‘Some of the men didn’t want us to row. But we did it anyway.’

Jenny Rees was the Ladies Captain of the Transport for London (TfL)’s District Line Rowing Club, one of its first oarswomen in the 70s. TfL had four rowing clubs, and former GB coach Richard Tinkler, who was introduced to GLUE at the Head of the River Race 2012, also rowed for the club.

In her own words, Rees described how women’s rowing began at TfL, and the opportunity the clubs provided to members who did not come from the traditional public school and Oxbridge routes:

Jenny Rees, third from the right, rowing with a coxed IV for The Boston Marathon in 1978. Photo: © N J D Scarlett
Jenny Rees, third seat from left (before bow), rowing with a coxed IV for The Boston Marathon in 1978. Check out those stylish thick rowing socks. GLUE’s Salina Christmas still sleeps and parties in her old club socks. Photo: © N J D Scarlett

Our rowing started when Wendy Rowland, whose then boyfriend Paul Baker rowed for District Line, started coxing for the men. Wendy, who worked in the Baker Street offices at London Transport fancied rowing herself and got together half a dozen girls who were up for it. She persuaded Paul to take us out in a boat one evening and the rest is history!

There was a certain amount of opposition from the men to us rowing. Indeed, there is an entry in the committee minutes which we discovered that stated that the women could row but they would not pay subs as that would entitle them to use the boats. Completely sexist – and as it was a staff sports association. Very unfair!

However, we persisted and decided we wanted to start entering regattas, therefore had to be bone fide members of the Club. We did a sponsored row to buy some blades. The club also bought a super duper ‘Colley’ coxed IV which was very light and gave us a better chance to win.

Newspaper clipping of Richard Tinkler, former GB Rowing coach and oarsman for TfL, at one of London Transport's Christmas regattas. Photo: © LT News
Newspaper clipping of a District Line win, featuring a photo of crew which includes former GB Coach Richard Tinkler, at one of London Transport’s Christmas regattas. Photo: © LT News

“(The regattas and head races) ran really late as there were never enough boats. People were jumping in and out of crews.”

I did a coaching course and got my bronze coaching award. I also took up sculling. My best success was winning Senior C sculls in the Scullers Head.

We also rowed the Boston Marathon in 1978 (fastest ladies IV) and ran in the Oarsman’s Cross Country in Windsor Great Park. I once finished as runner up lady.

We shared the Amateur Rowing Association (ARA)’s boathouse at Hammersmith with the National Squad women. In those days, the squad ladies and ourselves got changed in the kitchen and showered in the bathroom there using one of those rubber showers attached to the bath taps. One day, I went to put my wellie on in the kitchen, and a mouse jumped out of it.

“It was said that (Dan Topolski) used to show the women’s squad violent films to try to increase their aggression.”

So we rubbed shoulders with the likes of Steve Redgrave, Dan Topolski, Chris Baillieu, Lin Clark and Beryl Mitchell. I’m still good friends with Lin and Jim Clark who were Olympic athletes in their day and have fairly recently been in touch with Chris Baillieu.

On occasions, I used to cox the women’s quad in training. Their coach asked me if I’d like to do it on a regular basis but I knew I was too tall to be used in international regattas, so declined the offer.

We used to go to Holme Pierrepont in Nottingham for training weekends twice a year and I remember very painful training sessions under the beady eye of Dan Topolski. Crikey, he looks old now! It was said that he also used to show the women’s squad violent films to try to increase their aggression.

We used to have London Transport regattas every year and a London Transport Head of the River Race. They were always a bit of a nightmare and ran really late as there were never enough boats, and people were jumping in and out of crews. Great fun though!

Rees, pictured, far right, with the Coxed IV District Line Rowing Club Ladies, before the Hammersmith Bridge, London, one of the key landmarks for head races, regattas and the University Boat Roace. Photo: © LT News
Rees, pictured, far right, with the Coxed IV District Line Rowing Club Ladies, before the Hammersmith Bridge, London, one of the key landmarks for head races, regattas and the University Boat Roace. Photo: © LT News

I still row occasionally with some of the men. They are in their late 70s and 80s now and I’m 59. They meet up at Burway on a Wednesday morning. I stopped rowing regularly soon after I had my daughter who is now 27. It was too difficult to fit it in and get baby sitters and I live a long way from the river.

I took up running instead and have run quite a few races including the London and New York Marathons. My knees have given up the ghost now, though, and I stick to Badders, Zumba and belly dancing.

As told to GLUE.

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