Judith Costley (née Franklin)

Year 1953 FISA ‘test’ regatta (8o 2nd)
Club University of London Women’s BC
Height 5’6″ or 167.5 cm
Born 1932

Judith is second from the left in the photo above of the ULWBC eight in 1953 (Photo: Frances Bigg’s personal collection.)

Judith spent the first part of her childhood living near the Thames at Teddington, but was then evacuated to Hereford during the Second World War. “When I returned. I joined the local Sea Rangers and messed about in dinghy on the river,” she writes.

She then won a scholarship to the Lady Eleanor Holles School in Hampton, Middlesex. Although rowing wasn’t an option there at the time, LEH, as it is now known in the rowing community, was nevertheless an important source of internationals rowers, as Frances Bigg (third from the left in the photo at the top of the page), who went on to row for England/GB three times, was in the year above her.

“At school I was a failure at all games involving a ball,” Judith recalls. Like many successful rowers, “I lacked hand-eye co-ordination probably and regularly got C minus on my report for PE. My lowest point was in the upper sixth form when I didn’t make the second netball team. There were only 16 of us in the year!”

“When I went to University College, London to study maths and physics, I looked for a ‘no ball’ sport and found rowing,” she continues. “We went down to the UL boathouse at Chiswick every Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning. We first practised on land on a machine, and then graduated to a boat – a four to start with. I can remember lifting the boat above our heads to take it down to the water. I must have had potential as I graduated to a clinker-built eight and rowed at number seven. We were coached by men who rode along side us on a bicycle and shouted through a megaphone.”

Women in college scarves and rowing kit

University College and Hospital Women’s BC: Christmas 1951. Back row from left: Irene Winstanley, Dierdre Hill, Frances Bigg, Margaret Taylor, Alison Parker, Elizabeth Rodger, Doreen Whitbread, Helen Brown, Hilary Richards. Front row from left: Mary McLeannan, Annie Meyerhoff, Helen Muir, Ida Peel, Pat Taylor, Gwynneth Edmunds, Judith Franklin, Avril. (Photo © The Sport and Central Press Agency Ltd.)

After initially rowing for University College, Judith was selected to row in the ULWBC first eight in her second year, and remembers racing Reading, Oxford and Cambridge Universities. She was awarded full colours (purples) in 1952 and 1953.

5 rowing women and cox looking at newspaper clipping

ULWBC trial eights 1952. Judith is on the far right. (Photo: Judith Costley’s personal collection.)

Women in eight in knitted jumpers.

ULWBC at Reading in 1952. Judith is at seven. (Photo: Judith Costley’s personal collection.)

Newspaper clip of 3 women with oars captioned 'Glamour by the river'.

The Daily Sketch, 12 February 1953. (From Judith Costley’s personal collection.)

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Rowing for England

In 1953 the ULWBC first eight was selected to represent England at the third of a series test regattas, this one held in Copenhagen, designed to prove that women could race internationally. The success of the event was the final seal of approval needed for the governing body of international rowing), the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d’Aviron, to decide that Women’s European Rowing Championships should be launched the following year.

The ULWBC crew won a silver medal in their three-crew event. Full details of how they were selected, and the considerable difficulties that they had in even getting to Denmark, never mind rowing in a borrowed boat when they got there, can be found here.

Judith Franklin and male rower with Espana on shirt

At the European Championships: Judith Franklin with “a handsome fellow competitor from Spain – no idea whom; we were posed by a photographer”. (Photo: Judith Costley’s personal collection.)

Later life

Judith’s choice of career meant that she was unable to row when she left university. “After I graduated, I served as an officer in the Women’s Royal Air Force and was posted to deepest Wiltshire with no river nearby, so no more rowing for me. At that time the RAF had no interest in women’s rowing, though I’m pleased to see that they do now,” she says.

“I now live in a small village on the River Great Ouse. Every August there is a village regatta, one of the oldest in the country. The school children take part as well as adults. I know one of the organisers quite well and suggested that they introduce an Over 80s race so that he and I could compete! But at present the Over 40s event is the only possibility and we’ve decided to give that a miss so all I do now is stand on the bank and cheer.”

Judith in purple scarf

Judith recently in her ULWBC full purple scarf with the England rose added for racing at the Women’s European Regatta in Copenhagen in 1953. (Photo © Judith Costley.)