“Vesta Rowing Club, Headquarters, the “Horn” Tavern, Knightrider-street. Established in 1871. Election by ballot of members, one black ball in three to exclude. Entrance fee, 5s.; Subscription, £1 10s.; honorary members, 10s. 6d. Colours, crimson and black stripes oblique. Boat-house, Unity Boat-house, Putney”.
—Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens’s Dictionary of the Thames, 1881
A short(ish) history of Vesta Rowing Club
Vesta Rowing Club was founded in 1870. Legend has it that during the inaugural meeting the name of the club was discussed and as no decision could be made it was decided that it should be named after the first boat to pass under London Bridge. The name of that first boat (a steam tug) to pass under the bridge was Vesta.
The club’s first home was Salters Boathouse which was a part of Feathers Pub on the river Wandle which flows into the Thames just up river from Wandsworth Bridge. In 1875 the club moved to the Unity boathouse (now the Ranelagh Sailing Club) and from there to its present clubhouse next door in 1890.
To begin with the Vesta only raced in-house. The club’s first known entry in an open race coming in 1876. The first open win came that year with J. Whaley winning the Junior Sculls at Windsor and Eton Regatta. The first sweep oared win did not come until 1888 and that was a Junior Senior IV at Walton Regatta.
From that date onwards Vesta had increasing success on the water not the least of which included Harry Blackstaff’s double victory in the Diamond sculls at Henley Royal Regatta and the Wingfield Sculls on the Thames in 1906.
In 1908 Blackstaff won the gold medal at that year’s Olympic Games sculling race which took place at Henley-on-Thames.
The club practically ceased functioning during the Great War of 1914-18 only being kept alive through the activities of some of its older members and those on leave from the front who occasionally rowed. There were 214 paid up members of Vesta in 1914. 78 joined up of whom 12 made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives in that struggle. Read more about Vesta RC during World War I.
In 1920 the club lost in the final of the Wyfold IVs at Henley Royal Regatta. It was the club’s first finals day appearance at that august regatta in a sweep-oared boat. In 1930 the club finally had success in this class of boat at the Regatta winning the Thames Challenge Cup for club VIIIs.
In December 1936 a fire ripped through the clubhouse destroying many of its records and trophies, and damaging or destroying some 30 boats. Fortune however shined on Vesta after this blaze as most of the boats were replaced in time for the summer regattas and with the club been given permission to borrow and use the recently built but as yet unused University of London Boat House in Chiswick until such time as the damage to its own club house had been repaired. That summer Eric Wingate and David Baddeley went on to win the Silver Goblets & Nichols Challenge Cup for the club at Henley Regatta.
During the Second World War the London Fire Brigade requisitioned Vesta’s clubhouse for the duration of the hostilities. Rowing however continued as Barclays Bank Rowing Club allowed Vesta to operate out of its premises further along the Embankment. Seven pre-war members of the club did not return from that conflict.
The Vesta clubhouse was reoccupied in 1946 but it was not until 1947 that the club returned to its winning ways when a lightweight VIII won the lightweight pennant at the Tideway Head of the River. In 1954 John Marsden rowing for the club won the first ever Scullers Head of the River Race.
In 1960 the club’s coxless IV won at Twickenham, Marlow, Kingston and as favourites, won through to the final at Henley regatta losing to St. Thomas’ Hospital. In 1976 the first VIII won the Grand Challenge Cup at Marlow Regatta. A coxless IV made up of rowers from this crew won a silver medal in that year’s national championships.
In 1981 the club returned to winning ways at Henley Regatta with the club’s coxed IV winning the Britannia Cup. The club’s highest ever finish in the VIIIs Head of the River was recorded in 1986 when the club’s first VIII finished sixth overall, winning the Vernon Trophy as the fastest Tideway crew. In 1985 Ian Dryden, representing Vesta rowed in a composite crew that won the Queen Mother Challenge Cup.
March 1994 was a notable year for the club. The club’s official historian proudly states that chauvinism died at the club that year, when at an EGM (most) members voted to allow women join as full members. With time success followed. The club won Senior VIIIs and lightweight Sculls at Henley Women’s Regatta in 2004. The women’s senior squad repeated this victory in 2010 when they again won Senior VIIIs at that regatta and competed on Saturday at Henley Royal Regatta.
In 2009 bridging a many year gap a men’s coxed IV once more made an appearance on the final day at Henley regatta. Against the odds and rowing stronger with each outing this unseeded crew lost by under a length in the final of the Britannia Challenge Cup to Agecroft RC.
In 2014 Vesta won the Horton Cup for Senior coxless fours at the Metropolitan Regatta and raced through to Saturday of Henley Royal Regatta.
Vesta has run many annual competitions down through the years. The club first started doing this in 1912. In 1923 the Vesta Dashes, which were a mid-summer short course competition run over three evenings, were instigated. As already stated in 1954 the club founded the Scullers’ Head of the River race. A notable achievement in that first race was that a Vesta competitor came both first and last! In 1981 Vesta organised the first Veterans’ Head of the River Race when then main VIIIs Head race stopped taking Veteran entries. This race is now one of the largest head races that takes place on the tidal Thames with competitors and crews coming from across the UK and abroad to participate.