Monkton Bluefriars Newsletter 2016
'Golden' JMB

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'Golden' JMB  

To mark 50 years'connection with MCSBC, Godfrey Bishop invited Julian Bewick to reflect on his long career:

How did you come to be appointed to Monkton Combe?

My first connection with Monkton was when I was aged about eight. I went to see the Boat Race as a guest of Peter Kirkpatrick, a business colleague of my father's. The weather was atrocious; one crew sank, so I learned nothing about the sport that day. A few years later, the notice "There Will Be Rowing Whatever the Weather", was one I got used to.

My second connection with Monkton was the year before I arrived as a new teacher. I manned one of the commentary points at Henley and Monkton was racing against against Tabor Academy (USA).

Why did I come to Monkton?

I went to the appointments board in Cambridge and told them that I wanted to teach in a small country boarding, mathematical, Christian, rowing and - in those days - a boys' school; they said they knew just what I wanted and introduced me to Monkton Combe. My appointment involved a brief interview with the Head Master and a very short letter welcoming me.

When you arrived at Monkton from Cambridge, what struck you about Monkton rowing?

Daily activities were very well organised using the 'Rowing Board' (still in my possession) which had a pin for each member of the Boat Club. There was a row of pins for each crew. The coaches used mid-morning break to fix the afternoon outings. Despite my custom of using computers for almost everything, this particular job was done well in the manner described and I would not change it. As far as the general activities of the whole club were concerned, I thought the little ones had a very rough deal. They were taught in the rowing tank day after day throughout their first Lent term, not seeing the river at all. I was determined that if I ever had any influence they would have a bit more fun earlier on. Incidentally, one learns little or nothing about balance in the rowing tank; similarly in the modern era I'm not convinced that constant ergo exercising teaches much about rowing technique, even if fitness is encouraged. Watermanship throughout almost all school rowing is not what it used to be.

The top end of the club was suffering a weak patch but they were keen and went off to Copenhagen - I think in my first year. In the summer of 1968 there was a huge flood so the crew went off to Caius, my old College in Cambridge and trained there for a couple of days before heading off to the continent.

Which was the first crew you coached?

In my first year I looked after the training of Coxes; that's what I spent most of my time doing in Cambridge, so I saw a bit of everybody. I think in my second year I took on the 2nd VIII - but I could look that up in the minute book. The minute book, by the way, is a valuable resource and it goes back to about 1920.

What was the strength of the club in those days and how many masters coached rowing? From memory there were about 120 members of the club and each 'A' crew from novices to seniors had a staff coach and so did the 'B' crew; so there must have been about 10 staff coaching; we were all amateurs.It wasn't the job we were paid to do but most enjoyed doing it.

How did you come to coach the 1st VIII and when was that?

When I arrived, the club was run by Charles Grimwade who was coming to the end of his tenure of the club and was looking forward to dropping that particular responsibility. I was asked to take it on for the 1970 season.

As far as I remember you coached 25 1st VIIIs ending in 1995.

I did indeed coach 25 first boats; 24 during my full-time tenure followed by another one in 2006 when there was an inter-regnum between two directors of rowing and I came back and coached the eight.

Going back to the 1970s, which crew do you regard as most successful and which were the best years you were responsible for?

To this day I don't know and I don't want to know. I am not at all sure that such a thing exists. I suppose one could say that the crew that got through two rounds at Henley was pretty good (or did they just have a lucky draw?), but I think there were some innovations I brought in which were of more lasting value than just a single crew. One was the girlsâ™ rowing.

When girls first arrived at Monkton I don't think any other sports felt they could cope with them, so I said they would be welcomed at the river; in the first year or two we had two Girls VIIIs and at my suggestion there was a Girlsâ™ event at the Schoolsâ™ Head race for the first time, which we won.

