* NOTE: Reach figures are estimates. Hambleden Lock figures are not available online! The figures shown are on the assumption that the Marsh - Hambleden reach characteristics are the same as the reach above (Shiplake to Marsh)
EA MARSH Downstream level graph -
Level data at Hambleden Lock not available.
On the Left* bank just below Henley Bridge is
the Leander Club which is both a local rowing club and also The Club for rowing
heavies (“heavies” means the great and the good of the rowing world).
* [I need to apologise for the "Left bank" but the Environment Agency have gone against all historic precedent and designated banks as seen from the sea. Since they have emergency places named in this convention I have no choice but go along with it! (Somebody tell the Parisians their left bank is now the right bank!) ]
1818: Leander club founded, the third oldest rowing club in the world
'The Story of Leander' was written in 1906 by Leander's Coach, R.C. Lehmann (published in C.B.Fry's Magazine)
I think the date of 1818 is based on his article -
THE STORY OF LEANDER by R C Lehmann
THE FOUNDATION OF THE CLUB
Strange as it may appear, there does not exist any record of the foundation of this great rowing club, and the exact date of that event must for ever remain unknown. No club books relating to that early date are in the possesion of the secretary, and though endeavours were made from time to time to tap the memory of veterans, they were uniformly unsuccessful, except in so far as they helped to establish, as an approximate date, some year in the period between 1815 and 1820.
Let me put together, as briefly as possible, all the available evidence bearing on this point.
Some fifty years ago [about 1856] silver challenge cups for a pair-oared race and a sculling race were presented to the club by Mr C Goolden and Mr (afterwards Sir Patrick) Colquhoun. On these are engraved the arms of the club, on which are quartered a star and an arrow. Now it is confidently believed that there existed early in the last century [ie 1800s -] two clubs of repute, named "The Star" and "The Arrow", and it has always been inferred that the Leander Club arose from the ashes of these two, or embodied their members when it was established.
"CORPUS LEANDRI SPES MEA" a quotation from Ovid - literally "the limbs of Leander and my hopes"
Perhaps one might paraphrase VERY LOOSELY as "BY PHYSICAL EFFORT AND ASPIRATION"
The next predictable development was to reverse the arrow to point upwards!
But the modern club simply retains the hippo with some oars -
The hippopotamus is not a natural choice for such a dignified institution -
The cynics point out that the hippopotamus is the only aquatic mammal with its nose in the air ...
I suspect a classical pun. The early Leander men were great betting gentlemen who would equally have followed horse racing. When the bets they placed were on boats they adopted the hippo-potamus (horse-river). I would be interested to hear if anyone has a better suggestion.
R.C.Lehmann continued -
Mr H.T.Steward, the president of Leander, tells me, however, that he himself
(and on matters of rowing history he is unquestionably the greatest living authority)
has never been able to prove this, and that he could never get either Sir Patrick or Mr Goolden,
though he often questioned them, to state what was their authority for the coat of arms.
It is quite possible, therefore - indeed, it seems probable - that the two clubs "The Star" and "The Arrow", never had any real existence, but that they were invented by some mythopœic Leander man in order to give substance to his account of Leander's origins.
The histories talk of the "Star" and "Arrow" clubs - including stating that they were active in 1790 -
so after this section by Lehmann which denies their existence I show evidence at least of the Arrow Club -
apparently continuing in existence after the foundation of Leander.
R.C.Lehmann continued -
Let us come to something more solid.
It is quite certain that at the time when rowing began to be an important matter at the universities
Leander had already become prominent.
In 1831 a Leander crew defeated Oxford in a race for £200 a side from Hambledon Lock to Henley Bridge, and in 1837 Cambridge, having failed to arrange a match with Oxford, challenged Leander, and beat them in a race from Westminster to Putney. In the account of this race given in Bell's Life it is stated that the Leander Club had been in existence for eighteen or nineteen years, and that by its rules it was limited to twenty-five members. If then, Bell's Life is to be trusted, we may place the foundation of the club in 1818 or 1819. This, however is the only trace of anything approaching to real evidence.
Mr Steward writes to me:
"W.N.Nicholson, who rowed in the Cambridge boat in this  race, could not tell me anything about the date of the club's foundation, neither could Patrick Colquhoun, who was admitted to the Temple in 1834, rowed for the Wingfields in 1836, and won them in 1837. He must have been a good deal connected with the Thames and rowing in those days, and he had, moreover, been at Westminster School.
Shepheard and Layton, who rowed in the Leander crew in this 1837 race, and with both of whom I was very intimate, could never tell me anything about the origin and date of the club.
Several men who belonged to the "Shark", which very early in the century was a prominent club, and who, if they were alive now, would be about 120 years old [ie born about 1785], told me some fifty years ago [c.1855], when I asked them about the Leander Club, that it was not going in their day, which, I concluded at the time, ended about 1815.
Another, an old Cambridge man, who came to London after leaving Cambridge in the year 1820, when he joined the "Funny" club (all scullers), told me that the Leander club was very strong then. From this I concluded that the Leander club must have been started between 1815 and 1820, and this is borne out by the reference to the club in the Bell's Life account of the 1837 race."
Beyond this approximation it is, I am afraid, impossible to go.
