This year marked the 60th year of Queen Elizabeth's reign, and to celebrate this a river pageant was held which Twickenham Rowing Club were enamored to be a part of. As spectators we all saw the phenomenal number of boats flocking down the stream in an array of colours and marvelled at the river in it's decorated state.
To write the article mysel,f I felt would not do the day enough justice so I asked the rowers who participated in this fantastic event to share their experience for us.
John Sewell, a member who has been with us for 50 years tells us what it was like from his point of view.
Jacqui Johnston - Rowing Manager
"Wow! What an event! Last year, in common with more than 3000 other organisations and river users, Margot Cooper, submitted an application on behalf of the Club for one of the 1000 places in the River Pageant being organised as part of the celebrations for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The Pageant procession started at the Albert Bridge and finished at Tower bridge - a distance of some 7 miles.
The boat we entered was one of our coxed Explore Rowing quads – ideal for the rougher water we’d get that far downstream.
The crew selected included two of our members who had achieved some distinction in their rowing careers, Rachel Woolf, for example, had started rowing at the Club as a teenager and had been a member of the GB Ladies squad some fifteen years ago which had won a World Cup silver medal at Aigbullette. Spike had rowed at a high level over a good number of years in both a pair and coxless fours and at Henley in the Thames Cup and Wyfolds – and of course has been a fairly prolific winner of Masters’ event. Laura Nichols as the third member is a relative newcomer to the club and was asked to join the crew to mark the fact that we strongly encourage new people to join our fast growing membership. I had been the first to volunteer since it’s my 50th year of membership and I’m lucky enough to be still racing and sometimes winning. Our coxswain was Mark Ormiston our immediate past Club President.
As you know, the day of the River Pageant was grey and with fine rain that just got worse. It certainly didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of those taking part. In our Manpowered section with more than 250 boats we marshalled at Putney. It was an incredible sight with boats decorated with a riot of flags and bunting. Before the start of the Pageant we moored just downstream of Wandsworth Bridge. The organisation was impeccable with all boats having a very specific position on the river – to start with at any rate. First off was the barge with the bells, followed by Gloriana – fabulous Henry V111-type rowboat crewed by 16 rowers led by Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent and with a distinguished crew of former top rowers and including wounded veterans from Afghanistan.
Then there was our man-powered section. This included all types of rowing boats – coastal gigs, skiffs, cutters, Explore Rowing boats like ours, Australian Surf Boats, Maori war canoes, Dragon Boats and canoes. This was followed by a huge flotiila of Sea Scouts in motor driven boats, each carrying the flag of one of the Commonwealth Countries. Then came historic boats including some which had been involved in the Dunkirk evacuation. Following them were work-boats and then pleasure boats and passenger boats.
The Queen’s barge was behind our man-powered section. As we passed her barge we all made a Royal Salute. This caused a bit of a jam so as a result we had an excellent view of the Royal Party (we’re in the bottom right in the picture below). Apart from some Union Jacks and a crown for the flagpole given to us by Avril, our boat was decorated with magenta and dark blue bunting – kindly made by my wife, Penny.
The progress of the Pageant was quite slow, but what a spectacle! The river scene was absolutely reminiscent of Canaletto’s painting of the Lord Mayor’s procession in 1747.
The crowds of spectators on all the banks and seemingly every building, balcony and roof was unbelievable. Every building seemed bedecked with bunting and the banks of the river and boats moored were just a sea of waving flags. There was a continuous and unbelievable roar of cheering. Those who feel that the British are an undemonstrative lot would have believed themselves to be in a different country that afternoon. The atmosphere of history and jubilation was just incredible.
The Pageant finished at Tower Bridge. For fine-boat rowers like me, rowing through Tower Bridge was an amazing experience. Our part of the Pageant then had to paddle a further four miles or so down to our de-boating point on the Isle of Dogs opposite the O2 arena. I have to say we were very cold and very very wet by the time we got out of the boat – some six hours after we’d first boated.
It was, without any exaggeration, the most fantastic experience I have ever had. As the largest such Pageant over the past few centuries; it made a very fitting tribute to the Queen to mark her amazing contribution and dedication to our country over the past sixty years.
Those of us lucky enough to have been able to take part in this great piece of history, would like to thank particularly Margot for dealing with the application and Mark for taking care of the detail and attending the briefing meeting – and steering us through the wild melee of boats."
John Sewell - Master's Squad Rower