Digging through 150 years of canoeing history

Digging through 150 years of canoeing history

Members of the club were given a history lesson on Sunday 17 April, when archives  were put on display to celebrate 150 years of canoeing history.

Current and past members of the club gathered in the clubhouse for a cream tea and to share stories and discover more about their club’s long history.

The club was founded in 1866 following a meeting at the Star and Garter Hotel in Richmond and it is now the oldest canoe club in the world. The Canoe Club, as it was then known, received Royal patronage under Queen Victoria.

The archives contain trophies, photographs, committee minutes and an eclectic range of sporting artefacts, such as stop-watches and flags.

Among the most prized historical items in the club’s possessions are the original diaries of John MacGregor, who started the club and is credited with founding the modern sport of canoeing. The diaries and the sketches contained within them detail MacGregor’s pioneering 1000 mile journey in a canoe from London and around Europe.

Flicking through old committee minutes and reading through past copies of the club rules, you get a real idea about life at the club in years gone by. Many things have changed but you can still relate to many common issues. For example, the club’s Commodore, Jon Boyton, was keen to point out that the age-old matter of misplaced equipment is proof that some things really never do change.

Did you know? 

  • The ‘objects’ of the club were originally stated as: to improve canoes, promote canoeing and unite canoeists. They remain as such today.
  • Edward Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) was the club’s first Commodore (1870-1901).
  • The Paddling Challenge was first held in 1874 and has been held every year since (excluding war years), making it one of the longest running sporting events in the world.
  • The first edition of the Paddling Challenge Cup had just three rules: 1. Course one mile with stream; 2. Cup to be held for one year; 3. Open to any Gentleman Amateur.
  • Certain members of the committee have a dedicated flag. The Commodore’s flag is a Royal blue, swallow-tail flag with the canoe club’s emblem in white. Officially, it should be raised whenever he is present at the club (although the current Commodore is at the club far too often for that to happen!).
  • The club still appoints a ‘Harbour master’. Their role today involves assigning racks to members and maintaining the club boats.
  • Royal Canoe Club members have represented Great Britain at every summer Olympic Games since canoeing became an Olympic sport in 1936. We hope to extend that record this summer in Rio.

The next 150th anniversary event is the paddle down and hog roast on 20 August.

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