[ I can contribute some "textual criticism":
The name "Leander" was suddenly fashionably known after 3rd May 1810 when Lord Byron (aged 22)
swam the Hellespont (1300 metres from Sestus to Abydus in one hour and ten minutes) in
emulation of the Greek Leander, who swam over every night to be with his lover, and then swam back every morning.
The general enthusiasm for rowing possibly came about because in 1815 the Napoleonic Wars ended. The Royal Navy had a long tradition of gig rowing - and then suddenly with the peace the Royal Navy was drastically reduced in size.
Significantly HMS Leander was a 52 gun ship launched in 1780 AND SOLD in 1817. No doubt gigs were sold with her and maybe one of them was purchased and known as the Leander?
HMS Arrow was a 14 gun cutter launched in 1805 and converted into a breakwater in 1815
HMS Shark was a 16 gun sloop launched in 1779 and its remains sold in 1818 ]
1828: A Leander Crew defeated Oxford. It is interesting to note that "the Arrow" is mentioned in the report - though apparently as the name of a boat so associated with Leander that its cox then coxed the Leander boat. Report in the "Sporting Magazine" -
GRAND ROWING MATCH BETWEEN THE LONDON MEN AND THE OXONIANS
This match, which was for 200 sovs.[sovereigns], and which had caused so much talk among the water-amateurs of London and the men of Oxford, took place on the 27th of last month [June 1828].
The Collegians came down some few days before, for the express purpose of challenging any eight Gentlemen of the lower part of the River Thames to row them a specific distance. It, however, struck them that it would be as well to make inquiries as to the respective "pulling qualities" of the men who were likely to be picked for the purpose. This having been done, the result I should conceive was rather different to what they had anticipated, inasmuch as the furor for the contest was reduced to an aversatio to compete with individuals against whom they found (though almost too late) they should have no chance. On several occasions after this, the Londoners threw out hints which could not be mistaken, but for some time it was "no go".
At length, one evening when the coxswains to the Arrow and Leander, the former a four-oared wherry, the latter a six-oared cutter (each of London), and the coxswain of the Christchurch (Oxford) were shewing their respective boats, some chaffing took place between them; the result of which was, that the next afternoon, when the boats were lying off the Star and Garter, Putney, a message came from the Christchurch men to Mr. Slater (the leading member of the Leander) requesting an interview. This was granted, and a great deal of discussion took place; in the course of which Mr. Slater said, that at present the London men had no eight-oared boat of their own worth any thing, but that they had no objection to row the match, the distance proposed, from Westminster bridge to Putney, in a boat which had been built by Honey and Archer for Trinity College, notwithstanding she had been sent back by them, not "being worth a d-n!".
Or, if they were not satisfied with that proposition, he (Mr. Slater) would pick out six men, four men, or even a pair, who should pull against them for any sum they pleased to name, so anxious was he that a match should take place between some of the parties. It was, however, eventually decided, that an eight-oared match should be rowed on the 27th, and that the Trinity boat should be that in which the Londoners were to do their best, for the honour of the Metropolis.
It must be here remarked that these eight Londoners had never rowed together before, and therefore, not having so good a boat as their opponents, laboured under every disadvantage.
At half-past one o'clock on the 27th the two boats were at their respective stations, at Westminster Bridge, the Trinity being steered by John Mitchell of Strand Lane (the coxswain to the Arrow), and an amateur officiating for the Oxonians.
The London men selected on the occasion, though not including what may be called the whole strength of the Amateurs on the River, were possessed of such power as to render it next to an impossibility that persons accustomed, as the Oxonians, are to "short distances", should head them.
The names were:
Mr. Bayford. - Mr. Henesy.
Mr. Bay ford, jun. - Mr. Howse.
Mr. Bishop. - Mr. G. Lewis.
Mr. Cannon. - Mr. C. Lewis.
Each party, it seems, just before starting was confident of success, but the current betting was 5 and 6 to 4 on the Londoners.
The signal gun was no sooner fired than off went the boats. In a very few strokes the Londoners headed their opponents by No. 1 oar (about three feet). This slight advantage being noticed by their own coxswain, as well as those friends who were near, was hailed as the omen of victory; and
"Now, gentlemen, now's your time - keep it on steadily," from Mitchell, and the continued cheering from those in other boats, acted as a stimulant too strong to allow them to relax in their efforts; and they consequently continued to gain way until they had made a boat's length a-head.
In addition to the pride a man feels in honorably vanquishing an opponent, in this instance the honour, as far as rowing was concerned, of the greatest city in the world was at stake; and I am persuaded that not a man was there in the London boat but what had that sensation or feeling strongly pervading his breast. Notwithstanding, I think, that several, if not the whole, of the Oxonians were born in, or in the immediate vicinity of the metropolis; yet the graduating mania (if I may be allowed the expression, without intending the least offence) of a certain ancient city in the county of Oxford was such as to induce the eight "men" of Christchurch to endeavour to wrest from the Londoners those laurels which had been so long and so trinmphantly worn by them without molestation.
After a hard contest, the match was decided by the Londoners going through Putney Bridge about seventy yards a-head. There was an immense mass of spectators, though not so many as there would have been, had it been generally known that the day in question was the one selected. The victors were hailed with the most enthusiastic plaudits of the multitude.
