History of Itchen Imperial Amateur Rowing Club
The Harland and Wolff Rowing Club was founded in 1916 as part of the Harland and Wolff Sports and Social Club. Its aim was to provide access to the sport of coastal rowing and competition with other local rowing clubs. Harland and Wolff was then the largest shipbuilder in the world and had set up a base in Southampton Docks to service Atlantic liners and other expanding shipping companies. Its Sports and Social Club was very advanced for the times with its own sports grounds and facilities at Pirrie Park.
The rowing club was originally situated at Millbrook Point on the River Test and shared a wooden boathouse with the Southampton Police Rowing Club. In the 1920’s the river began to be reclaimed for the construction of the New Docks. The club was moved to the Edwin Jones ( a large department store in Southampton) Social Club site at Bitterne Manor. During this time a new boat was built for the club by Rough of Oxford and cost £100. Photographs of the boat launch can be seen in the club lounge.
At the start of the Second World War, the club ceased operating for the duration and all the club equipment was stored in a pub cellar. Unfortunately the building took a direct hit during an air raid and the building and contents were completely destroyed.
Post-War 1948-mid 70’s
In 1948 a few pre-war stalwarts who purchased a second hand boat from the Bournemouth and Westover Rowing Club restarted the club. The boat was named the ‘Solent 1’ and its bow now hangs on the wall of the club lounge. The boat was stored in a garage/store building belonging to Harland and Wolff in what was designated their ‘A’ works in Southampton old docks. The club was then moved again and shared a boiler brick store also in ‘A’ works. Facilities were very basic. There was no changing rooms and no showers, just a cold water hose. Access to the River Itchen for training was by a very doubtful slipway and because of the distance to the river necessitated the use of a boat trolley.
Crews were formed mainly from the apprentices that Harland and Wolff employed each year. Transport to regattas was provided by an open Harland and Wolff lorry, converted with portable staging to carry two boats on the top, with loose bench seating for the crews under a canvas cover. The club did manage to purchase a new boat for £300 from Simms of London. £100 came from the settlement of the insurance claim for loss of equipment during the war and the Sports and Social club donated the balance. The boat was christened ‘Solent 3’ and was so successful that most coastal four boats racing today can trace their lineage to this one boat.
In 1958 Harland and Wolff relinquished its lease on ‘A’ works and the club faced having to move again. This coincided with most of its active members disappearing to do their National Service and so the club temporarily disbanded with remaining members transferring to other local clubs. By 1960 the club had purchased a second hand timber and corrugated iron boathouse from Southampton Rowing Club and the Sports and Social Club had negotiated a temporary lease on a site within the old docks with the Docks Board. This site was situated alongside what was then the dock used by the British Rail Channel Island ferry service. However, the lease was temporary and in 1964, due to further dock developments for the cross Channel ferry trade, the club was again obliged to look for another location for the boathouse. Unable to do so, the boathouse was dismantled and stored whilst the club stored what equipment it had with other rowing clubs.
However, in 1968 the club was able to lease a site from Southampton City Council at Crosshouse Hard. The lease was temporary being for three years and reviewed every six months. The boathouse was taken out of storage and re-erected on the new site.
Mid-70’s - Present
In the early 1970’s Harland and Wolff sold their Southampton Works to Vosper Thornycroft Ltd. and Harland and Wolff Rowing Club were invited to become part of the newly created Vosper Thornycroft Sports and Social Club. Despite affiliation to the Social club, the rowing club stood by its own efforts and received no financial support from either the club or company. The company was able to help with the provision of transport when the boathouse was rebuilt and the use of some space within the shipyard to enable two new coastal fours to be built by the members. (1982 and 1983).
In 1980, the then club President Mr G. Joyce acquired the lease on a slipway at Crosshouse Hard from the British Hovercraft Company which had ceased using the site for its passenger services. Due to the imminent commencement of the building of the Itchen Toll Bridge, successful pressure was brought to bear on the council to designate this area of Crosshouse Hard for leisure and sports pursuits. The site is now home to two sea angling clubs and a Sea Scout Troop as well as the rowing club, all of who had separate sites at Crosshouse Hard before the development.
The clubs present building was obtained from the council (an ex-youth club building) on the condition that the buildings original site be cleared and improved. It took three years for the four or five remaining club members to dismantle and rebuild the building on its present site. A 20-year lease was agreed in 1985 and the building has continually been improved with additional facilities such as a workshop, clubroom and changing rooms, all financed and built through club member’s efforts
In January 1992 Vosper Thornycroft disbanded its Sports and Social Club and rowing club members decided to continue the club as The Vosper Amateur Rowing Club. The newly named club was completely independent of the company, Vosper Thornycroft Holdings Plc. However, in the autumn of 1999 the club became aware that if the name ‘Vosper’ was retained, the public would always associate the club with Vosper Thornycrofts the company. And if the club was going to consider changing it’s name, the start of the Millennium would probably be an auspicious time to do it. So after lengthy discussion the club members selected a name that associates the club with Southampton and in particular, the River Itchen. The club became Itchen Imperial Rowing Club.