Dorothea Cockett (née Newman)

Years 1954 (8o unplaced)
1957 (8o 4th)
Clubs Barnes Ladies RC, United Universities Women’s RC
Born 1927

The photo above is the United Universities eight that won at the News of the World Serpentine Regatta in 1959. Cox: Margaret Frankel, stroke: Sheila Beningfield, 7: Pauline Baillie Reynolds, 6: Dorothea Newman, 5: Zona Howard, 4: Barbara Philipson, 3: Brenda Coates, 2: Ann Burditt, bow: Liz Ballinger.

Getting into rowing

Dorothea Newman was in her early 20s and training as a physiotherapist at St Thomas’s Hospital when she took up rowing. “My brother rowed for his school and then in the RAF and I got interested and thought I’d have a go myself,” explains Dorothea, before adding that the event which finally prompted her to do something about learning to row was watching the Olympic regatta at Henley in 1948. She’s also been encouraged by Dr Violet ‘Pug’ Cyriax, whom she’d met during her studies and who was part of the famous 1938 women’s rowing tour to Australia. With her interest thoroughly piqued, she says, “I got a rowing Almanack and looked up women’s clubs and the one I fancied was Barnes Ladies ARC – they’d had a very good season – so I asked if I could join them. There was a vacancy and I started!”

International career

In 1954, the Women’s ARA decided that the way to get the fastest eight for the first official European Women’s Rowing Championships would be to put together a composite eight from the best oarswomen who put themselves forward. Which is obviously a familiar concept today, but was completely radical at the time as the GB men’s team was made up entirely of whole-club crews and the very idea of removing an oarsman from his club for to train with a National crew was considered practically unethical.

For the women’s team the idea made a lot of sense, at least in theory. There were far, far fewer women rowing than men but also a disproportionately larger number of clubs (if you consider the number of members per club) because there was no one-to-one mapping between clubs and boathouses or even boats; a single boathouse could house many clubs, as was the case with Green’s Boathouse at Barnes Bridge where Barnes Ladies was based, and boats might belong to the boathouse operator and be rented by the hour to the different clubs.

When the plan to put together the composite eight was announced, Dorothea remembers, “People said, ‘Oh why don’t you have a go?’ And I did and it so happened they had another place and we had a trial and I was in!”

After the 1954 Championships, encouraged by the 1954 single sculler Pam Barber who was also a Barnes Ladies member, Dorothea left Barnes Lades and joined the United Universities Women’s BC (stern pair of the 1954 eight were from UU) as they had become the ambitious women’s club who were boating serious eights when Barnes Ladies just weren’t, and she stayed there for the rest of her rowing career, transferring to Thames RC when UU merged with them in 1973.

Dorothea stroked the UU eight that was selected as a club crew to be the GB eight at the 1957 Championships (the idea of a composite having been abandoned by this point because although it theoretically produces a better crew, the logistics involved in doing so outweighed the advantages). As described in the report on those championships, Dorothea and some others stayed on to watch the men’s racing, and were joined in their houseboat accommodation by the Hungarian sculler Cornelia Pap. Somehow evading Pap’s minders, Dorothea then managed to get Pap back to Britain with her for a weekend at her family’s cottage in Lymington in the New Forest.

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Dorothea (in white), who stroked the GB eight, with the stroke of the Russian eight at the 1957 Championships in Duisburg. (Photo: Dorothea Cockett’s personal collection.)

Read the full accounts of Dorothea’s international years here:

1954 | 1957

Domestic rowing

After 1957 Dorothea carried on racing with UU domestically, winning non-status fours at Reading Working Men’s Regatta, women’s fours and eights at the News of the World Serpentine Regatta and the Women’s ARA Fours Head in 1959. She was also on the committee of the Serpentine Regatta, of which she says with the typical casual positivity of high achievers, “It was fun – we had lunch with the committee then raced!”

UU at the Serpentine 1959

The winning UU four at the Serpentine in 1959. Back row from left: Dorothea Newman, Barbara Philips, Zona Howard, Pauline Baillie Reynolds. Front: Margaret McKendrick (cox). (Photo: Pauline Churcher’s personal collection.)

She was in the top UU boat for the heads in early 1960 too, but she dropped out in May when the club’s eight started focusing on selection for the Women’s European Rowing Championships in Willesden. “I got married in July of 1960 so I had to decide early to go to give the new person (Vivien Roberts) a chance to get used to the crew,” she explains.

Her marriage to surgeon Frank Cockett, who was a widower with three children, left Dorothea less time to row, especially as she then had twin sons in 1961. She continued to work for a while, but in those days women paid income tax at their husband’s marginal rate, and as Frank had a good salary, it eventually made no financial sense for Dorothea to carry on.

However, once all five children were all at school, and although she was involved with various charities at St Thomas’s Hospital (for which she was awarded the MBE in 1998), and was teaching physiotherapy, she also found time – incredibly – to help coach a girls’ school which was rowing out of the Civil Service boathouse where UU were based.

Although the coaching itself was straightforward for her, the issue of remuneration was tricky. The school expected to pay her as it would any other member of staff, but Dorothea realised that if she accepted the money she would ever be able to race again because, until 1983, the Amateur Rowing Association rules barred anyone from doing so, “Who has ever taught, pursued or assisted in the practice of rowing… for profit.” Interestingly, school teachers were not so barred, but only if their coaching was done “in addition to academic subjects to pupils of his own school,” and as Dorothea wasn’t a teacher there, this didn’t apply in her case. A satisfactory solution for all concerned was reached by the school making a donation to UU instead of paying her.

Having raced at the first Women’s European Rowing Championships in 1954, Dorothea also took part in the first British National Championships in 1972 at the new Holme Pierrpont course, coming fourth in the coxed fours, and had won at Reading Amateur Regatta the previous year too (from a field of seven crews). She admits that her land training at the time was largely “family life” and “gardening”, but she continued to enjoy rowing, especially when veteran categories were brought in.

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A UU crew in later years. Bow: Marrian Yates, 2: Dorothea Cockett (née Newman), 3: Pauline Baillie Reynolds, stroke: Barbara Philipson, cox: Margaret McKendrick. (Photo: Dorothea Cockett’s personal collection.)