1829: A report in "American Farmer" ! [ No, I don't understand either! ] also mentions the Arrow Club -
Great Rowing Match
On Saturday week, an amateur rowing match, for 1000 sovereigns, took place on the Thames, from Vauxhall-bridge to Kew bridge.
The competitors were Messrs. Osbaldeston, Slater, Cannon, and Bay ford, in a four-oared cutter, belonging to the Arrow club,
against Capl. Bentick, Lord Chetwynd, Messrs. Dixon and Hob house, in the Guards club four-oared cutter.
Mr. Osbaldeston and his crew, by great exertions of strength, gained the start, and by hard and even pulling managed to keep their advantage the whole distance.
On coming in at Kew-bridge, they won the match by several boat lengths. Much money changed hands on the occasion.
1830: The Sporting magazine - reports of various races, supported by "the Arrow" and "Leander" -
The following unprecedented AMATEUR SCULLING MATCH took place on the 26th of May 
The distance to be rowed was from Westminster Bridge to Putney Bridge, between Mr. F. Homeman and Mr. Revell, for a considerable sum of money. ...
... the amateur clubs mustered pretty strongly. The Arrow, in proceeding from Lambeth to Whitehall, was nearly capsized;
and the Union, in her passage down the River to pick up her crew, was completely blown over and turned bottom upwards, but fortunately no persons were drowned. ...
The Leander, beautifully steered by "an ould un", served him as a breakwater; while the Arrow paddling by his side cheered and kept him at his work. ...
This was a wager ... made by G. Osbaldeston, Esq, and Captain Ross, for fifty guineas a side - Mitchell and Noulton against Campbell and Emery. Saturday the 20th of June was the day appointed, and I observed a very strong muster of amateurs at the place of starting.
The Arrow was there; but I only noticed one or two regulars on their thwarts, and she did not go through the water as she is accustomed to do. One of the Gentlemen of the Club, who, agreeably with his name, should been the "Episcopal Bench", I was sorry to see under the necessity of being wrapped up in his great coat, and under the guidance of two watermen.
[ Mr Bishop was in the 1828 crew, see above ] ...
[ I get the distinct impression that "the Arrow" was a boat rather than a club, and the same might have been the case with "The Leander" mentioned above. In 1828 "The Leander" is described as a six-oared cutter. ]
1831: A Leander crew defeated Oxford in a race for £200 a side from Hambledon Lock to Henley Bridge.
R.C.Lehmann wrote -
When the Leander Club, having thus, as I have related, sprung fully armed from the head of Father Thames,
first made itself known to history, it was an association of Londoners,
and had no connection with University rowing.
Bell's Life', throughout its account of the race against Oxford in 1831,
speaks of Leander as "London" or "the London Gentlemen", and this metropolitan distinction
they retained for many years. ...
When the Universities became known as rowing organisations beyond the limits of their home waters, Leander was the first club to challenge and meet the new aspirants to aquatic fame.
The race against Oxford in 1831 ... seems to have been a very gallantly contested and desperate affair.
Bell's Life describes how "the Oxonians, finding they were losing ground, made a desperate effort, and succeeded in coming within a painter's length . . . Noulton(the Leander coxswain) seeing ... the imminent collapse of one member of the crew, and fearing the consequence, observing the Oxford Gentlemen fast approaching them, said that 'if the Londoners did not give it her, it would be all up with them'.
They did 'give it her', and the consequence was they became victorious by about two boat-lengths. The exertions at the conclusion of the contest," it adds, "became lamentably apparent. Captain Shaw fainted and had to be carried ashore. Mr Bayford was obliged to retire to bed instantly; so was one of the Oxford gentlemen."
However they had their reward. The race was rowed at Henley on a Saturday. "The London gentlemen rowed to town [ie took their boat down back to their London boathouse ] on Tuesday, and were greeted on their way with cheering and cannon. On arriving at Searle's a feu-de-joie was fired." It reads like a salutation to the victors in the final of the Association Cup.
1837: Cambridge, having failed to arrange a match with Oxford, challenged Leander,
and beat them in a race from Westminster to Putney.
1838: Leander v Cambridge. The Sportsman -
GRAND EIGHT-OARED MATCH BETWEEN THE CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY AND THE LEANDER CLUB.
The great long-expected match between these celebrated crews took place on Wednesday, June 13 .
Throughout these clubs the greatest excitement prevailed ; nor was it confined only to those who composed the crews, but to the whole of the noblemen and gentlemen who patronise this sport, which now ranks only inferior to the turf.
The Leander Club has been many years in existence, and from its commencement until last Season, was considered by far the best eight on the river. It was not only great as a general crew, but its individual members had signalized themselves from time to time by aquatic victories. So great waa the general celebrity of the crew, that they have for many seasons been designated "the brilliant Leander"; and they have invariably been looked up to as the leading stars and umpires of aquatic sports.
The gentlemen of the respective universities have for many years indulged in this beautiful sport, and they have added within the last season their powerful support to rowing and sailing on Old Father Thames. Their amusement in this way had been until last year confined to more "classic streams". The very youths at the universities are all celebrated oarsmen, and their season commences earlier and lasts longer than that of any of the London clubs, but although their practice is considerably greater, and their most unquestionably good training gives them the stanmina requisite in a long match, yet there is a considerable difference in rowing in their waters and ours. When the Cantabs first made their debut last season , they went boldly to the top of the tree by challenging the Leander on their own water, and after a considerable dispute as to coxswains, the gauntlet was picked up, and it was decided that the "lions" should all show.
