A look at the history of this great rowing club
Poplar Blackwall and District Rowing Club was founded in 1854 and is said to be one of the oldest rowing clubs in the country. It was originally called the Blackwall Rowing and Athletic Club but changed the name in 1935. The club was originally founded by Watermen and Lightermen who earned their living working on the boats and in the docks along the River Thames. Due to their vocation the club’s members were categorised as professional and could only compete against other professionals and members of the Trademen’s Rowing Association.
Before The War
Following the closure of the North Greenwich Railway Station in 1928, the club moved onto the site which is adjacent to its current location in 1937 and used the ticket office and waiting room for changing. Cold running water was added in 1949. Prior to that washing consisted of simply jumping into a barrel of cold water. Shortly before the outbreak of World War 2 in 1939 and at a cost of £500 the club purchased four clinker fours and five rum tum sculling boats. Unfortunately they were not to be used until 1945 as the government prohibited the storing of rowing boats on or near the River Thames. The boats were therefore stored beneath the railway arches until the end of the war.
The 1950s and Beyond
In 1951 the club was finally admitted to the National Amateur Rowing Association which later became British Rowing and was now free to compete in all amateur regattas, and no longer for wagers and prize money.
In 1953 the club recorded its first notable amateur win when it competed for and won the coveted Vale of Evesham trophy. Its membership grew and in 1956 the club entered Henley Royal Regatta for the first time, but was defeated in the semi-finals of the Thames Cup.
In 1966 an appeal was launched to raise £55,000, which is about £1,000,000 in today’s money, to build a new boathouse and gymnasium. After much fundraising and negotiation the money was raised and work on the existing clubhouse begun. The boathouse with a bar, training tank, function hall and hot running water eventually opened in September 1970.
Poplar has a long rowing tradition and many of its members are winners of the oldest annual sporting event in the world, the Doggett’s Coat and Badge, raced every year since 1715 in single sculls from London Bridge to Chelsea. In total the club has over forty-five winners including some current and former International rowers.
In 1962 the club recorded its first win of the famous Wingfield Sculls, one of Britain’s premier sculling events, by Charlie Dearsley, and later from 1968 Kenny Dwan recorded a further five consecutive wins and again in 1975 which is the most wins by any person since 1926. At the age of 18 Kenny was selected to represent Great Britain at the 1968 Mexico Olympics finishing in 6th place. He went on to represent Great Britain five times including the single sculling place at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
The club has produced numerous International rowers and scullers including the 2012 Olympic double sculling champion, Mark Hunter, who also won gold at the 2008 Beijing olympics. It can also boast to have more under 18 sculling medallists and National Champions more than any other club on the tideway. Poplar has also won the Fawley Cup at Henley Royal Regatta twice in 1995 and 1996 in composite crews, the Pairs Head of River twice and the Scullers Head of the River six times. The club has a long history of producing rowers and scullers that have not only represented Great Britain but have also won medals at World and Olympic level.
In recent years the demographics of the local area has changed significantly and today the membership of the club has transformed from its original “East End” working class roots to a very diverse club with members from around the world many of whom work in the nearby Canary Wharf.
Members continue to compete at regattas in both the United Kingdom and around Europe. However, others choose just to row recreationally.
First Henley Crew – 1956
Racing on the Thames – 1960
Boat Sinkng at the Lambeth Regatta 1949
Head of the River crew – 1974
Believed to be a Poplar and Blackwall United RC crew.
A club gathering estimated in around 1965. Some of our current Vet members can be seen kneeling in the front row
Dinner Dance and prize giving circa 1973/74
Club member Doggett’s Coat and Badge winners at the 150th anniversary of the club
Current and former members celebrating the 40th anniversary of the clubhouse, 26th Sept 2010