For a time Gravesend RC was also home to two other clubs (the Port of London Authority Rowing Club and the Northfleet Port Workers Rowing Club which was sponsored by the National Dock Labour Board) but both had faded away by the late 50s and early 60s respectively. But Gravesend RC continued to thrive, with varying fortunes on the river. Though the wide rough waters of the lower Thames make it sometimes difficult for crews to get sufficient practice in racing boats, the club has been represented at the Henley Royal Regatta, the National Championships and the Veterans Internationals, as well as numerous other Regattas and Head races.
The crew of David Pritchard, David Whiffen, Colin Warner and Mick Pullen won the Head of the River Medway Fours over five consecutive years, from 1962 to 1967, and held the record of 12 min 21 sec (albeit in a clinker-built boat).
In 1963 Gravesend RC entered the Henley Royal Regatta in the Wyfold Coxswainless Fours, with John Mackley, David Pritchard, Colin Warner and Mick Pullen, where they won the first heat. David Whiffen and Mick Pullen entered the Silver Goblets for Coxswainless Pairs in 1968, but without success. Almost thirty years later, in 1996, Andy Ray and Steve Wall entered the same event, but with 16 crews competing for two places in the final they too were eliminated.
During the 1970’s, the club had notable success in single sculling. Robert Lupton won bronze in the National Championships as a lightweight and came 9th in the Scullers Head of the River (Mortlake to Putney) in 1977. He also won the Head of the River Medway in 1974 and 1979.
In 1981, Mike Whiting, Mark Glasspool, Mick Ramsey and John Prior won the restricted pennant in the Hammersmith Head of the River Race, but were unsuccessful in the Britannia Cup for Coxed Fours at Henley Royal Regatta the same year.
To advance beyond Novice status became increasingly challenging. Tom Humphreys, Viv Rees, James Anwell and John Anwell won the Novice Fours event for Gravesend at the Poplar Regatta in 1978, and the same event was subsequently won in 1987 by Reg Smith, Andy Bright, Paul Britton and Steve Wall. Both winning crews competed against 32 opponents racing eight abreast on the Docklands 2000m course.
In men’s sculling, Stan Wingfield and Robert Lupton reached Senior and Elite status respectively, John Lupton and Brian Warner Senior 2, and Steve Wall Senior 3. Robert Lupton won the Maidstone Head of River race in 1979 and 1980, but was beaten in the Henley Diamond Sculls in 1980 by the eventual winner Hugh Matheson. Chris Bullas (also a Maidstone HOR winner, in 1994, 95 and 96) sculled in the Diamond Sculls in 1994 and won two heats before being beaten, as well as sculling in the Queen Mother Cup (Quad Sculls) for Leander.
Gravesend RC has also had some notable scullers in the Veteran class: Brian Robinson put in some outstanding performances at numerous Head Races during the 1970’s and 80’s, as well as competing at Henley and in Spain, Canada and Boulogne; at the Veteran Internationals at Putney in 1978, Stan Wingfield and John Drysdale won in single sculls in their age categories, then joined forces to beat Zee Club Zurich in the double sculls; at the same event a year later, in 1979, they teamed up with Mick Pullen and David Whiffen to beat the French Club Encouragement in the Coxed Fours; Eric Lupton and Stan Wingfield were awarded class tankards for the Veteran Head of the River for Scullers (Mortlake to Putney) in 1995, 1999 and 2000. Far from being an easy option, veterans in all events often meet stiff opposition, as became obvious when John Lupton faced the reigning Olympic champion at Bosvan in Amsterdam.
Out with the old (boat-house) and in with the new
By the mid 1980’s, the club boasted a fleet of 16 boats, plus several private single sculls. Membership was open to all and it had become very much a family club, with several husbands and wives regularly rowing and sons or daughters coxing. But time had taken its toll on the original building and it was considered to be beyond economic repair, so the committee pulled out all the stops and raised an initial £25000 towards the cost of building of a new club/boat-house which could properly cater for both sexes and be large enough to accommodate the anticipated increase in membership, as well as generating sufficient income to be self-supporting. In 1989 the old club was demolished and September 1990 saw the opening of a brand new building (at a final cost of around £80,000), with racking space for up to 12 fours and 32 sculling boats, as well as seating in the clubhouse for up to 65 people.
It is, now, over twenty years since the current clubhouse was built and the number of boats has steadily increased to more than fill all the available space.
Gravesend RC men set a world record
In 1993, five Gravesend men (Charlie Willson, David Bright, Andy Bright, Nealle Gilhooly and Gary Mahoney) made an epic voyage along the navigable length of the Thames, from Lechlade in Gloucestershire to Southend Pier. They completed the 186 mile route in a time of 38 hours 42 minutes and 20 seconds, setting a record which stood for more than ten years. It was finally broken in 2004 by rowers from Ditton Skiff Club who clocked in at 30 hours 57 minutes and 37 seconds, then again in 2005 by the Bedford/UL Tyrian crew who reduced it by a further two hours to 28 hours 54 minutes and 8 seconds.
GRC women make history
During the 1990’s, a few of Gravesend RC’s women members had occasionally represented the club in the prestigious Women’s Eights Head of the River Race as part of a composite crew with Medway Towns RC and Erith RC, but history was made in 2005 when a growing female membership made it possible to enter the first ever all-Gravesend women’s eight. Coached and coxed by Brian Robinson, the crew (from bow to stroke) was Sue Beecham, Sandy Johnson, Bev Barrow, Debbie Johnson, Nicole Fellows, Debbie Cassidy, Carole Trowbridge and Pippa Mester. Seven of the eight women held Novice status and half had been rowing for less than a year but they acquitted themselves well and set a bench-mark for subsequent years.
In 2006 the same crew entered again, significantly improving on their performance of the previous year having benefited from experience gained by racing at Novice/S4 status in winter Head Races. Buoyed by their continued improvement and enthusiasm, four of the squad (Sue Beecham, Bev Barrow, Pip Mester and Carole Trowbridge, coxed by Steve Cason) went on to win the Novice Four event in a borrowed boat at the Adur Head Race hosted by Shoreham RC in April 2006, none of them ever having rowed in a coastal boat before. To prove that this wasn’t a fluke, the same crew returned in 2007 and successfully retained the title by beating six coastal crews.