The Leander's repute was so great that the best judges could not be brought to believe that anything in the shape of flesh and blood could wrest the laurel from their brow; but the result proved otherwise. The Cambridge crew won by a minute within a few seconds, and many thousands changed owners on that occasion .
The Leander Club did not at all fancy being defeated by the new comers, and when the present season opened determined on retrieving their laurels, if possible. Both parties were alike anxious, and Wednesday, June 13,  was the day appointed for the match.
It had been looked up to by all grades of society, including those who but seldom advance an opinion on aquatic sports, a match of great importance, and money was laid out in very large sums on the result. To the known merits of the contending parties was added the rarity of an eight-oared match. It was well known that hard rowing, save the chance of accident, would win, as neither party suffered under any disadvantage in the steering. Both crews had been in very hard training for weeks, and had new boats for the occasion, so nearly corresponding in weight, size, and general appearance, that it was difficult to distinguish the one from the other.
The Primrose, a small but fast steamer, had been engaged by the Leander, for their private friends,
and two or three watermen hired the Will-o'-the-Wisp, a new boat, as a speculation at 5s. a-head, to Putney and back.
The long boats were manned by crack watermen in order to keep way with the wager, and everything in the shape of gig, four or six, was eagerly sought, although it was well known they had but little chance of a view more than en passant.
Although the early part of the day had threatened a repetition of the storms of the preceding one, it cleared off towards the afternoon, and as the boats began to move towards the scene of action, it was a beautiful evening, and nearly a dead calm.
The following gentlemen composed the respective crews :-
Leander: Mr. Shephard; Mr. Sherrard; Mr. Lloyd; Mr. Layton; Mr. Wood; Mr. Dalgleish; Mr. Bishop; and Mr. Lewis.
Cambridge: Mr. Shadwell; Mr. Smythe; Mr. Goagh; Mr. Antrobus; Mr. Brett; Mr. Fletcher; and Mr. Stanley.
At half-past 4 o'clock the steamers were under way, and the different cutters made their appearance. At 5 o'clock the scene became one of exceeding animation, and when the rival boats made their appearance anxiety was depicted in every countenance, and thousands had congregated on the land to catch a glimpse.
The appearance of each crew was beautiful, they were in admirable condition, and a finer looking set of men could not have been imagined. The Cambridge won the choice of station, and took the inside place; every eye was fixed on the combatants, and Westminster Bridge was nearly impassable from the concourse of pedestrians and equestrians.
At half-past 5 they were off. The work in both boats was admirable, and the shouts almost deafening. The Leander first got good way on their boat, and went half a length in advance. They were slightly increasing, when Noulton, who steered the Cambridge, put her head on to the quarter of the Leander. It was well stopped by Jem Parish, who officiated for the Leander, but evidently harrassed her crew and put the boat out of her course.
They both cleared, and went to work again like giants refreshed, the Leander still holding the lead. At Vauxhall-bridge the Leander were half a length ahead, and directly afterwards Noulton agaln touched them, and partially swung them round.
Both crews seemed as fresh as ever, and the boats were going with almost the velocity of lightning. The science of fouling was developed in all its sense, and the manoeuvring between the coxswains splendid.
Throughout the distance the stamina of each party was wonderful. The Leander won amidst an absolute roar of cannon, by about a length, but both parties had done all they knew.
There were many thousands won, and many hundreds returned with a wetter skin than they bargained for.
In the course of the evening, and shortly after they had dressed, the Cambridge gentlemen expressed their opinion, that had they been allowed a fair opportunity of passing, they might or must have won. The umpire was called upon in consequence of the diversity of opinion that prevailed, and he decided that the agreement was a wager without fouling, and that the frequency in this of the violation of the agreement, left him to decide that it was a drawn wager (no winner).
... [Leander] were steered by Jim Parish, their waterman, whose portrait, now hung in a place of honour in the club-house at Henley, represents him in a tasteful costume of "green plush knee-breeches, silk stocking, 'Brummagem' coat, and tall white silk hat."
Jim Parish, 17 years coxswain to the Leander Club
green plush knee-breeches, silk stocking, 'Brummagem' coat, and tall white silk hat
1839: First Henley Regatta. R.C.Lehmann -
At the first Henley Regatta ... Leander were not represented in the races, but we read that
"at about eleven o'clock the Leander Club arrived from London drenched with rain.
They rowed the distance each heat with the racing boats in good style."
I presume they wore top-hats, for at this time, and for some years afterwards, the top-hat appears to have been an indispensable part of what I may term the gala costume of oarsmen. [ See 1846 ]
1839: Three weeks later Leander, having merely supported at the first Henley Regatta,
then entered Maidenhead Regatta,
in anticipation of racing Eton - but the headmaster refused to allow "a public match".
