Memory Lane: Henley 1958

The Henley Regatta is perhaps one of England's most revered and iconic sporting occasions, dating all the way back to 1839. The rowing event is held annually on the banks of the River Thames in Henley-on-Thames, Berkshire. This year it's taking place in mid-August, so what better time to share a recent communication from alumnus Professor Michael Blackburn (Chemistry Ph.D, 1956-1959), who took part in the 1958 regatta.


I found in my laptop a copy of the best photo I have of the 1958 Henley Royal Regatta Crew, with our new bright Yellow blades that I redesigned from the nondescript chevrons we inherited. We entered the Thames Challenge Cup, coached by Neville (Byghm) Rogers, who had rowed 7 in the Jesus College Cambridge VIII that won the Henley Grand Challenge Cup in 1948, after rowing 4 in the CUBC VIII that beat Oxford University in a record time that stood for over 50 years.

The NUBC training coach was Dr Chris Timmons, Lecturer in Analytical Chemistry in the University and former cox of the Imperial College VIII on the Tideway. Pictured (from the bow): 1. Peter Ladlow, 2. David Joseph, 3. Peter Taylor, 4. Derek Tilford, 5. Brian Cracknell, 6. Ian Little, 7. Mike Blackburn and 8. David Allaway.

Sadly I forgot the name of the cox*. Of necessity, I chose to replace Tony Bicknell, our Tideway cox, by the cox from the 2nd VIII 2, stones lighter and worth a lot for our crew in our lovely but oldish and heavy Shell. Tony had expertly steered us to 20th in the Tideway Head of the River in 1958 - maybe the best ever NUBC result there.

He, Dave Allaway and Peter Taylor are regulars in the members' enclosure at the Henley Royal Regatta (Look out for Sherwood Green Blazers) while Dave and Peter are still active oarsmen on the Thames in an Octagenarian IV boating from Leander! Brian Cracknell hailed from Cambridge and, I believe, returned to the Cam. I have often conjectured that he was likely the father of James Cracknell, double Gold Medal Olympian in the Redgrave Coxless IV (1996 and 2000) and the oldest Cambridge Blue (in 2019 at 46 years old). Brian certainly pulled a big puddle!

I had three great post-graduate years at Nottingham in the original chemistry laboratories on the top floor of the Trent Building over the archway that led to Florence Boot Hall. Many great memories under the leadership of the late Professor Alan Woodwarth Johnson, FRS. I rowed in the 2nd VIII 1956-57 and was elected Captain of Boats 1957-58.

We had the then most successful season for the NUBC, winning The Head of Trent, Worcester Regatta VIIIs, Nottingham Regatta VIIIs, Newark Coxed IVs, and finished 20th in the Tideway Head of the River. We were the first NUBC VIII to compete at Henley Royal Regatta in the Ladies Plate in 1958. I stepped out of the 1st VIII after the Tideway Head in 1959 to address the serious business of completing the work for my Ph.D. degree (1960) and only came back to rowing after moving to Cambridge in September 1959. But that’s another story.

*The cox was subsequently identified by David Allaway as Brian Cooper.

I would love to get in touch with the members of the Boat Club of that period. Especially:

  • (Tony) A. R. Bicknell (1956)
  • Brian Cracknell (1955/6)
  • David J. Allaway (1957)
  • Peter R Taylor (1956)
  • Ian Little (1956/7)

Also in the 1st VIII of 1957-8 were Brian Telford and David Joseph (possibly entered 1955).

If you have links to my Chemistry contemporaries, that also would be super:

  • Dr. John Yardley (1953)
  • Dr. Bas Haynes (1953)
  • Dr Peter Crisp (1953)
  • Dr. Anthony M Mauger (1953 - emigrated to the USA)
  • Dr. Ray Price (1957)
  • Dr. Eric Bullock (1954/5)
  • Dr. Trevor Kay (1954/5) worked in ICI Plant Protection

Prof. G. Michael Blackburn, Emeritus Professor Chemical Biology, Dept. Molecular Biology, University of Sheffield

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