A little bit of History
1st April 2018
From time to time, items of Cygnet memorabilia come up on ebay. In late-January, Tim Koch, an Auriol-Kensington member and rowing history buff, alerted us to the following sale item: 'Antique National Amateur Rowing Association Silver and Gold Watch Fob for Cygnet Rowing Club, 1901'. We wasted no time in acquiring it. It is an exquisite piece in mint condition, hallmarked and bearing the inscription 'G.J. Leates (No.2) 19th Oct' on the back.
In the age of the pocket watch, decorative watch fob medals such as this one were hugely popular. Made to embellish the ubiquitous watch chain, these items were worn as petite badges of status, allegiance or sporting achievement. This particular fob was one of four awarded to each of the winners of Dr Furnivall's Challenge Cup (Autumn Fours) at an NARA-run regatta held in 1901.
This win, along with a victory in the Challenge Vllls, marked Cygnet's return to the NARA fold after an absence of some five years. The NARA had been formed in 1890 as the working man's answer to the elitist ARA, which frowned on clubs like Cygnet, and was presided over by Dr F.J. Furnivall, an enthusiastic rower (among many other talents) who founded the Hammersmith Sculling Club (now Furnivall Sculling Club) in 1896, initially for working class women.
Although G.J. Leates was not a founder member of Cygnet, he features frequently in the club annals throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a tireless committee member and organiser of regattas and social occasions. Nicknamed 'Jacko', he first comes to prominence in the mid-1890s when he participated in several up-river camping trips to Cricklade and was reputedly one of the more raucous members of the crew. A brief account and photographs of these excursions can be viewed in the historic photo archive on the club website.
An active club oarsman, by the turn of the century 'Jacko' had become Hon Sec and a delegate to the NARA. However, his greatest love appears to have been organizing, directing and starring in the annual 'Bohemian Concerts' which were a memorable feature of this era. His name adorns the 1911 Souvenir Programme as Musical Director and again in 1920 for the Reunion Concert following WWI. Leates was still in evidence at the time 'Dusty' Miller was penning the first club history in 1950, providing invaluable contemporary insights into events like the Ayling Cup in 1901.
An Oarsman's Progress
In February, Ralph Prior's wife wrote to inform us that he had died in December 2017.
Ralph Prior rowed in the late 1950s and early 1960s and will be best remembered by such contemporaries as Colin Dominy, John Ellis, Brian Lovis and Maurice Hart. Although Ralph rowed in a number of crews, these years were unremarkable from a silverware perspective. However, his lasting contribution to Cygnet was a cartoon strip - An Oarsman's Progress - that he sketched in circa 1960.
This A3 sized illustration adorned the club room wall for many years and charts the life of a civil servant from the moment he joins Cygnet as a 'maiden' (i.e: novice) through the ups and down of winning/losing regattas, before he retires to coaching and propping up the bar. It was a fitting chronicle of the time and a light hearted introduction to rowing for many of us. Currently residing in the club historian's loft, it deserves to be resurrected at some point.