1839: The Life and Times of Peter Priggins in The New Magazine - [I merely quote, with tongue firmly in cheek! Peter Priggins was an Oxford College Servant - fiercely proud of 'our young men' (possibly even 'a bit of a prig'?) -]
With regard to this Henley regatta, I cannot say I quite like the idea of our young men
letting themselves down to the level of the crews of those monstra natantia,
the guards, Leanders, and others, who row for hire, i.e. work to win
Besides I have a horror of any amusement that opens the way to gaming or betting; and many a man, to make himself appear fast, will hazard a wager with one of those knowing individuals above alluded to, the payment of which - for he's sure to lose - may cripple him for two or three terms; and although I like a lark as well as any man, and hate a humbug as I do old Nick, I am a bit of a stickler for college discipline - it keeps us respectable in the eyes of an envious world - who would crush us if they could - but they can't.
The idea of our men entering themselves, like race-horses, to run for a cup, for the amusement of all the landlords, louts, and labourers of a little cockneyfied neighbourhood like Henley, and the advantage of the licensed victuallers, is very annoying and degrading - it smells too strong of profit - I always fancy the hotel-keepers doing a sort of rule of three sum to themselves when they think of it; as, "If two Oxford men come here and spend 5 [shillings], what will four hundred spend?" Not to mention getting rid of the stale beer and flat bottled porter to the cads and coachmen who form their tail.
Whenever Cambridge challenges us to row them at Henley, well and good; we will go in and beat them - if we can; and if they like the winners to be entertained with a good supper afterwards, well and good; but no medals - no cups - no purses - say I, for the honour and glory of Oxford.
["Working to win" is probably not an accusation of which a modern rowing club would be ashamed.
But this is all part of a theme which I have identified in looking at Rowing on the Thames,
at the Oxford & Cambridge boatraces, and at the Royal Henley Regatta - and that is the tension between the Gentlemen
and the Athletes.
The early Victorian attitude to rowing was one more of heroism than athletic achievement. Taking part was all, trying to win was in danger of being greedy for prize money - paid watermen could do that, but gentlemen would not stoop so low. Training was frowned upon! We have come a long way!
Henley is well placed to know about this tension because the Leander Club and the Royal Henley Regatta both have a fierce determination to have it both ways - to maintain a high standard of conduct and taste together with a high aspiration towards athleticism. It is Henley's great triumph that mostly it succeeds!]
1840: Leander win the Grand. R.C.Lehmann -
In 1840 Leander came to Henley in full strength and won the Grand -
a victory they were not destined to repeat until thirty five years had elapsed.
As holders of the Challenge Cup, they sent a crew to Henley in 1841, and had to meet the Cambridge Subscription Rooms (a club of Cambridge men living in London) in the final. The race ended in a foul which was given against Leander. The result on the tempers of the Leander men was disastrous. They retired to their tents to nurse their wrath, and no Leander crew was again seen at Henley until 1858 ...
Leander men ... won the fours at the Thames Regatta in 1843 and 1844, and the club still possesses handsome trophies commemorating the prowess of its members at the Erith Regattas between 1845 and 1855. ...
In the Leander Club rooms at Henley there hangs an old print representing the race for the [sculling] championship between Bob Coombes and Campbell in 1846. The course is crowded with boats of every description, most of which are rowing abreast, or even ahead of the unfortunate loser, and conspicuous amongst these is the eight-oared cutter of the Leander Club, manned by a crew everyone of whom gallantly sports a top-hat.
The hat itself, as a rowing emblem, has disappeared, but its tradition remains, for even now, if a young blood of the oar wishes to depreciate the authority of a veteran, he refers to him lightly as "one of the top-hat brigade".
1846: The great race between Robert Coombes and Charles Campbell for the Championship of the Thames
Taken below Hammersmith Bridge, August 19th, 1846
From an engraving presented to the Leander Club by His Honour, Judge W.Wightman Wood
And shown by R C Lehmann in his article on the Leander Club, 1906
1858: R.C.Lehmann -
... according to Mr Woodgate, a mixed team of blues of both colours got up an eight,
and qualified by rowing under the Leander flag.
From this crew may be dated the intimate connection which subsists between Leander and the oarsmen of the two Universities.
1875: R.C.Lehmann -
... it was not until 1875 that they were able to send another eight.
It was captained by the famous J.H.Goldie, and was composed of seven Cambridge men,
six of them Blues, and one oxonian.
It won its heat and the final in dashing style against a powerful opposition, defeating amongst others a London R.C. crew which contained six of the previous year's winners.
In the following year  the club repeated their effort, but the crew went down in the third heat before a combination of Brasenose and University Colleges, the final falling for the first time to the Thames R.C.
After another interval, the "Brilliants" as the club used to be called, came out again in 1880 with a strong crew of seven Oxonians and one Cantab, captained by T.C.Edwards-Moss, and were once more successful.
From this time onward [to the date of writing ie 1906] there have been only two years in which they were not represented at Henley, but for ten years their efforts met with no success.
The Boatman of the Leander Club at Putney, Biffen's, was for many years "Honest" John Phelps, 1804 - 1890
He became famous or infamous as the finish judge of the 1877 University Boat Race which, it was decided, was a dead heat. From his moored boat (and therefore probably not drunk under a bush as has been alleged) he did his best to judge without finishing posts to help his perspective. He gave his verdict as "dead heat to Oxford by five feet" He was asked for his verdict by the Umpire -
For answer he placed the two palms of his hands together, and, moving them slightly backwards and forwards, said, “They were going like this, sir; I couldn’t separate them.”
