Pauline Rayner (née Sanson then Horan)

Years 1960 (2x unplaced)
Clubs Alpha Women’s ARC, Thames RC
Height  5’9″ or 175cm
Racing weight 11 stone 4 lb  or 72.5kg
Born 1940

Pauline is on the right in the photo at the top of this page of her and her double sculls partner Pam Body at the 1960 Women’s European Rowing Championships.

Getting into rowing

Pauline got into rowing as a teenager through her brother John, who attended Mortlake Secondary School for Boys and rowed with them at Thames Tradesmen RC which was then based on the Mortlake side of the river where Putney Town RC is now. Pauline’s father had extremely traditional views about women and wouldn’t allow his daughter to leave the house on her own, but he did permit her to go out with her brother and so she used to go and watch him row and help carry blades and things.

As a sports-mad 13 year old, this didn’t keep her entertained for long, of course, and the boys’ coach, George Cooper, who was also TTRC Captain, could spot a willing recruit when he saw one, and suggested that she try rowing herself at the ‘nice ladies’ rowing club’ on the other side of the river. The club in question was Alpha Women’s ARC which was based at Green’s boathouse just upriver from Barnes Bridge on the Middlesex bank. Obviously this required approval from her father who who went down to the club to check it out. One of the first people he met was Hazel Freestone, the main club cox, who was very refined and came from Hampstead, as well as Grace Harvey and Maggie Barff who were all so nice that Mr Sanson agreed to her rowing there. “Fortunately, he didn’t realise that there were other clubs at the same location that were for men!,” laughs Pauline. The deal was sealed by Alpha writing to her parents confirming someone would always see her onto the bus after training.

That said, Pauline remembers that she argued with her mother almost every time she went to the club, with her mother telling her that she didn’t “need to go rowing” because it wasn’t ladylike and she should be at home with her, learning housewifely skills.

First Women’s Head

By April 1954, still aged just 13, Pauline was in the three seat of the Alpha eight that came third (out of ten) at the Women’s Amateur Rowing Association Head of the River Race – leaning away from her rigger somewhat, which she promises she had stopped doing by the following year.

1954 WEHORR PR at 3 in Alpha

Alpha Women’s ARC at the WARA Head of the River Race 1954. (Photo: Pauline Rayner’s personal archive.)

Compiègne trip

On 23 May 1954, and STILL aged 13, Pauline took part in her first race abroad at a regatta in Compiègne in France after Alpha decided to take up an invitation which the organisers had extended to British women’s clubs, although this did require Alpha to lie about her age because the competitors all had to be at least 18! The crew was:

Bow: Shirley Coomer
2: Nina Shotts (later Padwick)
3: Pauline Sanson
4: Pam Body
5: Delphine Wilkinson
6: Jean Willshee
7: Jane Steer
Stroke: Grace Harvey
Cox: Irene Forey

Their race against two composite French clubs turned out to be one of the most exciting of the whole regatta, despite being rowed in a downpour. “The race developed into a struggle between the Police/Compiègne crew and Alpha,” reported The Oarswoman. “After losing ground in the early stages Alpha pulled up level, and thereafter first one crew and then the other gained a few inches lead until the very last few feet when the French eight just got in front to win by 0.7 seconds.”

As Pauline remembers it, Amy Gentry, the Chairman of the WARA, paid for her to go on the trip as her family couldn’t afford it, although whether this came out of Amy’s own pocket or from WARA funds isn’t clear.

Nina Shotts, who became Nina Padwick, and was about ten years older than Pauline (and still rows every week at the time of writing in 2017), used to help her young clubmate’s finances by paying her to wash her car, although this only involved returning some of the income she got from being Pauline’s dentist.

Rowing in 1957

This (silent) film was taken by Pauline’s uncle and shows her stroking an Alpha eight that sets out from Tom Green’s boathouse. The crew with the dark red blades alongside them as they head towards Chiswick Bridge is St George’s Ladies RC.

The ratio of the stroke is very different from that used today because, “It was essential that with slim blades you got hold of the catch very very quickly,” Pauline explains, even though the blades were very long. Another major technical difference to note is the way that the poor cox had to steer from behind her back – an uncomfortable arrangement which was normal for the time.

The crew line up is:

Bow: Nina Schotts
2: Audrey Copage
3: “A girl from the 6th form of Richmond County School for Girls”
4: Margaret Lane (later Brown)
5: ??
6: Grace Harvey
7: Rita Dennis
Stroke: Pauline Sanson
Cox: Joyce Sagar


Pauline learned to scull fairly early in her rowing career. At the tender age of 14 she won novice sculls at Weybridge Ladies Regatta in June 1954. Two years later, aged 16, she was sixth overall at the Women’s Scullers Head of the River Race in July 1956 (which to the modern readers seems a funny time of year to have a long distance race), although she was the second fastest sculler using a clinker boat, finishing eight seconds behind her clubmate Delphine Wilkinson after not having eaten anything all day because she had an upset stomach. In 1958 she was fourth overall and the fastest clinker, and was second-fastest clinker at Weybridge Silver Sculls later that year when it included a women’s division for the first time.

