By Josh Freer
The year 1274 saw the first ever “regatta”, hosted in Venice, a race through the waterways and canals. It proved a great success, and by 1315 regattas were being staged frequently – an extremely successful innovation.
By 1474, in London, the selection of the new Mayor of London now witnessed, for the first time ever, the newly-chosen Mayor being rowed down the Thames in procession. 150 years later, in the 17th century, rowing ferries – a kind of taxi – became available as London Bridge was the only route across the river in London and was often clogged up and very slow.
As rowing becomes more popular in England and Italy, the rest of Europe start to join in, and in 1756 the Americans see an ideal opportunity to stage their first rowing race in New York. By 1793, schoolchildren are starting to be introduced to rowing, with Eton staging processions along the river whenever “someone of great importance” comes to visit.
In these years, Oxford University established its first ever boathouse and its first rowing team. In 1829, Cambridge (also now equipped with their own boat race and club) challenged Oxford to the first University boat race. In 1839, the first Henry Royal Regatta was held – it was staged as a public fair by the people of Henley. Since then it has grown massively and is now a five-day tournament.
The first novels about rowing were now being published – for example “Three Men in a Boat”, which became one of the most influential children’s books of the 19th century, the forerunner of five sequels. In 1892, the International Rowing Federation was founded and rowing was recognised as an international sport. In 1900, rowing made its first appearance in the Olympics in four disciplines – single sculls, coxed pairs, coxed fours and eights.
Rowing has been in the Olympics ever since. In 1962, the first independent rowing championships were staged, and in 1997 the world rowing cup was founded, consisting of three international regattas held in the summer.
Rowing at Hampton School
1956 marked a new era for Hampton as the boat club was founded. Since then, Hampton have established a routine of hosting two head races each year – Hampton Small Boats Head and Hampton Fours and Eights Head.
It has had two boathouses over the years. The first of these was Molesey Boat Club – the newer version, the Millennium Boathouse, is a mile or two upriver, towards Sunbury. Hampton have also trained a number of boys who went on to take part in the University Boat Race – the high point was probably 2003, when James and David Livingston together with Matthew and Ben Smith captured the headlines as the two sets of brothers taking part.
Some of Hampton’s other successful rowers include Johnny and Greg Searle, who won the 1992 Olympics together, and Neil Chugani, a successful international cox who also competed in the University Boat Race.