Henley Women’s Regatta, which takes place this weekend for the 30th year, is one of the largest women-only rowing regatta in the World. Its packed programme of qualifying time trials and side-by-side races for seniors and juniors fills three full days and is as exhausting for the officials as it is for the competitors!
The regatta’s collection of silverware is an impressive one with every event having an associated trophy and several more cups now in retirement as the programme of events has changed over the years.
Some of the trophies have been made specially for the regatta and have beautiful, contemporary designs. One of these is the W Peer Cup for Elite 2x which was presented to HWR in 1996 by Bill Peer, who coached some of the country’s top women’s crews in the 1960s and 1970s. Other trophies are vintage pieces, originally donated for other events but which have found a new home at HWR like the Frank V Harry Cup which will be awarded for Senior 4- this year.
Bill had a life-long involvement in rowing. He was a member of Cygnet RC and he coached both there and at St George’s Ladies RC, which was based for quite a long time next door at what is now Barnes Bridge Ladies RC. Both his first wife, Gladys (always known as ‘Brownlie’) and his second wife, Barbara, whom he married after Brownlie’s death, were rowers: while rowing marriages are exceptionally commonplace now, this was not the case fifty or sixty years ago!
One of the highlights of Bill’s coaching career was when his St George’s LRC eight was selected to represent Great Britain for the Women’s European Rowing Championships in 1966. The crew was stroked by a tiny, tenacious oarswoman called Diana Hall, who is better known as the late Dame Di Ellis, of course.
Bill’s daughter in law, Christine Peer, represented GB at the Women’s European Rowing Championships in 1970, rowing in a boat called Brownlie which Bill had bought for her and her doubles partner – there was no such thing as squad equipment back then!
There are lots more photos of Bill here (towards the end of the page).
Frank Victor Hobart Harry was born in 1892 and joined Quintin BC when he was 20. He was Captain there an extraordinary 16 times, the first in 1925, the last in 1951. He died in April 1985 aged 93.
As well as his massive contribution to Quintin, he played an absolutely pivotal role in women’s rowing by coaching the United Universities’ Women’s BC group which provided most of the eights and fours that represented GB at the Women’s European Rowing Championships from 1960 to 1965. Known affectionately by them as ‘Sir’, he did all of his coaching by bike (as was customary in those days), even though he was well into his retirement by then. At the 1960 Championships he was literally left holding the baby…
Frank was unable to accompany his crews to the 1961 Women’s European Championships in Prague or the 1962 Championships in East Berlin as he was forbidden to travel behind the Iron Curtain because of work he did during World War II in the Postal Telegraph Censorship Department for which he had been awarded the MBE in 1945. (Incidentally, he saw active service in the World War I but was invalided out of the army after being wounded at the second Battle of Ypres in 1916.)
The Frank V Harry Cup was originally presented to Brent Regatta (previously Willesden Regatta) for the Women’s Eights by the United Universities group in 1965. This was the only regatta that took place on a multi-lane course (on the Welsh Harp reservoir) at the time in the UK as Holme Pierrepont had not yet been built.
Conveniently, United Universities won the cup in 1965, winning the four-boat straight final by a length over University of London. UU cox Margaret ‘Mac’ McKendrick remembers one of her crew saying, as they were waiting to boat for the race, “We’d better win because we haven’t paid the invoice for the trophy yet!”
After Brent Regatta went out of existence, the trophy was passed on to the National Championships, which first took place in 1972. In due course the National Championships Committee decided to abandon trophies and as the United Universities group didn’t want the cup to vanish, Pauline Churcher, one its leading members, retrieved it and held on to it until some appropriate event should need a trophy. “When HWR appealed for trophies in 1996, we were able to give the cup for an entirely suitable event which was unlikely to disappear. I think its future is safe at HWR,” Pauline says.