'Honest' John Phelps, Leander Boatman at Putney, 1804 -1890
Biffen's, The Leander Club Boathouse at Putney, before 1890, with Boatman John Phelps
1880: William Morris hired two boats from Biffen's to take his family and friends (including Eliza, the housemaid) from there to Kelmscot. He has some point to make about "Biffen's men" ...
Started on Tuesday August 10th, 1880 at 3pm in a small houseboat called the 'Ark'
belonging to Salter of Oxford and a rowing boat belonging to Biffen called the 'Albert'.
The 'Ark' was rowed by two of Biffen's men: (one a boy, the other a bad case of chronic poisoning, his eyes were gogglesome probably because of gin), and the 'Alfred' by [William Morris] & [Cornell] Price as far as Kew, where both boats were made fast to some barges and towed by a mercantile tin kettle as far as Twickenham.
William Morris subsequently used this voyage as the basis of his book " News from Nowhere"
1885: Dickens's Dictionary of the Thames -
This old-established rowing club (sometimes called the "Brilliants") consists of members
and honorary members; the subscription for the former is £2 2s.,
for the latter £1 1s. Members of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge are only
liable to a subscription of 10s. 6d. per annum so long as they are resident undergraduates.
The election of members is entrusted to the committee. Colours, red.
Boat-house, Biffen's, Hammersmith.
Clasper and Salter of Oxford (the former also at Wandsworth), Biffen of Hammersmith, and Messenger of Kingston, are the principal builders of boats for London men; the last-named having a specialty for comfortable gigs and skiffs for “journey” rowing, as it is generally called, as distinguished from racing.
I understand subscriptions have since risen slightly.
1891: R.C.Lehmann -
Writing in 1891 in the pages of Mr Woodgate's Badminton book on "Boating",
Mr G.D.Rowe, then secretary of Leander, records that
"the rowing successes of Leander of late years have not been very great, though a Leander crew is always formidable 'on paper', and comprises a good selection of 'Varsity oars. Want of practice and combination usually outweighs individual skill. . . . Since 1880 all attempts to carry off the much-coveted prize have proved futile."
In this very year , however, Mr Rowe's remarks ceased to be true, and the era of futility came to an end.
The Leander crew of 1891 was put together on a plan which had already become well established in the traditions of the club. It was composed in part of men who had gone down from the University, in part of men still in residence.
Generally, members of both Universities were to be found in the crew. As in 1885, however, only Cambridge men had rowed in it, so in 1891 Oxford provided the whole eight.
A word or two as to the men who rowed in this crew, undoubtedly one of the very finest that ever sat in a boat, may be interesting.
The stroke-oar was C.W.Kent, a man who had already achieved many striking triumphs, and was destined to achieve many more. His judgement and racing skill were alike remarkable. No stroke ever knew better how to take his crew along at their best pace, or how, making spurt answer spurt, to break the hearts of his opponents. His lightness of build and somewhat exiguous length of limb hardly seemed to promise strength and endurance; yet he made his knowledge of the art supply the place of muscle, and his pluck and resolution were such that he was never known to falter, no matter where the crisis came.
This great oarsman was supported at No.7 by R.P.P.Rowe, a Cliftonian, who for the perfect elegance and precision of his rowing was the envy and admiration of all the Etonians of his day. To him thus placed fell the task of welding together the two sides of the boat so as to make them into one organic whole, and beautifully he accomplished it.
In the middle of the boat, at No.6, No.5, and No.4, were those three splendid heavyweights, W.A.L.Fletcher, Guy Nickalls, and Lord Ampthill, all of them massive towers of strength and models of unbreakable endurance.
Behind them at No.3, sat Vivian Nickalls, a freshman who already showed in his oarsmanship many of those qualities that had made his elder brother illustrious.
At No.2 was J.A.Ford, not yet a Blue, but already famous for watermanship and courage. He had rowed No.2 to Kent's stroke in a celebrated Brasenose four at the previous Henley , and helped him to snatch victory twice from the very jaws of defeat.
In this same four W.F.C.Holland had been bow, and now, as captain, he had placed himself at bow in the Leander eight. He used to say of himself that anybody watching the eight end on could see Henley Bridge and the "Red Lion" through the angles made by his elbows with his sides, but this small defect was more than counterbalanced by his beautiful watermanship and the amazing power he was able to put forth. He was always cool, and with his gifts of tact and humour he kept his men together and in good spirits both in the boat and out of it.
Finally, the coxswain was a small Brasenose man, L.S.Williams, who knew all the tricks of his trade, and had a pair of the lightest hands that ever held reins of rudder-strings.
The Leander Club Crew, 1891
Top Row: R.P.P.Rowe(7); Lord Ampthill(4); V.Nickalls(3); J.A.Ford(2); W.F.C.Holland (Captain, Bow)
Lower Row: G.Nickalls(5); W.A.L.Fletcher(6); L.S.Williams(Cox); C.W.Kent(Stroke); H.B.Cotton(reserve); F.Wilkinson (reserve); R.C.Lehmann(Coach)
It happened to be an easy crew to coach and train.
