History of the club

The Resurrection of Deben Rowing Club: a personal history

The discovery of ‘Woodbridge Regatta’ winner’s certificates, a photograph of a coxed four on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee and various engraved trophies bearing well known Woodbridge names,  proves Deben Rowing Club was active at least as far back as the mid-nineteenth century.  That’s hundreds of years!

The Club is believed to have operated from the access to water at Robertson’s Boatyard and the boats were stored in a shed nearby.  The reason for the decline of the club is unknown and the boats are said to have been burned in 1954 by the boatyard owner as...‘nobody wanted them’. It is significant that two sheds full of fine wooden racing boats were burned in Ipswich at around the same time. I believe they belonged to ‘Waterside Works’ and ‘Naiad’ rowing clubs but I may be wrong.

When I was a small child in the 1940s, my mother would take me across the Orwell at the mouth of ‘New Cut’ in a rowing ferry to visit my grandparents. ‘Over Stoke’ they called it and to the infant Terence it was a great weekly adventure. I remember the smell of the tarry wooden boat as if I were there. In my mind’s eye I see the swirls around the blade tips and remember how I longed to grab hold of those oars and make them go!

When I was nine, our queen was crowned and to celebrate the event my school was taken on a coach trip to Windsor Castle then a ride on the Thames. My frustrated rowing ambitions were fired up again by seeing Eton boys in their impossibly narrow boats. Boys my age! Alas it was not to be. I would never go to Eton and rowing was dead on the East Suffolk estuaries.

My watery ambitions were strong and I took the chance to learn to row and sail a boat before I was ten and bought the ten ton yacht ‘Fairy of Colchester’ built 1891. Fairy was an ancient cutter rigged Colne smack; a thing of beauty but not a racing row boat. I changed her for another old and leaky boat ‘Teal’ in 1964 and terrified my mother by sailing her to Ostende then around the Southern North Sea. My postcards arrived home after me. A great adventure but it was still not fine boat sculling!

After decades of boat owning and a career in industry and then at sea, I discovered an ancient single sculling boat in the Customs shed on Felixstowe dock (in 1988 I believe). I was loaned the boat then set about teaching myself how to do it and that is why I still scull right over left! You will not be surprised to learn that it was not as easy as I had thought. However, I mastered the beast after a fashion and have enjoyed my single sculling with a passion ever since. Better boats followed and I found professional coaches at Barn Elms Boathouse near Putney who would give me lessons, teach me how to coach others and help me find old boats as no boats were available in Suffolk.

I live beside the Deben estuary and as a member of Felixstowe Ferry Sailing Club it was not long before club members wanted to try rowing and that is how I met the young Mark Swain. Soon many more people wanted to try this sculling and rowing business. I bought an old g.r.p. coxed four training tub and a rowing sub-section of FFSC was formed. To the alarm of the good natured and supportive Sailing Committee, the Rowing Section grew very fast and I remember having twenty new members in one month. Two more coxed fours were begged, borrowed or st***n and also a clinker restricted four. By that time, 1992/93, we were calling ourselves Deben Rowing Club.

One bright and breezy summer’s day we thought what a fine thing it would be to row our tub fours to Woodbridge and see what their ‘Regatta’ was all about. We were accompanied by various commercial fishing boats flying flags and tooting horns. We landed on the Cruising Club pontoon as thirsty as those early Saxon settlers and just as ripe for misbehaviour. I don’t remember rowing home.

The friendly Cruising Club welcomed our party from the ‘rough end’ of the river and some of their members were intrigued to find that rowing on the Deben was alive again. The interest was sufficient that a public meeting was called at the Bull Hotel and as a result of the enthusiasm of such names as Don Smith, Perry Donsworth, David Neal, Mike Meister, David Petley, Brian Dane, Anna Heddington and many others including Frank and Christine Knights the owners of our land at the time, a rowing club at Woodbridge was formed and I was member number one. [In fact, twenty-one people attended and were asked to contribute £5 to get things going. Twenty people did so, and the club was formed from £100. David Petley]

The base of our Club at Felixstowe although very supportive had become anxious about the rapid expansion of rowing and the call on Sailing Club resources and space. Our members at the Woodbridge end came to row at the Ferry on Wednesday evenings and weekends were most often at Woodbridge. I believe FFSC were relieved to see the Rowing Members gravitating to Woodbridge where the Woodbridge Cruising Club made us welcome.

When the Club was established in Woodbridge, we registered our logo and blade design with the Amateur Rowing Association. I had been fascinated by the Anglo-Saxon treasure of the Sutton Hoo discoveries and was determined that our club logo and colours would in some way be associated with the King that must have rowed about the Deben in his forty oared boat more than a thousand years ago. In those days our outings were very often to the Maybush or to the Wilford Bridge pub. One day having rowed to the Wilford Bridge we found they had the Sutton Hoo mask as their logo on the menu cards. I suggested that the replacement of the spears in the background with a bunch of oars would make a fine logo for DRC. We all agreed, a menu card was borrowed and that was that.

The colours and our blade design were also my choice as I was the only person with a sculling boat and the only person with my own blades. I thought of the Sutton Hoo buckles with the gold Cloisonné cells containing carved garnet stones of blood red. I painted my blades red and then edged them with yellow. It was years before there were other sculling blades in Woodbridge or even decent sweep blades to paint, but now our distinctive blades get everywhere.

Terry Davey, 2014.


Ferry boat at the New Cut, Ipswich

Ken Hammond supplied this photograph which was probably taken in the 1930s. It depicts Charles Pulham and his wife, along with son Stan. It was probably taken on a Sunday when the ferry saw little demand and the Pulhams could have paddled about the river for a while. The centre background shows the elaborate steps for gaining access to the river, along with the prominent sign, "Ferry". Behind was Bath Street, down which a branch from the Wherstead Road tramway was built to serve the steam ships. The tramway was lifted during the First World war and never re-instated. In the left background can be seen the "Griffin" public house, which gave its name to the quayside along New Cut West on the Stoke side of the river. The photographer would have been standing on the steps on the New Cut East side, near the bandstand which was situated adjacent to the Dock Lock entrance. The scruffy buildings on the right were part of the Great Eastern Railway coal depot which served the Stoke side of Ipswich. Further on to the right was Bright Street and Purplett Street and then the Ticket Offices for the various pleasure steamers which plied the river. Waterside Works could be found further off to the left of the photograph on the other side of Harland Street.

Brian Dyes