A bit later on another innovation was enabled by Brian Mawer building a special boat called Hex for the J14 Octuple - another new event introduced at my suggestion to the Schoolsâ™ Head. The name Hex for the boat caused quite a bit of trouble because it has unacceptable connotations. In the end, the name had the blessing from the Bishop of Norwich when he named the boat on speech day. By the way, the crew recorded a win at the Schools Head but didn't quite have the same success at NSR later that year.

How did you move with the times as far as the technical side of Rowing was concerned?

I'm afraid I tended to follow my nose a bit, just doing my own thing. If you count amplifier systems as technical improvements, all our boats were wired for sound and the home-made amplifiers produced more volume than any modern coxbox. I think we were the first club to coach by radio using CB radios which were wired into the boat system enabling the coach to talk to individual members of crew. I would highly recommend this method of coaching, which changes the relationship between the crew as a whole, individual members and the coach. s far as some other improvements were concerned, I remember at some stage saying that over my dead body would a crew of mine wear lycra. And I didn't really approve of the change from toothpicks to spades.

The top crews in each age group used to row quite a lot. The first eight started the Lent term on six days a week for as long as possible, because I knew full well that floods would come and river time would be reduced to zero for perhaps three weeks, so with a flexible timetable we were able to make the best use of the river when it was available and perhaps do some extra mathematics when it wasn't rowable.

What gains and losses has Monkton had in recent years?

The advent of Directors of Rowing has in many ways been a success and has brought professionalism to the club as it has to other school clubs at the same time. But the other side of the coin is that we have lost many of the staff coaches who were able to coach on the river and see the same people in the classroom as well, so they could therefore in some ways have more influence over what their charges were doing. In earlier days boys, and later on girls, had to choose between a small number of sports â“ rugby â“ hockey â“ cricket â“ rowing and very few did other things such as tennis â“ swimming â“ judo. Now there seems to be freedom of choice which must be a good thing in some

ways but it does limit what can be achieved in other ways. I've always taken the view that by the time a boy or girl reaches the age of about 16/17 they should choose what they want to do but the choice should be within the framework of guidance and tradition.

Your background was in coxing ...

I rowed at school but I was really too light. When I got Cambridge I coxed, despite being too heavy, as the stroke of the boat kept telling me (and he still does to this day). But there weren't any women in the college at that time so relatively heavy men could cox if they wanted to. I was determined to be worth my weight in gold, taking the crew within an inch or so of solid concrete on difficult corners during bumping races.

I used to reckon that it took three years to train up a cox for the 1st VIII. He was sometimes pretty useless in the first year; by the second year he was becoming useful as my main connection with the crew - just a glance could tell me exactly what was going on in the crew; nothing needed to be said. By the third year he could more or less take the outing by himself. With the advent of the no doubt very efficient school time-table of recent years, the mixing of coxes into various age groups has become impractical so they can no longer be coached in the same way to do the excellent job required of them. There seems to be struggle to find enough Coxes nowadays because they do the job for so little time. But it is a job I recommend because it's a way of involving little boys or girls and giving them influence not available anywhere else.

What are your views about the move to Saltford?

The set-up at Saltford is absolutely excellent. However, I have always been worried about the time it takes to get there and back again because one has to question whether the transport time is time well spent. (As an aside, I remember a journey which was time well spent⦠I drove to Munich to watch Steve Williams row in the world Championships and spent the whole journey giving a continuous maths lesson one of the passengers - perhaps the longest ever maths lesson.) On balance provided one doesn't hit the rush hour one can get a good session on the water. Meanwhile the river at Dundas is no longer looked after properly. When I first arrived, there was a team of about half a dozen Watermen who used to come round clearing trees and generally maintaining the river. Quite a long time ago, that team was replaced by one man behind a desk in Watford and now he's been replaced by nobody; the result is that the Dundas reach is gradually becoming less and less rowable. Another disadvantage of Saltford (and the modern time-table) is that the various age groups in the club no longer see each other rowing very often, and gone are the days when a 1st VIII could be doing a practice course cheered on by a J14 VIII and similarly if the J14s were practising, they would be cheered on by the 1st VIII. I regard that as a great loss and it must be more difficult to get true club spirit going nowadays.