Indeed the only special training incident that lingers in the memory of their coach is that Lord Ampthill,
having hinted that he though he might be getting overtrained, was told that,
as a matter of fact, he was undertrained, and was ordered to take short but violent running exercise.
Accordingly the future Lieutenant Governor of Madras might have been seen -
undoubtedly was seen - on several evenings galloping gallantly across the meadow at the back of the boat-tents.
He showed no lack of condition when it came to racing.
The crew averaged 12st. 1¼lbs - a good weight for a Henley, or indeed, for any crew.
Against them had come out no unworthy competitors. The London R.C. had won the Grand in 1890, and in 1891 they still retained the services of six of the previous year's winners. The Thames R.C., too, sent up a very fine crew containing four Cambridge Blues. Five members of the crew had already won the Grand twice under the Thames R.C. colours.
The racing that took place was magnificent. On the first day  Leander and Thames came together. Leander had to row against the full force of a gale of wind, while Thames, to whom the luck of the draw had given the Bucks station, were able to obtain a good deal of shelter. It was literally a ding-dong race. After a mile Leander had their canvas in front; then Thames crept up and placed a foot or two of lead to their credit. They held this almost up to the finish, but at the very last Kent made one of his demon rushes, and the race ended in a dead heat.
Leander's Dead Heat with Thames R.C., 1891
It was rowed off in a calm on the following day, and Leander won by two lengths.
The final heat  between Leander and London produced another terrific race. London led out at a tremendous rate, and at Rememenham were nearly a length ahead. From this point, however, they began to come slowly and stubbornly back. At the mile Leander pushed ahead, and eventually won by a bare length in record time.
Other events that fell to the Leander contingent were the Goblets, won by Guy Nickalls and Lord Ampthill, and the Diamond Sculls, won by V.Nickalls.
I [wrote R.C.Lehmann, the coach] have devoted so much space to this noble crew because it was typical in its merits and its achievements of all the best Leander crews that have followed it.
As a coach R C Lehmann had a tendency to wax poetic and try to explain himself in verse. His poem "The Perfect Oar" ends with a vision of the heavenly Leander!
THE PERFECT OAR
Once on a dim and dream-like shore
Half seen, half recollected,
I thought I met a human oar
To me at least he seemed a man
Like any of our neighbours,
Formed on the self-same sort of plan
For high aquatic labours.
His simple raiment took my eyes:
No fancy duds he sported
He had his rather lengthy thighs
A scarf about his neck he threw ;
A zephyr hid his torso ;
He looked as much a man as you -
Perhaps a trifle more so.
And yet I fancy you'll agree,
When his description's ended,
No merely mortal thing could be
So faultlessly commended.
I noted down with eager hand
The points that mark his glory ;
So grant me your attention, and
I'll set them out before ye.
His hands are ever light to catch ;
Their swiftness is astounding :
No billiard ball could pass or match
The pace of their rebounding.
Then, joyfully released and gay.
And graceful as Apollo's,
With what a fine columnar sway
His balanced body follows.
He keeps his sturdy legs applied
Just where he has been taught to,
And always moves his happy slide
Precisely as he ought to.
He owns a wealth of symmetry
Which nothing can diminish,
And strong men shout for joy to see
His wonder working finish.
He never rows his stroke in dabs -
A fatal form of sinning -
And never either catches crabs
Or misses the beginning.
Against his ship the storm winds blow.
And every zephyr frets her :
He hears the cox cry, 'Let her go!’
And swings and drives and lets her.
Besides, he has about his knees.
His feet, his wrists, his shoulders.
Some points which make him work with ease
And fascinate beholders.
He is, in short, impeccable.
And - this perhaps is oddest
In one who rows and looks so well -
He is supremely modest.
He always keeps his language cool,
Nor stimulates its vigour
In face of some restrictive rule
Of dietary rigour.
And when the other men annoy
With trivial reproaches.
He is the Captain's constant joy.
The comfort of his coaches.
When grumblers call the rowing vile.
Or growl about the weather,
Our Phoenix smiles a cheerful smile
And keeps the crew together.
No "hump" is his - when everything
Looks black his zeal grows stronger.
And makes his temper, like his swing.
One aim is his through weeks of stress: -
By each stroke rowed to aid work.
No idle sugared prettiness
Impairs his swirling blade-work.
And, oh, it makes the pulses go
A thousand to the minute
To see the man sit down and row
A ding-dong race and win it !
Such was, and is, the perfect oar,
A sort of river Prince, Sir ;
I never met the man before.
And never saw him since, Sirs.
Yet still, I think, he moves his blade,
As grand in style, or grander.
As Captain of some Happy-Shade
Rudi Lehmann continues -
I cannot do more now than skim over the history of the club in the ensuing thirteen years [1892-1905].
During that period Leander eights have won the Grand on nine more occasions,
and Leander fours have won the Steward's Cup three times. ...
In 1895 they were drawn against Cornell in a preliminary heat, but they never started. When the umpire gave the warning, Leander, who were not ready shouted "No", but in the wind that prevailed the umpire failed to hear. He gave the word to go, but only one crew, Cornell, went, while Leander, to the intense chagrin of all their partisans, had perforce to stay at the post. It was a melancholy incident; but Trinity Hall, on the following day, avenged Leander on Cornell, and finally secured the Cup.
