Like many successful and well-known organisations, Monkton Bluefriars started from humble beginnings. Whether the name was used by any other crew of Old Monktonians before the one I rowed in in 1956 under the name of Monkton Bluefriars I do not know. But I can say with certainty that if it had been used before, we were not aware of it. As far as we were concerned we dreamt up the name almost as a joke to describe ourselves for entry into Henley Town Regatta on Monday 6th August 1956. We felt that the alternative title of 'Old Monktonians' did not have the quality or originality we desired to impress others!
Memory at my age is a notoriously inreliable source of information but in the case of this event and many of those in my Monkton days my memory is substantiated by the written record of my daily diary which I had begun in 1950 and continued for several years after school days. The entries are brief and far from comprehensive but the main facts are clear.
Some time in the summer of 1956, while I was in my last days of training as an Air O.P pilot during my two years National Service in the Royal Artillery, some of my contemporaries and I thought it would be a good idea to enter an Old Monktonian four at a regatta. As far as memory and my diary entries reveal the other members of the crew were A.W Butler, N T L Thimbleby, C G S Bone, Peter 'someone' (name indecipherable in my diary entry) and myself, though there is even some uncertainty about these!
In the context of modern rowing practice, the idea of entering a 'scratch' crew at any regatta seems almost inconceivable. Even then it was perhaps bizarre. But for us deprived as we were of the opportunity of doing any rowing at all, the idea was eminently feasible if more than a little impractical. We were members of no club, we had no boat and we had little or no opportunity to row together even if we had a boat!
Undeterred we met for the first time at Nigel Thimbleby's house in Reading on the late afternoon of the Wednesday before the race on the following Monday, 1st August; or at least all of us did except Chris Bone so no outing was possible. I had to drive back that night to Middle Wallop on my Lambretta scooter for the Wings Parade at the Army flying base the next day.
But after finishing at Middle Wallop on Friday, I drove back to Reading where this time we had an outing for the first time in a four we managed to borrow from Reading Rowing Club.
The next morning, Saturday, we had another outing and according to my diary 'went right up to top again and started rowing etc'. In the afternoon we went over to Maidenhead Regatta for the afternoon and tried again to borrow a boat for an outing there, but no good! We got back to Reading at 9 pm and went out again in our borrowed boat after 'a very heavy storm' . Rowed upstream for 6 minutes and not bad. Back for bed at 12.30!'
On Sunday, by which time we had somehow borrowed a boat to use at Henley, we had an outing in the afternoon coached by a Stanley Latham, an outing which I summarized as V.G., and which I seem to have thought gave us a chance for the next day. However, the race itself at 10.15 the next morning I described laconically as follows: 'Raced three abreast from just above the Barrier. Off to good start and up a bit to start off but lost by 2 lengths. Not fit!' .
So ended the first race under the Monkton Bluefriars name. An inauspicious beginning perhaps. But a good name anyway!