Rowing Club Stories 2 - The Bar

 

In the never ending pursuit of money to buy boats and blades, somebody suggested that we should have a bar. It was the mid 1960’s and I’m not sure that we had yet managed to obtain the freehold of the site from Leicester City Council, but we went ahead anyway.

There was a derelict room in the old buildings that extended to the drive and we set about converting this into the bar. The room was L-shaped with a door leading into a smaller room which was to become the store. It was decided that the bar counter should be from the outer wall to the corner of the store and, as if by magic, a ready made bar with a padded front, a brass foot rail, two bar stools and back display shelves appeared one day! And it fitted! In fact, all this was obtained by the Captain at the time, Peter Barnacle, who had spotted it in the storeroom of the department store where he worked and arranged for it to be donated to the club.

During the Second World War, council records were stored in this room and a night watchman kept guard. He was equipped with a pot bellied stove for heating and the hole for the flue pipe was still in the ceiling. The obvious thing to do was to fit another stove and so solve the problems of heating and the hole in the roof at the same time. I’ve no idea where it came from, but a pot bellied stove and flue pipe appeared and was fitted!

The walls were a mess of rough brickwork and not considered suitable for our posh new bar, so we decided to plaster them. This posed a problem. Nobody could plaster! We overcame this by “rough plastering” – quite fashionable at the time. This was the 1960’s and artistic license ruled! Some bench seating, wrought iron bar tables and stools appeared – another mystery! A lot of painting was done and we were ready to open.

Over the years, many changes were made to our clubroom. The wall between the clubroom and the blade store was knocked through and double doors were fitted, so now we had two connecting rooms. In time, the entire wall was removed to make one big room. The windows were bricked up, with glass bricks at the top to let in some light, in an attempt to stop the frequent burglaries, and steel doors and frames were fitted. The next burglar knocked a hole through the wall to get in!

One (never-to-be-forgotten) development was the construction of a magnificent stone fireplace to replace the stove. This was not planned but was started late one Sunday afternoon. The rowing had finished and, as was the custom, was followed by ploughman’s lunches, pork pies, pickled eggs and many pints of beer. It was cold and the fire had been lit. The stove pipe had never been fully up to the job and most of the air had been replaced with fumes, in addition to the haze of tobacco smoke that was normal in those days. Conversation turned to dissatisfaction with the atmosphere and it was decided to remove the stove and build a stone fireplace with a better chimney. The refreshment already consumed inspired an enthusiasm rarely seen. The fire was extinguished and the stove and drainpipe were outside before the bar had been wiped!

A stone, indeed, granite, fireplace might seem somewhat extravagant but we had a small mountain of the stuff which had been dumped at the far end of the site, I believe by the city council. A few days later, we mixed mortar and built the new fireplace, using the free granite. We left it to set and reconvened a few days later for a grand fire lighting ceremony. The fire was lit and – disaster! The room filled with smoke! After some consideration and a few beers, consumed outside, we concluded that the only thing to do was to rebuild the chimney section – with the fire still lit, so we could see where the smoke went! There then followed a scene that Laurel and Hardy would have been proud of. One after the other, we took it in turns to run into the smoke filled room to demolish the chimney and rebuild it! I can remember stuffing a handful of mortar into one of the last joints while others with blackened faces coughed and spluttered outside. Amazingly, it worked and was much admired.

Over the years, many changes were made and the bar was the focal point of a very active social membership who followed crews around the regattas, shouting support from the banks. In addition, the events held in the bar raised most of the money needed to buy new equipment.

 

Malcolm Neal