Amendments by Tim after his speech on the day;

Please re-call that I suggested at the start that this is but one line of thought on the origins of the Curley Crew. But actually there was an old bone factory owned by Mr. Curley in Stratford. It’s ‘stock’ came from Smithfield market of course up until the time when the abattoirs closed down. However his description comes from an old EastEnders script about another Mr. Curley, although the dumping of residue from the factory by Watermen is true, until they started to put it in the sewers in the 1920’s! .. 

My Leander friend was in fact Paul Budd the General Manager, who I went to school with and has quite a soft spot for the Club. 

All else is perfectly true and I asked my sister last week if she remembered coxing us and she did, although she pointed out that after she had calmed down and I had suitably apologised she coxed us for about an hour afterwards and was bought several G&T’s by Peter Blaseby’s father. I’d forgotten that part. 

Words by Tim Cooper-Jones

Thank you Matthew, John and Paul, (sounds a bit like an apostles gathering…then there’s Peter and I’m a Timothy of course) but not forgetting Jess our Club Captain and our fabulous organiser Laura,  who was the real gatherer in inviting us here today, indeed for forming this illustrious alumni, a real ‘pensioners day out’ for many of us.

I appreciate the opportunity, on behalf of us Rowing Masters, or should it be Past Masters to say some words. Incidentally I was amazed to see that you can now become a Master at 27 which presumably puts most Olympic medallists in that category. I believe it has 13 sections from A to M. I suspect that most of us ‘oldies’ fit in bands G to H, which apparently stands for ‘going towards heaven’.

Thinking about the brief John gave me I decided in might be fun to interpret this in three different directions, a bit like my rowing. First to recall what a wonderful heritage we have, then to reminisce a couple of instances from my own days and finally to see if there is any thread of useful relevance to pass on to you magnificent rowers of today.

Anyway, after a recent exchange with a Leander pal, who called Curlew a ‘venerable’ old club I decided to investigate this more closely and indeed concluded, from all the useful stuff on the web that the club can trace its origins as Curley to 31 years before Leander was formed. Therefore it is indeed venerable and I think can justifiably regard itself as Leanders’ East End elder brother. Furthermore as the very race that occurred in 1787 apparently also lead on to the creation of London Rowing Club and many others both in this area and on the higher Thames we can also regard Curlew as near enough the most distinguished rowing club in the country albeit with an unusual start.

So it left me pondering…who or what was this chap Curley? Was it an old Norman name reference? Or from the Irish ‘McCurley’ clan? Was it a group of Deptford based watermen? No my research must submit to you a new suggestion in that the name derived from Curleys famous bone factory in Stratford? Apparently the original Mr. Curley was described as ‘a thin young man with a brown face, brown eyes and a head of tightly curled hair who was an amateur boxer and always picking fights, especially with guys who were bigger than he was’? His workers were of similar build and several ex. Water and Lightermen, probably employed to dump the residue not turned into glue or fertiliser into the river? Could that be the trace element to the crew who borrowed one of Mr. Corbett’s boats and took on the Argonauts at the first Greenwich Regatta?

However I need also to remind you that those regattas weren’t the ‘namby panby’ stuff that went on to form the Oxbridge based Gentleman’s sport. Oh no it was a relative of the Doggetts Coat and Badge Watermans races which started in 1716. They were noted as extraordinarily long, tough and gruelling Sunday matches, heavily bet upon and usually ending in a ‘rumpus and fracker’ depending on the volume of grog consumed by the teams before, during and after the races. Now maybe this is giving us a wee bit of a hint towards the wonderful hospitality that we have always known and fondly appreciate about our club throughout its illustrious past? After all, you will recall that we were first based in the Crown and Sceptre and then attached to the Trafalgar Inn.

In the spirit of the successful old Curleys our forefathers clearly felt closely drawn towards the up and coming Greenwich area, possibly also due to the 67 pubs in the area in the mid 1800’s and chose to adopt the name Curlew. The Curlew of course being a large European wading bird and one of the most charismatic, a bird with distinct attitude, highly hospitable, colourful tendencies  and with a beak and webbed feet perfectly adapted to surviving in mud. Seems a perfect transformation.

But what of my own rowing days here which I recall included rescuing the air containers as they drifted downstream or got trapped underneath the pontoon; then there was the doubling of boat weight to steady balance as mud filled our wellies and waves spilled on board; and finally playing the most entertaining ‘miss the barge in Erith’ game which became even more exciting when it was being towed. Other instances included running aground at Poplar by my sister who was roped into coxing one morning and then refused to get back into the boat allegedly due to comments I made about her. And finally the joys of speeding at full tide under the London Bridges on route to Putney, totally oblivious to the knowledge that bashing a pillar and sinking probably wouldn’t be a good idea. Ah..hh those days before Health and Safety stepped in.

They were always enjoyable outings as were the occasional excellent result gained in Heads races and regattas. But coming back to the spirit of Curley again, one of the most fun events I recall was a composition eight Peter Blaseby, our Club Captain at the time, put together as part of a Greenwich ‘twinning’ festival. This was to race a visiting crew from Reinickendorg, was it the Ruder-Club from Berlin? I suspect that many of you had similar experience on other occasions? Anyway Peters’ cunning plan consisted of ‘borrowing’ a few chaps from Poplar and Blackwell’s elite squad and blending them with a few of us from Curlew and a couple of good friends of the club who happened to also have significant Elite experience. Anyway a couple of outings suggested that we were quite quick and needless to say we thrashed our very convivial but intentionally too well fed and by the Sunday morning extremely well watered visitors, who were actually a pretty competent crew. This was much to the delight of an armada of supporters also guzzling quantities of booze and occasionally watching the race. My only sadness was that we never raced again, as I think we could have done rather well.

So finally to offer some thoughts and lots of encouragement to the current crews. I think you’re doing brilliantly well and don’t get disheartened if you don’t win every regatta……..alas we didn’t either! Can’t understand why? But I was re-watching some of your Henley YouTubes again and admiring the excellent techniques of both the mens and womens crews. You are clearly very well coached or, unlike me, just naturally gifted?  But a great pleasure to watch, although I fear that by rowing in the V&A Docks you may be missing out on some of those important ‘touch the barge’ or ‘power 10 into the bridge’ exercises which formed the basis of our training. Nor the immediate access to several tankards of beer which would be awaiting you after clambering up the steep pontoon? Although I guess you may occasionally have the benefit of a few wafts of the perfumed air coming from Mr. Curley’s glue factory?

The only small pearl of wisdom I can offer you all is the one offered to me in 1986 and I heard again from one of the Henley race commentators. In my case it happened to be my last ever regatta appearance as my wife and I were about to head to distant shores. It was the coxless pairs final at Twickenham regatta and after leading by several lengths we then lost by 2 feet to a newly formed Kingston/Leander duo of Stephen Redgrave and the late Andy Holmes. Afterwards they thanked us for the ‘tough’ opposition but admitted to taking the first 1,900 meters rather too comfortably before being shouted at from the towpath by their coach, Jim Clark to ‘pull their fingers out’.

Jim’s words to my mate and I were indeed similar to those I heard again on the Henley commentary… ‘It’s this simple get out there real fast, stay ahead and don’t let the buggers catch you up’.  Profound logic and so obvious but so hard to achieve. But I sense that brilliant seasons beckon you, so all you have to do now is keep ahead of the barges, dodge the pillars, keep sniffing the air and trust in the clarion call ‘look out you Argonauts the Curleys are coming.  Thanks again team for hosting us today.