabling the club to survive, but war again closed down the club.

Ralph B Gillies

by Catriona Maccallum, Martin Harris, Robert Herridge and Caitie Gorton-Phillips (all formerly coached by RBG).

As coach and lifeblood of  the club, Ralph B Gillies had a lasting impact on Clyde ARC and its members. His foresight, energy and technical knowledge gave Clyde its status as a high achieving club from 1983 until 1999.

A product of Allan Glen’s school – a nursery of considerable rowing talent – Ralph first became involved in coaching when he helped found the Paisley College of Technology in the late 1970’s. During this time, he fast became a stalwart coach of Clyde Amateur Rowing Club, helping found the Clyde Rowing Weekend Regatta as a first class competitive event in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

Ralph’s coaching focussed in the 1980’s on junior rowing, across the Glasgwegian clubs. In 1982 he coached a composite Women’s Junior Crew from Whitehill School and City of Glasgow Rowing Club. His first national level coaching success came through leading a Clyde/Hutcheson’s Grammar School composite Junior 4+ to the National Championships in 1983. The crew comprised of Ralph Weir, Scott Ramsay, Keith Watson and Chris Rennie, not forgetting Ross Dunsmore who coxed them. The crew got a bronze medal and were beaten by Eton who went to the World Junior Championships.

Ralph had been given committee permission to purchase a new fine hull – agreed to be a light wooden Donoratico, who were a leading European manufacturer of the day. For anyone who knew Ralph, they will be unsurprised to hear that instead of the Donoratico, an entirely different boat was delivered. This was a Janousek hull, built using new plastic boat technology. It was a first for both the club and for Scotland.

Ralph was a maverick who courted controversy within the Scottish rowing scene and often caused strong words and emotions in those he dealt with. He did not care for those who did not see his point of view or who he felt were unduly conservative in their thinking. His methods were his own and he was comfortable experimenting with previously unknown or unproven ideas. His willingness to take a risk with the new Janousek is an example of his desire to try new concepts and materials, as well as his ingenious and innovative characteristics.

The junior boys were the first to use the boat, and the new “plastic” oars that Ralph purchased to accompany the boat – a lovely set of Dreissigackers. They went to on to represent Scotland at the Home Countries, where, due to extra training and Eton now being safely within the Worlds arena, they won.

The next year, Keith Watson and Scott Ramsey continued in a pair and were rewarded with a gold medal in MJ18 pairs at the National Championships.  The first of his Clyde based Women’s crews emerged that same year (1984) – Marjorie Weir, Moira Maccallum, Catriona Maccallum and Annelise Rennie. The crew members from this crew formed the basis of many crews thereafter and set the bar for women’s rowing in both Scotland and the UK. That first crew represented Scotland at the Home Countries Regatta, followed by Catriona and Annelise’s progression over a couple of years to the World Junior Championships in Cologne.

Further junior women members joined the squad in the interim and the years following saw further representation from this group of athletes at International Events (detailed in the Making History Section).

Ralph was happy to focus on the junior members of the club, particularly as the opportunities for schools rowing was declining as the teacher’s strike reduced the number of teachers who were supportive of extra curricular activities.

As the athletes within his Junior squads grew up he was more than happy to continue to coach them as Seniors and eventually was coach to all the Senior members of the club. During the early 1990’s his crews won various medals at Scottish and National level and he coached the Scottish Men’s Lightweight Pair to a Silver medal at the Commonwealth Rowing Regatta in London, Ontario, Canada in 1994 – another first.

Ralph was a Silver qualified ARA coach and his technical and scientific expertise meant that he could give up-and-coming rowers a sound grounding in sweep and sculling skills. This grounding enabled these rowers to achieve success both at Clyde and thereafter in various clubs and university clubs around the UK, some achieving International status.  His total commitment to rowing inspired the crews he was coaching to give similar commitment and hence goals and achievements hitherto beyond their expectations.

Ralph could also put his rowing knowledge into personal practice. He was very proud of the Gold Medal he gained in a composite European Eight at the World Veteran Championships held at his beloved Strathclyde Park in 1988.

Ralph unfortunately passed away at the relatively young age of 54 in London. He had moved to London to take up a job to provide his young family with a more stable environment. The funeral ceremony was conducted by a non-religious humanist who struck a real chord with all the mourners present when he said that one could not help but be touched by Ralph’s energy and enthusiasm, as well as his spirit, humour and devotion to the sport of rowing.