RUBC History Snapshots


Below are some snapshots in the life of an RUBC rower in the past. If you have a memorable story and/or picture that you would like to share, please contact us here


Below is an article from the Field ‘the Country Newspaper’, reporting on the race between RUBC and London University in 1929.

Reading University (right) beating London University (left) on the Thames in Henley.  

RUBC racing London University at Henley in 1929


“There were many enthusiasts on the Henley towing path on Saturday afternoon for the Reading University v. London University race. The event was instituted in 1926, just before Reading attained University status. London University in that year beat University College, Reading, by a length. There was no race in 1927 owing to illness, and last year Reading beat London fairly easily. They repeated the victory on Saturday, although London were much the heavier crew, Reading were better together and were a credit to the coaching of Mr. E. Hall Craggs (Leander Club), who had also designed the new boat they were using. London, a crew of good material, had gained by a weeks work at Henley with Mr. S. J. Selwyn (Third Trinity), but in their tideway training they are badly in need of better and more regular coaching. It would be well if a special effort could be made before next year to give both the London College and the University crews more skilled assistance.

The race was rowed in brilliant sunshine under perfect conditions, with little more than a summer stream running, over a course of about two miles, from the upper end of Phyllis Court Wall to a point opposite Greenland’s. Mr. W. P. Mellen (O.U.B.C.) umpired and Lord Desborough was on the launch. Reading on the Berks station, started at the slower stroke, 34 to the 36 of London and slipped away quietly and steadily, Reading were in front at the end of a minute, a length ahead by Remenham Club and well clear before Fawley, where the time was 3min. 40sec. At Remenham Farm Reading led by two lengths and by four at the island, which was passed on the Bucks side, while they won by six lengths in 10min. 48sec.”


RUBC History from Doug Heddle (1945-51)

RUBC Coach Frank Ortner, first from right, middle row. 

RUBC 2nd VIII with Frank Ortner


“Some basic conditions were very different in those days, there was food rationing due to the War, very few fresher’s had rowed before (only 2 of my year), and the largest faculty, by far, was Agriculture (big & fit men!)
RUBC had 5 shell eights & 1 clinker eight. No small boats initially, though a coxless four and a Pair were acquired later. The Women’s club had several clinker coxed fours and some singles of various quality.
Training was only on the water: Wednesday & Saturday afternoons, and Sunday morning for the top two crews, all year with extra work in summer – late afternoons most days. There were some weights in the boathouse, but no proper training as to their use.
The Autumn term was essentially trial crews, especially sorting out the new men and assessing the senior boats. In the Lent term we had various ‘Private fixtures’ with other clubs. The main one was a 4 boat event with IC alternately at Reading over the Regatta course and on the tideway between Hammersmith & Putney bridges. This gave our coxes a little experience for the London Head. By summer we were usually down to 3 boats and went to (typically) Richmond, Chiswick, Reading, Walton, Marlow and (after Henley) Kingston regattas.
1948 was the best year with 1949 close behind. In both years the first VIII won Seniors at Chiswick and Kingston and the second VIII won Junior-Seniors at the same regattas. In 1948 the first VIII reached the semi-final of the Thames Cup, in 1949 only the quarter final.
In those days the Ladies was restricted to School and College crews – University crews were not allowed so I think that the 1948 crew is probably the best VIII RUBC has ever had!? Seven of them were Agri students!
The spirit of the club was very good. The major character of the time was Frank Ortner the coach. Social life was mainly a Party/Dance/Booze-up in & around the boathouse towards the end of each term, the ‘Church Pint’ after the Sunday morning outing and, of course, Ruth Ortner’s hospitality”.


Early 1960′s – RUBC notes by Ian Wilson (RUBC President from 1963-65) 

Ian Wilson, second from the left 

RUBC 1st VII 1964

“I turned up for rowing at the start of my second year and after a couple of goes in the tub was selected for the third VIII. So I had the simple purple ribbon sewn on the arms of the white rowing vest. Incidentally the Boat Club was the only one to have it’s own scarf (which most members wore as it was more striking then the Uni. Scarf). Our main races were fixtures with other Universities, away to the University of London seconds, Imperial College and Nottingham. Bristol and Exeter and sundry others came to us as we had better water.

The boathouses were beautiful wooden structures side by side (the men’s slightly larger than the women’s) in a sylvan park setting downstream of Caversham Bridge. The most dramatic feature at RUBC was ‘Happy’ Haslam the boatman yes we had a boatman. Happy was a weathered ruddy-faced thickset true son of Berkshire whose hobby was Old-time Dancing and always carried a roll of bank notes in his pocket. A girl friend (Myra perhaps) lost her purse once and Happy whipped out a fiver as a gift, not a loan. His favourite saying, said to the crew as we were boating for a race, ‘Get your toes in er garters and your teeth in er tits and go like ell”.

The other permanent personnel at RUBC were our two coaches – Mr. Butters, bursar of St. Patrick’s Halt a bachelor with a bushy moustache, a really nice person and one of the old school, who looked after the 2nd VIII, and Frank Ortner who was the 1st VIII coach. Butters also coached the Hall VIII in the autumn term, of which I was a member in my final year. A special steak diet for the crew was arranged and a barrel of best bitter was donated when we trounced the beefy ‘Agri ‘men (farmers) of Wantage Hall, the traditional winners of the event.

Frank Ortner was also a nice big old sort who saw his glory days with Kingston Rowing Club and won something at Henley Royal Regatta pre war. He always invited the first eight to his home in the summer for strawberries and cream and treated us to lunch at the Little White Hart during Henley week. He was getting on and towards the end of my time at Reading had difficulty in following us on his bike on the towpath so the club had a launch made using an old rowing ‘tub’ (clinker two man training boat) as a mould. Happy could then drive the launch with Frank splendidly installed in the bows. Reading was, maybe still is, one of the top non-collegiate Universities as far as rowing was concerned so the year after RUBC was the fastest in that category at the Tideway Head of the River race Gust before my time) Frank donated the Ortner trophy for the winners. Subsequent to that Nottingham or Durham always piped us by a few seconds so Reading never won his trophy in my time”.


Report in the local newspaper in 1970

RUBC First VIII at Henley Royal Regatta in 1970 

RUBC 1970 Crew


“The Reading University eight that raced at Henley today equaled the Boat Clubs record set by John Whitear’s crew of the 1948-49 period and beats all of the other Reading University Boats since the war said Frank Ortner, elder statesman of the Reading University coaches last night.He described this years eight as the University’s best for many years and their achievement in reaching the Ladies’ Plate semi-finals yesterday as an event unparalleled in the past 21 years.

Mr. Ortner recalls his first encounter with Reading University at Henley 50 years ago when the Kingston crew he was rowing in was drawn against the then Reading University College and beat them. Twenty years later he came to Reading and took over the coaching of the University crews until illness earlier this year prevented his attendance at the boathouse.
Mike Walker, who had coached this year’s crew, has “chirruped them along nicely” he said. “There has always been a happy atmosphere amongst his crew and it is significant that they have just elected Peter Hammett, second year math’s student, for a further year as president.
A rearrangement to let John Burrell row after he had organised the Reading head has been the only change in this years boat since it was selected on paper nine months ago. They have had a very successful season with a very good place in the Reading Head then three junior-senior victories.”