Warwick Boat Club is one of the oldest sports clubs in Warwickshire with a fascinating history that dates back to 1861 when a small group of gentlemen set up a rowing club.
The first tennis court was built in 1893 and the tennis section formed two years later. The bowls section can be traced back to 1900 when the club authorised the purchase of a set of bowls.
During the First World War club membership was just over 100 but it gradually increased in the following decades to 300 in the 1950s. In 1968 land was purchased for the first squash court and the second was opened in 1972.
Today, with over 1,000 members, the club is thriving with first-class facilities for its four sports of tennis, rowing, squash and bowls. The clubhouse has recently been transformed with a major investment in facilities.
The detailed history and milestones of the club are listed below.
- 1861 - The start of the American civil war. Queen Victoria has been on the throne for 24 years but her life changes when her husband, Prince Albert, dies. Darwin’s origin of species has just been published and is being hotly debated. Pasteur develops his theory of diseases being caused by germs.
On February 6th five men meet in Warwick to discuss forming a rowing club. On March 3rd a set of rules is written for the Warwick Boat Club. A boat house is built in Rock Mills, near where the River Avon flows under the Portabello Bridge which separates Warwick and Leamington. Subs are set at one guinea (£1.05pa)
- 1862 - The first entry for a rowing competition at Tewkesbury.
- 1865 - The boat house is moved to the present WBC site, on the current car parking area, on land rented from the Earl of Warwick.
- 1870 - After a few years of success in rowing competitions, a difficult time with membership falling from 24 to 9.
- 1873 - A limited revival for rowing. A dressing room is rented at the rear of Allen’s house.
- 1877 - The first Wimbledon lawn tennis tournament.
- 1885 - Rowing revives and membership increases to 85, still all men.
- 1895 - Land adjacent to the boat house is rented, also from the Earl of Warwick. This had been a town refuse tip and is now full. A tennis section is formed, open to women as well as men. Grass is laid for two tennis courts.
- 1898 - The rowing and tennis sections are amalgamated, with subs of 30 shillings (£1.50pa)
- 1899 - A ladies committee is formed.
- 1900 - Further grass courts are laid. The club is affiliated to the WLTA. The first competitive tennis matches are played. On May 17th, the treasurer is authorised to purchase a set of bowls for £4.
- 1901 - The Warwick Boat Club Limited is registered. Plans for a pavilion are made but put on hold as there are rumours that the local authority is trying to acquire the site for recreational purposes. The first printed annual report notes that there are 26 boats.
- 1902 - The club agrees a ten year lease for the whole site, at £10 pa, with the Earl of Warwick. A bowls section is formed and played on a lawn levelled for croquet. This is the current site of the bowling green.
- 1903 - A pavilion is built on the present club house site. The cost is £250. Membership is 154 and 3 editions of a paper called Arc Light are issued to members. There are now 7 grass tennis courts.
- 1906 - This is the most successful year to date for the club, winning at regattas at Evesham, Stratford, Derby, Burton, Nottingham and Worcester. Another tennis court is laid, bringing the number to eight.
- 1908 - A sharp decline in rowing. No men are available to compete in regattas. Tennis continues to flourish. The club is now tennis dominated by mainly male but some female players. Bowls is well supported with some inter club matches.
- 1911 - A Jubilee Dinner is held at the Warwick Arms Hotel on October the 27th. The club captain gives a speech on the club’s 50 year history which is published in the Warwick Advertiser.
- 1912 - The annual report notes tennis successes but also that boats are falling to pieces through non-use.
- 1913 - A new 11 year lease is agreed with the Earl of Warwick. Membership is noted at 139, with bowls growing in popularity.
- 1914 - The outbreak of World War 1. £350 is spent on pavilion modifications. All inter club tennis matches are stopped. Local army officers are accepted as temporary members. 2 tennis courts are sub let to the Kings High school.
