The river has always been a major feature of the town and the club first came into being around 1870. In those days there was a lively commercial use of the Wye and it was natural for people to make use of it for pleasure and social activities.The original club members were white collar, professional people, as the early photographs on the walls of the club testify. The working class were excluded. It was all days out on the river and picnics. Symonds Yat was a very popular destination. After a great day out the trippers would return on the train, while the boats would be towed back upsteam by horses with carts going along the river-bank. Nevertheless, the element of competition was gradually introduced, in the guise of races for rowing boats and coracles against the stream from Wilton Bridge to the Hope and Anchor.
It appears that the Hope was the first headquarters of the Club – meetings were certainly held there during the early days. The pub was then run by Mr Henry Dowell who also built boats. On July 18th, 1876, The Ross Gazette carried a report about watersports and watermen’s rowing races taking place over the Regatta course. The Ross Regatta in 1884 was held on the Backney straight. As well as pairs and fours racing, both junior and senior, there were coracle and canoe races and a watermen’s paid race. Meanwhile on the land, runners could compete in mile and 440 yards handicap races or a 100 yard sprint. There was a tug-of-war and a donkey race. All this, to the music of the band of the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry.
As the turn of the century approached the club acquired land at the brook’s mouth, but there was no boathouse. In 1903, the club chairman, presiding over a share issue to raise money to build a club house, proclaimed that every member should be good for a pound! A ceremony for the building of the club house took place on Tuesday, July 14th 1908 – the cost of it was £400. Made of wood, it had a boat store, ladies room, a secretary’s office and boat booking office. There was a social area on the first floor and a railed balcony with external access.A slipway and pontoons went on to the river, flags flew along the bank and flower borders were neatly tended. The club’s boats were clinker built and proved by a firm called Bathurst of Tewkesbury at a cost of £20. As other clubs developed, inter-club regattas began. Although Ross in the early years was still very much a carnival – with river jousting and various other events to entertain the spectator.
The First World War caused great social upheaval. The white collar bastion was breached and during the early 1920s the working man began to row. The club at this time was very much under the control of Major Backhouse, who coached many successful rowing crews.Jack Farmer started rowing then and he was to have a long association with the club. Many well known local names feature in the history of the club at this time. Lawrie Llewellyn of Phoenix Coal and Fred Kemp, Kemps of Ross, Jack Capewell, manager of Alton Court Brewery as well as the Lydneys, schoolmasters at Cantilupe college, and many others.
Artie Ryall, one of the original Larruperz, was the regatta raft steward before the Second World War. He would turn up resplendent in his whites and blazer at 11 o’clock and only then could the regatta begin. He called out to the crews on a hand-held megaphone. Spectators were often ferried to the far bank and there was one unfortunate drowning accident.
Most club members joined up in the Second World War, and Dixie Dean was killed in the Battle of Britain and Cyril Babbage got the DFM. Tom Wright was killed flying a bomber and Wilf Phillips, the jeweller, was killed in the commandos. There was a strong influence in the post-war period from Jack Farmer and Edgar Edwards who brought the crews up to a very high standard.
It was a purple patch, – in 1947 the seniors won the West of England championship. The Ross Regatta itself was still quite small. Kemps used to erect the landing stage on the day and the committee boats used to be carted about on Jackson’s lorry from regatta to regatta. An ex-olympic fine four was bought and in the late 1950s an old Buick was bought by the club for transportation. During the early 60s the club declined in spite of the efforts of Eddie Brewster and by the end of the decade it was ready to go under but a small group managed to rekindle interest.
The old club house was dismantled and there were strong rumours of a ghost – builders heard an unearthly crash when there were no walls left to fall down! The new club house was built and the membership picked up between 1977 and 1979. The new boat store was built in 1985 and the regatta expanded to include 250 crews. Now Ross Rowing Club is open all the year round and is a base for all sorts of different activities, including camping, canoeing and paddle boarding.