FALCON Rowing and Canoeing Club in Oxford is celebrating its 150th anniversary this summer.

Falcon Boat Club as it was first called, was formed in the spring of 1869 by a group of young men who wanted to form a social club offering pleasure rowing for residents of Oxford.

Looking back over the 150-year history the importance of Falcon in the boating life of Oxford is clear to see.

Over the years it’s been a place for thousands of Oxford residents to access and enjoy the river.

The first general meeting of the Falcon Boat Club was held on June 1, 1869 and a committee was formed: N Harrison, G W Norton, secretary and treasurer, W R Simms, F J Gadney, J H Castell, R Richmond, J Lumley, C Batchelor and AE Lockwood.

One of the first things the committee agreed were the club colours.

WR Simms drew up some designs and from these turquoise, white, black and amber were chosen – and remain Falcon colours today.

The Oxford Times:

The first year was occupied chiefly in organisation and pleasure rowing, and by the beginning of the boating season they had enrolled about 20 members

Remarkably for the era, Falcon admitted active women members. Some of them were the daughters of watermen and could handle an oar with great skill although they were somewhat hampered by their tight lacing and long skirts!

In those early years, the rowing clubs owned very little.

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Headquarters were in a pub (The Kings Arms) and the boats and oars were hired by arrangement with the boat hirers, mainly Salters.

As the rowing clubs owned little property, they paid no rent or rates, no electricity or gas bills, no boat licences and perhaps best of all had no costly boats to buy and maintain.

In 1958, Falcon became the first Oxford Club to own their own boathouse, which they built themselves near Donnington Bridge.

This long-felt ambition was achieved on August 23, 1958, when it was opened by the City Architect, Mr EG Chandler.

With many notable successes throughout the early years, the club hit lean times in the 1970s and there was danger of it closing.

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A significant turning point came in 1978, when Oxford Polytechnic formed a rowing club and wanted somewhere to store their boats and equipment and somewhere to row.

They came to Falcon, joining as ordinary Falcon members and entering competitions as a composite Polytechnic/Falcon crew.

This arrangement lasted for about 10 years but from those early beginnings Oxford Brookes Rowing Club has grown considerably, owns a boathouse complex in Wallingford, and now claims to have the strongest undergraduate rowing program in the UK.

The Oxford Times:

The profile of the Falcon club membership has changed dramatically over the years.

The introduction of kayaking from a modest start in the late 1970s was boosted in around 2008 when Jo Bates, a former national marathon kayak champion took on the role of Lead Coach.

Under Jo’s guidance several junior Falcon paddlers have represented Great Britain at international regattas or in the GB development squad.

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Rowing membership also grew steadily following the introduction of Learn-to-Row courses in the early nineties (of the first eight novices to complete the course, three remain officers of the club to this day). Around 30 per cent of adult rowers compete regularly at national and regional events with notable success and roughly ten years ago, a Junior Rowing Section was added led by a professional coach, which has again raised membership numbers considerably and had much success in competitions.

Touring rowing in stable boats has also been introduced for recreational rowers – an increasingly popular sport.

Situated in Meadow Lane by Donnington Bridge, the future of Falcon Rowing and Canoe Club now looks very promising.

The Oxford Times:

Membership numbers are at an all-time high with over 400 club members and whereas in the 1970s the majority of members were under 40, now there is a broad range of both juniors, and adults ranging from 25 to 80+ years old with women outnumbering men by about 15 per cent.

As the number and diversity of rowers and kayakers has increased so the fleet (no longer hired from Salters!) has been updated and expanded beyond anything the founder members could ever have visualised back in 1869.

Throughout Falcon’s history the club has never had its own clubhouse.

As part of its 150th anniversary the goal is to have plans and funding in place to be able to build one, so members have somewhere to train and socialise off water and support our wider community activities.

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This time the club is determined to get the funding in place and to make the project a reality.

It has already made a really good start through a combination of generous donations, pledges and small grants. However, it needs to raise more if we are to build the facility that Falcon deserves.

For more information visit falconrcc.co.uk