- 1914 to 1918 War years - Membership is lower at 103. 24 members are in the armed forces and 7 die in action.
- 1919 - The pavilion is spring cleaned for the new tennis season and subs set at two guineas (£2.10pa)
- 1920 - The first open tennis tournament since before the war. Bowls have a good season.
- 1922 - Membership is closed on tennis. The courts are re-turfed. The pavilion is refurbished to give a capacity for 80 at dinners. A new shower bath is built. Attempts are made to revive rowing but only pleasure boats are being used by members.
- 1926 - The club opens on Sunday for the first time.
- 1928 - Tennis is still growing in popularity and two hard courts are added for winter season play. There are now 10 courts.
- 1931 - Bridge drives are held to help the club through the depression.
- 1932 - A flood on May 22nd covers the tennis courts and water enters the pavilion, tennis is limited.
- 1933 - Good weather encourages much tennis. Club teams are entered in the WLTA leagues
- 1934 - The ground lease is extended for another 10 years and bathing in the river is now allowed.
- 1936 - 2 more hard courts are made. There is a final open tennis tournament with 12 courts available.
- 1937 An American style tournament of one day replaces the open tennis tournament, mainly due to cost and time issues.
- 1939 to 1945 - World War II curtails activities. No inter club matches but exhibition tennis is played to raise money for charity. Bowls continues with local inter club matches.
- 1945 - VE and VJ parties. Tennis matches resume. Membership now 304.
- 1947 - Membership down a little to 288. Club house in bad condition but tennis and bowls continue to flourish as usual.
- 1950s - Membership around 300 for tennis and bowls. No rowing but pleasure boats available for members. Women are allowed in the bar in 1953.
- 1959 - The freehold of the site is purchased from the Earl of Warwick for £2,522. The right of way from Mill Street to the car park is granted.
- 1961 - A Centenary Ball is held at the Welcombe Hotel, Stratford. An England v Ireland tennis match is held at the club.
- 1965 - A new bar is built in the pavilion. A woman is elected to the committee for the first time.
- 1968 - Extra land is acquired for a squash court to be built. The cost is £4,250. Land for the junior tennis court is acquired.
- 1969 - A champagne supper is held at Warwick Castle, courtesy of the Earl of Warwick.
- 1972 - A second squash court is built and squash playing members soon total over two hundred.
- 1973 - A punt-a-bbq is held for the first time.
- 1974 - The finals of the national tennis club championships are held at the club.
- 1978 - A ladies bowls section is formed
- 1970’s - Junior tennis is encouraged and flourishes
- 1981 - First floodlights on court 9. First bowls triples matches.
- 1983 - The pavilion is extended and refurbished; the bar is moved to its current position within the club house and called the Captains’ Lounge.
- 1985 - The boat house erected in 1865 is demolished and the space allows more car parking.
- 1986 - Grass tennis courts 1-4 are carpeted with artificial grass. The cost is £52k with a loan of £43k from a building society. Court 10 is floodlighted. Membership is 659 in total of which 189 are senior tennis members. The bowling green is badly rated at 45 out of 48 in a national survey, i.e. there are only three worse!
- 1987 - The rowing section is re-formed and boats raced on the river for the first time since before World War I. Four crews enter Stourport head of the river regatta. The squash courts are refurbished and the walls replastered.
- 1988 - Membership is now 852 total, 230 senior tennis. Rowing membership is 52. The bowling green is relaid.
- 1989 - A new boat house is built. Courts 9, 10 and 11 are converted from grass to tarmac. Membership is now 894 total, 280 senior tennis. The improved finances enable the building society loan to be paid back in full after only three years .The squash courts suffer flash flooding, the start of several years of problems.
- 1990 - The boathouse is completed and opened in time for the first Warwick regatta of the modern era.
- 1991 - The front of the pavilion is extended. The red shale courts 6, 7 and 8 are replaced with artificial grass. Membership now tops one thousand for the first time, 1,043 total, senior tennis 412.