1956 Women's Sculling Championships (head)-Delphine wins PR 2nd after having stomach bug all day

Delphine Wilkinson (left) and Pauline Sanson after the WARA Scullers Head in 1956. © Fox Photos Ltd.

International career

Pauline and her doubles partner Pam Body, who was about fifteen years older, didn’t start training in their double particularly early far in advance for Women’s European Rowing Championships that summer because Pauline had only had her first child, Nicholas, on 13 December 1959. “I think we started training in March,” Pauline remembers. “Sort of when he was weaned! I left him with my sister-in-law with bottles of milk whilst I went to train.”

Nicholas was brought to visit her when the whole team was staying at the John Kelly School in Willesden at the Championships and Pauline’s teammate Ann Sayer captioned a photo of him as ‘the most popular male at the championships’ – Ann and her eight’s thoroughly dedicated coach, Frank Harry, obviously couldn’t compete with Nickie’s charms. Pam Body’s baby daughter Gillian, who wasn’t much older, was also a regular spectator during training and racing.

1960 Wesh Harp Pauline Horan and Nickie

Pauline and ‘Nickie’ in the dormitory at John Kelley School during the 1960 Championships. (Photo: Ann Sayer’s personal collection.)

In an example of the worst kind of both local journalism and women’s sports journalism, in the run up to the Championships a local paper published a picture of Pauline and Pam with Pam’s children Christopher and Gillian under the headline ‘Council to the rescue of the rowing mothers’ which claimed that Willesden Council had arranged to look after the double’s three children while they were out rowing. This was complete fiction, according to Pauline, who says she left her baby with her sister-in-law, and thinks that Pam’s children were cared for by her husband and, on occasions, by Frank Harry.

Later rowing

Ann Sayer, who rowed for United Universities WBC, mentioned Pauline in an amusing entry in her training diary for 21 June 1966:

Pauline Horan of Alpha subbing v adeptly for Jill who is at Glyndebourne [don’t you just love the way that’s dropped in? – Ed].

Pauline sent down large puddle from two. After a 500m row she drew attention to our faults – hands moving, sitting up at catch (not UU style!!), and harder catch – generally not well received – though I didn’t mind at all.

But Pauline’s rowing was fairly limited for most of the 1960s and early 1970s because she was busy bringing up her children with little help from her first husband, who hated rowing. She managed to race in a local regatta from time to time, though. “My husband used to go off for the day fishing,” she remembers, “And I used to rush the children over to my mum in Mortlake whilst I raced in a non-status event, which meant you could either scull in a best boat or a clinker. As I didn’t have a best boat, I raced in a clinker and still people couldn’t beat me. I used to just turn up, get in the clinker, race, put it back in the boathouse, rush down to my mothers, have tea with the kids, pop them back in the car and get home before my husband returned.”

She also competed at the Women’s Head most years, even if she hadn’t done much training with the crew. You can read more about her participation in this race over the years here.

Once her children were older and particularly after she married her second husband, Maurice Rayner, a London RC cox, in 1981, her rowing career took off again. She joined Thames RC in 1983 which, like London RC, is based on Putney embankment because it made no sense for her and Maurice to be heading to clubs at opposite ends of the Tideway all the time, and was Captain for three seasons from 1991-1994.

As a veteran rower, she has faced some similar battles to those that women’s rowing generally and internationally had in earlier decades: when the first Vesta Veterans Head of the River Race was announced, Pauline (Thames) and Civil Service took entries for women’s crews to Vesta RC, but they were literally thrown back at her. She remains grateful to one of the marshals, Jim Hopkins, who had the task of following the last crew down the course by launch and let the two women’s eights to row ahead of him, which they were able to do because the event was so small then that there was no river closure for it.

Vets Head - Maurice Rayner coxing

Pauline rowing in the Veterans Head some time in the late 1990s at 6, coxed by her husband Maurice. The rest of the crew are: Elaine Laverick (stroke), Jackie Darling (7), Merete Boldt (5 from Denmark), Beryl Crockford (4), Sally Malt (3), Jean Rankine (2), Penny Haslam (bow). Stroke, 7, 6 and 4 are all former GB internationals. (Photo: Elaine Laverick’s personal collection.)

Pauline continues to race at what is now called ‘masters’ (formerly ‘veteran’) level domestically and internationally with great success and at the time of writing (March 2017) has just won the Women’s Masters F category (for crews with an average age of 60) at the Vesta Veterans Head despite, or perhaps because of, having her knees replaced in 2014.

She owns several boats including an eight, a four and a double, and the availability of these boats has played a massive part in facilitating women’s masters rowing and driving up its standards in the last fifteen years. They race in most age categories at World Masters, whether with her or others actually rowing them, on the basis that if you’d going to trail a boat half way across Europe, it might as well be used as much as possible.