When you joined Monkton what was the fleet of boats like?

A boat builder had been appointed to Monkton and he built about 16 seats a year for the club. This was very much making up for lost time when not much had been done, particularly after the fire of 1954 which destroyed much of the fleet. Other clubs came to the rescue at that time and I also remember a particular boat called Viking which had been given by Eton Vikings Boat Club; it was a very, very heavy boat and was used by the novices VIII. It took at least two crews to get the thing onto the water. I used to get the 1st VIII to row it at once at least in the season just to show it could be done. There was a gradual increase in the number of eights available, so that we got to the stage in the late 70s when the 'A' and 'B' crews in each age group had their own boats. By âśa boatâť I mean an eight - that's what we concentrated on. And I remember there was one day on which the school was represented by 11 eights racing at Avon County and Bristol head races, which happened to be on the same day. it was quite a palaver getting all those boats, equipment and bodies to the races.

Looking back what did you enjoy most about coaching and running the boat club Monkton?

I'm reminded that I must ask the Director of Sport some time to write the article entitled "What is school sport for?âť It was undoubtedly dealing with the people involved that was the interesting part of the exercise. It didn't really matter whether the crew was successful or not; it still consisted of ten people and the interaction between the coach and the other nine people involved in the crew was always an interesting and sometimes challenging aspect of the sport.

What do you regard as your best moments and worst moments in your time at Monkton?

One of the best moments must've been beating Eton just a week after they had won at Henley; I think they'd probably been partying all week and we caught them by surprise.

Worst moments - lots of those â“ two members of one of the crews I coached quite early on died young: one was murdered, the other had a fatal accident.

Interestingly enough the one who was later murdered lost his father in a traffic accident in Africa just before NSR. He was Stroke of the 1st VIII and decided to stay with the crew, supporting it and being supported by his crewmates, for the regatta before going home to Kenya to say farewell to his father. I suppose other worst moments were when crews were ill-disciplined. Many boys smoked in those days but it was simply not tolerated in the club. One year we sent two crews home from NSR because of a smoking incident at Nottingham.

Of course I made some mistakes as well. One was in France when we rowed through a bridge which turned out to be a set of rapids. Having rowed down we had to get back again, so the crew rowed full pelt and I could see fresh air underneath parts of the hull as they rode the rapids upstream.

Then there was the time at Saltford when the 1st VIII was there for training. The 1st VIII Cox was experienced and 2nd VIIIâ™s was relatively new to the game. I forgot to tell him that on all water in the world except the Monkton stretch one rowed on the right. So these two crews were doing practice starts - the 1st VIII on the right going upstream, the 2nd on the left going downstream. The inevitable happened and a set of riggers was ripped off the side of the second eight. Fortunately nobody was hurt. The accident was entirely my fault.

Can you remember anything important said or done at the river?

Success and failure should both be met by calm. Bad temper is never constructive. I was sworn at once by a member of my crew. He was doing an Ergo and I fixed before the session that he was going to do so and so many 500s. When he was just finishing his last one I said there was an extra one. I never made that mistake again, and later apologised.

Then there was 1st VIII race against a good university crew. The stroke of our opposition was heard to say on the start "Theyâ™re only a bunch of ****ing schoolboys." We beat them fairly easily. The stroke of the Monkton boat, who was I think the lightest stroke ever to represent Monkton, was heard to say quite quietly "How's that for a load of ****ing schoolboys? " before Monkton paddled away in style, leaving the other crew aghast.

What are your hopes for Monkton rowing in the future?

Monkton is a small school, so it is unlikely there will be consistently good crews. But each one, slow or fast, can gain huge benefits from taking part in sport, learning to work with each other and building up loyalty to a group of people. Their experience will always be of benefit, both to themselves and to the communities in which they live.

29-Jan-18 at 03:52:50