The History of Mersey Rowing Club is split into two distinct periods, one from its foundation in 1854 until its demise in 1956 and the second from its refounding in 1986 until its 20th Anniversary year, 2006.
Part One: Victorian and Edwardian Rowing
Mersey Rowing Club was founded in Birkenhead in 1854. It was preceeded by seven smaller clubs, the oldest one having been formed in 1840, but who all came together to share resources and equipment in 1854. This was a period of expanding popularity for sport rowing was also around this time that some of the most famous institutions and clubs were founded, such as The Varsity Boat Race (1829), Leander Club (1818) and Henley Royal Regatta (1839). This makes Mersey RC one of the oldest rowing clubs in Great Britain and the oldest in Liverpool. In its early days, Mersey RC were amongst the more successful clubs in the region.
Although the club was founded in 1854, there is evidence for recreational rowing on the Mersey before that date. At the 1840 Chester Regatta, three Liverpool crews competed against one from Chester for the newly inaugurated Prince Albert Cup. The cup was first competed for in recognition of the marriage of Queen Victoria to Price Albert. The race was won by one of the Liverpool crews by a length on the Chester crew. The honour of the day, however, was the World Championship, a competition that was not competed for by several rowers at once in regatta-style, but through the challenge system, similar to modern-day boxing. In September 1845 the World Championship came to Liverpool with the famous sculler Harry Clasper beating Thomas Carroll, the Champion of the Mersey, on the Mersey for the sum of £200.
Unfortunately further evidence comes from tragic circumstances, when the Liverpool Standard of 29th April 1842 records the death of three rowers, drowned on the River Mersey after breakfasting at the house of the wealthy merchant, John Moss. The newspaper states that in clear weather, four rowers and their Cox set out from Otterspool House in South Liverpool, headed for Birkenhead. Alfred Littledale, Clement Royds and James Ramsey were lost that day, with Henry Crewe and their Cox W.E. Taunton surviving to tell the story of how the boat was sunk. It seems the water conditions on that day were somewhat worse than expected and the gig rowed out along the Lancashire coast as far as "Knotts Hole" where they intended to cross the Mersey to Birkenhead. As they were half way across the river, with the conditions worsening and the crew considering returning to the Liverpool shore, a wave broke over the boat and broke it in two. Fortunately for two of the crew, the vessel HMS Redbreast was in Liverpool on quarantine duty and quickly sent boats to the rescue of the surviving rowers. The conclusion of the article was that the River Mersey was too perilous a watercourse to traverse in such small boats and that more sturdy vessels should be used whenever rowing there, even if it were at the expense of some speed.
Mersey RC spent the first part of its history rowing on the Wirral side of the River Mersey. In 1867, they built their new boathouse in Rock Ferry and were rowing there until 1866 when a floating boathouse was constructed. This would move the operation from Rock Ferry to New Ferry and would consist of a wooden boathouse, with changing rooms and Committee room on the second floor, which would be harbored in the Birkenhead Docks during the Winter and towed onto the Mersey during the Summer. In September 1871, Mersey RC and Royal Chester RC inaugurated one of their longest standing events, the Annual challenge match. This first challenge was won by Chester by half a length, although the newspaper reported that the Mersey crew looked "a finer set of men than their opponents" and had "perfect form when rowing up to the start of the race". Clearly the newspapers of the day were completely impartial! In 1872 there was also talk in Mersey RC minutes of entertaining a challenge match with an American crew, this time between Mersey RC, London RC and Atlanta RC. The result of the challenge was not recorded.
Another reference to Mersey RC comes from 1882, when the World Champion sculler, the Edward "Ned" Hanlen arrived in Liverpool, aboard the City of Chester. Known as the Boy in Blue, Hanlen was an extremely successful Canadian sculler. Holding over 300 races, he only lost six and was the World Champion from 1880 to 1884. In 1882 he arrived in Liverpool to challenge (and beat) the English sculler R.W. Boyd on the River Tyne. Upon his arrival in Liverpool he was met at the docks by Frank Bigland, Captain of Mersey Rowing Club.
The early Twentieth Century was a difficult time for Mersey RC. In 1913, during a gale, the club's floating boathouse was smashed to pieces, resulting in the loss of twenty-four rowing boats. It had been moored at New Ferry Pier and had begun to take on water during a particularly fierce gale. All the boats and equipment were lost and the damage to the boathouse came to over £1000. Devestating as this was, it seems of equal importance to the members of the club was the loss of a brass plate, on which were inscribed the names of the rowers who had fought and, some who had died, during the Boer War.
Shortly after the devastating loss of their boathouse, the club suffered falling membership and the loss of many of its men during the First World War. Despite this, the club managed to boost membership and moved to a new boathouse at the Wallasey Pool, Birkenhead, sharing the water there with Liverpool Victoria RC. By the 1920s Mersey had rebuilt its crews and were winning more and more races at regattas in Chester, Northwich, and Wallasey. Mersey RC continued rowing after the Second World War, but through declining interest and poor membership, gradually began to struggle to put out crews. By 1956 there was no one from Mersey RC rowing at Wallasey and the decision was taken that Mersey should merge with Royal Chester RC. The club was finally wound up in 1959, with all the property and assets being transferred to the latter club in that same year.
Part Two: Modern Times
Mersey Rowing Club was refounded by David Carter, who had been a coach at Liverpool University Boat Club, and some others from LUBC in 1986, operating at that time out of a cargo container on the southern side of Wapping Dock, Liverpool. Their first race that year was strangely at the same place Mersey RC had last rowed in 1950s, Great Float, Birkenhead. In that race they entered five sweep oared eights. Since this time, Mersey RC has served as a community club, attempting to dispel the myths that surround rowing as an elitist sport. Urban regeneration forced the club to shift to the north side of Queen's Dock in the late 1980s. After ten years of temporary accommodation, the club found its permanent home in 1996, moving to the Merseyside Watersports Centre, in Mariners' Wharf. As Mersey RC continues to grow and modernise its collection of boats and with improved facilities and boats to race in, the club is beginning to grow in numbers. New crews have been formed and Mersey are starting to win local races and enter National competitions. With this growing confidence, the club is now focusing on improving the quality and quantity of coaching available and on encouraging local schools to take part. Mersey RC have always felt that in a city the size of Liverpool there must be young people who would like to row but who have not been given the chance. This club proves this is true. We now intend to formalise our approach and to improve our standards of delivery. To this end we are seeking accreditation under Sport England's "Club Mark" scheme and extending our coaching staff to be able to offer a professional level of coaching to the Liverpool community. We have recently been awarded a grant by the Foundation for Sports and the Arts to purchase a new, improved rescue boat and are planning improvements and additions to our fleet of boats.