Alicia Arthur

Years 1960 (4+ unplaced)
1966 (8o 6th)
Clubs  Harrodian Ladies RC, Alpha Women’s BC, St George’s Ladies RC
Height  5’5″ or 170cm
Born 1942

Alicia is in the middle (at the back) in the photo above, taken at the Women’s European Rowing Championships in 1960.

Getting into rowing

Having left school at 15, Alicia became an apprentice in the offices of Dickens and Jones, an up-market London department store that was part of the Harrods group.

At that time, many large employers provided a wealth of social and leisure activities for their staff and ‘business house’ rowing clubs were a big thing. (The only remaining survivor of these is (I think) HSBC Rowing Club although it has long been an open club.)

Not surprisingly, the Harrods group had what Alicia describes as “a very splendid sports section” which included Harrodian RC. No prizes for guessing what their colours were! (Green and gold, of course.) As rowing clubs were invariably single-sex in London in those days, a separate Harrodian Ladies RC was started in 1958. One of Alicia’s colleagues spotted a notice about the new club in their in-house magazine and asked her if she fancied going along and giving it a go. “I thought, ‘Oh, OK then’,” she remembers. “I didn’t really know anything about it but I went down there and the rest was history!”

The club was based at the West End Boathouse in Hammersmith – now a block of flats – which had a rowing tank in its basement that Alicia understandably describes as “pretty grim”. Today, rowing tanks are used almost exclusively for teaching technique, but back then, before the ergo was invented, they were used for training when you couldn’t get on the water, just as we’d use the rowing machine now. In a way, they were a rowing machine, of course, although blissfully without number on a display telling you what you usually don’t want to know.

1960 (prob) West End BH Tank - Alicia bow, Widge Sells 2, Betty Millward and unknown

Receiving instruction (or probably just posing for the photo) in the rowing tank at West End Boathouse. Alicia’s at bow, her 1960 cox Widgie Sells (cox) is at 2, and Betty Milward, who became the reserve after sustaining a foot injury, is at 3. (Photo: Alicia Arthur’s personal collection.)

Harrodian LRC crews raced at Barnes and Mortlake Cup Events in June 1959 and in the Women’s Amateur Rowing Association Head of the River Fours in October 1959 although without any success at either.

International rowing career

Anxious to put out the best team possible for the 1960 Women’s European Rowing Championships in Willesden, someone from the Women’s ARA encouraged the keenest of the Harrodian ladies to get together with others from Alpha Women’s ARC to form a coxed four, in an early version of the squad concept. Alicia started training out of Alpha which was based at Green’s boathouse (also no longer in existence – it used to be where the patch of brambles is now in front of Thames Tradesmen’s RC just up river of Barnes Bridge). “Green’s boathouse was an absolute hoot, “she recalls. “Mrs Green used to tie her jacket on with a piece of string. And she’d sit there with a cup of tea after rowing and with a bit of luck you might get a kettleful of hot water in the sink and you’d all have to share. There were no hot showers or anything like that. It was very sparse and very tough.”

After the 1960 Championships, Alicia continued rowing with Harrodian and Alpha, and also took up skiffing at Skiff Club which was then in Kingston. In 1965, she won the Ladies Doubles Championship with Jean Wilshee (who was in the quad at the 1960 European Championships) by a quarter of a length. “We beat Penny Chuter which was a real score because she was such a brilliant punter and also skiffer and she’d won so much over the years. That was quite an accolade for us to beat her,” Alicia remember with deserved pride.

She also took up single sculling, winning her novices in 1962 at the WARA Sculls and coming second at the WARA Scullers Head in 1963 behind Penny Chuter (admittedly nearly a minute behind, but Penny was probably the second fastest woman sculler in the world at the time, so no shame there).

In 1966 she was approached by Bill Peer, coach of the up-and-coming St George’s Ladies RC eight which had international ambitions, and joined them for the 1966 European Championships.

1966-from London transport in-house magazine

Alicia in training in 1966. (Photo: London Transport in-house magazine.)

Full accounts of each of Alicia’s international years can be found here:

1960 | 1966

Later rowing career

Alicia moved away from London soon after the 1966 Championships. “I think I’d had enough by then,” she explains, “So I gave it up for some time but I came back rowing again about 10 years later I think it was, picked up again and started rowing with Alpha and rowed with them for a little while.” This included taking part in the World Masters Rowing Championships when they were at Nottingham in 1979.

1979 21-23 Sep FISA Masters Nottingham

Winning at the FISA Masters Rowing Championships in 1979. Stroke: Pauline Rayner (GB 2x 1960), 3: Alicia Arthur, 2: Jill Officer, bow: Shirley Ford, cox: Lesley Bourne. (Photo: Alicia Arthur’s personal collection.)

Alicia recently - cropped

Alicia Arthur c.2015. (Photo: Alicia Arthur’s personal collection.)