- 1993 - Courts 1-4 are recarpeted for the first time. The squash court floors are replaced. The bowling green has three rinks passed to county standard. Membership now totals 1,227, with 500 senior tennis members.
- 1994 - Court 5 is reinstated and covered with artificial grass. The showers are upgraded. There are issues with the neighbours over car parking.
- 1995 - The squash courts roof is raised to competition standard. Courts 9 and 10 are converted from tarmac to artificial grass. A second boat house is built to hold all the new boats and the rowing section reaches near national performance levels. A Centenary Ball is held to celebrate one hundred years of the club’s multi-sport heritage and the start of the tennis section.
- 1996 - Membership peaks at 1,305 with 548 senior tennis. Number 11 court is converted from tarmac to an acrylic surface recommended by the LTA.
- 1997 - Court 8 is recarpeted in artificial grass and the other courts cleaned.
- 1998 - At Easter, on Good Friday the club is flooded and there is extensive damage to the pavilion and all the playing courts. The rest of the year is spent recovering the situation. The damage to the club’s property costs £81k to repair, most of which is covered by insurance.
- 1999 - Courts 5, 6 and 7 are recarpeted. Court 5 has floodlights installed.
- 2000 - Membership is 1,270 in total, with 591 senior tennis members. Courts 1 and 2 are recarpeted. The pavilion is extended and a new landing stage made for boats.
- 2001 - Courts 3 and 4 are recarpeted. Discussions at the AGM reject the notion of court 11 becoming a car park.
- 2002 - Courts 9 and 10 are recarpeted and new lights installed. The bridge section finally calls time and relocates to the Lord Leycester hotel. The year is dominated by discussions about the car park. The neighbours want to close the car park and the club to build another one on court 11, with compensation offered of £120k. An EGM rejects the proposal.
- 2003 - After several years of friendly games, the squash section runs a racketball handicap competition for the first time.
- 2004 - The junior court 11 and its acrylic surface is not usable due to continually wet surfaces and is replaced by tarmac.
- 2005 - 7 courts have upgraded floodlights .The squash courts suffer more flooding.
- 2007 - The squash courts are tanked to fix the flooding problems once and for all.
- 2009 - The tennis courts are cleaned. The junior court 11 is carpeted.
- 2011 - 150 years since its start the Warwick Boat Club continues with nearly 1,200 members. The pavilion is substantially refurbished. The year is celebrated by events for all sections and a dinner / garden party weekend in July. Courts 1 to 4, 6 and 7 are recarpeted at a cost of over £100k with carpet guaranteed to last at least 9 years. Squash court bookings move online.
- 2012 - The Olympics are held in London. Rowing sees an upsurge in interest. Courts 9 and 10 are relaid. Credit card payments accepted for the first time. The Ladies Veterans Tennis Team win the European club championship
- 2013 - The Ladies Veterans Tennis Team retain the European Club Championship. Planning permission is obtained to floodlight the remaining three unlit tennis courts. CCTV is installed after two break-ins within a fortnight. Membership grows to 1,152 reversing a five year period of decline.
- 2014 - Courts 5 and 8 are relaid – ten courts have been relaid within three years. A Clubhouse Manager is employed and a Clubhouse Café opened. A professional website is built.
The club is still basically the members’ club it has always been, dependent on its hard working committees and supported by a small group of dedicated employees. There is a continuing need for more volunteers to help the club. The facilities of the club with its eleven artificial grass tennis courts, two squash courts, the bowling green and its thriving rowing section with over fifty boats make it one of the best in the country.
The club, which started as a men’s rowing club, developed into a small mixed tennis club with bowls and bridge. There it remained until the introduction of squash and artificial grass tennis plus the re-formation of the rowing section greatly increased membership and gave the club its current multi sports dimension. With its present membership level it has the finances to keep its playing facilities in top condition. Could there ever be another club which has such a beautiful riverside setting and view?