Elsewhere there is a comment on this 1895 incident -
Leander felt their situation so acutely that, rather than suffer the embarassment of paddling back to the raft,
they left their boat at the start and walked up the towpath.
As they grimly strode along a small American newspaper reporter trotted after them saying:
"Gentlemen, I should be vurry glad of your opinion of this remarkable occurrence for the benefit of my paper's readers."
Whereupon answer came swiftly from one of the crew who usually lapsed into taciturnity:
"My opinion is that you are a bloody little b--r, and you can wire that across the Atlantic."
1896: Leander beating Yale in the Grand -
Leander beating Yale in the Grand 1896
1897: Leander Club moved to Henley. Vanity Fair July 22nd -
It is a great institution for that Club, with a site on the bank close to the bridge,
coffee and reading rooms, twenty bedrooms, ladies’ coffee-room,
and a verandah balcony round two sides of the building.
For luxury no modern rowing club house can come near it, and the architecture makes it a thing of beauty, and in full keeping with the weeping willow villa which it adjoins.
1898: Leander Clubhouse -
1898: Leander Clubhouse
1899: Leander Club, Francis Frith -
The Finish of the Grand at Henley, 1901 - Leander beating Pennsylvania
The Finish of the Grand at Henley, 1901 - Leander beating Pennsylvania
1905: Some Henley Afterthoughts, C B Fry's Magazine -
From the oarsman's point of view interest in Henley Regatta this year was centred in the contest of styles
provided by the Leander crew, on the one hand, and the American and Belgian crews on the other.
Not even the least instructed eye could fail to remark the striking differences in the appearance
and work of these crews.
The Leander men exemplified admirably the best points of our English style. Experience of innumerable races over a long period of years as convinced us that we get the best results in pace and in endurance out of a crew when we have taught them to sit erect to their work, to swing long and very steadily forward, to reach out far, to catch the water sharply at the full extent of the reach, to apply the weight-power of the body firmly to the blade by a quick and solid backward swing, to combine with this swing the driving power of the legs, to force the stroke home with an unwavering pressure until the last fraction of value has been secured from it, then to release the blade from the water with the utmost promptitude and cleanness, and finally, to extend the arms swiftly and to recover the body with elasticity in preparation for the slow and balanced swing that rests the body and serves as a prelude to the next stroke.
Performing these movements with a precision and grace and rhythmical regularity that made them a pleasure to the eye, the Leander men were enabled to defeat with some ease as powerful a foreign opposition as has ever shown itself in the fight for the Grand Challenge Cup. ...
While we are entitled to congratulate ourselves on the decisive result of the racing, it is only fair to remember that no crew but Leander could have secured it. It may be hoped that there will now be an end to the ignorant and often jealous abuse which has been showered on this great rowing organisation.
C.K.Philips, Leander Club Captain 1905
1906: Leander Club -
Leander Club 1906
From “A Trinity Boating Song” by R.C.Lehmann, coach -
I met a solid rowing friend, and asked about the race,
“How fared it with your wind,” I said, “when stroke increased the pace?
You swung it forward mightily, you heaved it greatly back;
Your muscles rose in knotted lumps, I almost heard them crack.
And while we roared and rattled too, your eyes were fixed like glue.
What thoughts went flying through your mind, how fared it, Five, with you?”
But Five made answer solemnly, “I heard them fire a gun,
No other mortal thing I knew until the race was done.”
1988: John Doyle, 'An Artist's Journey Down the Thames' (Just above Temple Island) -
I was in my boat on this stretch of water when I learned never to go too near an oarsman,
to keep to the right and not to go faster than walking pace.
What the rather elderly man from the Leander Club against whom I committed all these misdemeanours actually said, I do not intend to repeat.
Leander Club website
Was where the Leander Club now is, an island once?
1690: Landscape with Rainbow, Henley-on-Thames, Jan Siberechts -
If you have Google Earth click this viewpoint
and compare them. Make sure the Terrain box is ticked.
The old Henley bridge is lower centre and the church tower to the right,
so the viewpoint is from the meadows below Leander looking upstream towards the bridge.
But across the near view in the picture is water, with a barge with a smoking chimney bottom left. So what are we looking at? There are two possibilities. The first is that Jan Siberechts used his artist's imagination to enhance the composition by adding this water. The second is that the land on which now stand Leander and the Regatta Headquarters was an island. The meadows are clearly an area which the river has invaded from time to time. The 1793 Boydell engraving below shows an island here.
I have found two possible names which might indicate a channel here:
George Leslie (Our River 1881) mentions Solomon's Hatch at the old bathing place above the bridge on the LEFT bank (ie left in the picture) -
Solomon’s hatch is reached on the Berks shore, where there is a good bathing-place. I never could find out who the particular Solomon was that the place is named after, and I know of no hatches or little sluices here ...
Solomon's Hatch then would be the upstream end of a separate channel
And the downstream end? -
The Hole in the Wall:
only remembered by Regatta enthusiasts, just downstream of the Stewards Enclosure. Actually it is a hole no longer but an inflow over which the campshedded towpath continues and no one on the bank would know it was there. But just maybe that is the downstream end?
1793: Henley, Marsh Lock, from upstream, possibly showing this island, Boydell -
Marsh Lock, Boydell, 1793