In rowing (unlike canoe paddling) the human effort of arms and legs, maximized by a sliding seat, is complemented by mechanical advantage as oars pivot in rowlocks fixed on the boat’s side or, better still, on outriggers. A sculler pulling a pair of blades can compete alone or in a crew with one or three more other scullers; a rower, with a single oar, always teams up with one, three or seven more. Fours may have a cox; eights always do. Rowing as a sport emerged from competitions between Thames watermen, who provided an important transport service in London. After the institution of Thomas Doggett’s ‘Coat and Badge’ prize race for Thames watermen in 1715, the gentry started wagering on oarsmen who made their living from rowing. The nineteenth-century decline in commercial rowing was paralleled by the rise of rowing as one of the sports adopted by the middle classes, particularly at the public schools and universities, as a recreation leading to both moral and physical well-being. The founding of the Leander Club on the Thames in about 1818, the first Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race in 1829 and the inauguration of the annual Henley Regatta ten years later had counterparts in further developments in Britain and abroad. The establishment of amateurism was crucial; gentlemen rowers shunned competition (and social contact) not only with those who made their living by rowing but also with tradesmen who might have developed muscle power at work. In recent decades, with rowing virtually disappearing as a trade and work generally involving less physical toil, amateur/ professional distinctions have been set aside. As rowing has evolved as an international sport, with women’s rowing as a vital sector, the norm has become racing over distances up to 2,000 meters in straight lanes in still water. Modern facilities have been provided, for example, at Sutton Valence, because it is felt that the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race (four and one-quarter miles on the tideway), Henley (1 mile 550 yards upstream on the Thames) and other traditional events are not ideal influences on British rowing. Though recreational rowing on rivers has declined since the Second World War, Steve Redgrave’s triumphs in four successive Olympics have given the sport a higher profile, and competitive rowing of all sorts, such as on inshore salt water, has steadily gained popularity.
   See also: angling; sailing
   Further reading
    Wigglesworth, N. (1992) The Social History of Rowing, London: Cass.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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