The Oldest Rowing Club in Bristol - From wartime to the present

Each world war took its toll on the club, as active members left to join the forces. Thirteen Ariel members fell in action in the First World War, and the club was closed until 1919. The premises were then used to entertain convalescing servicemen, with over 5,000 visiting by pleasure steamer.

In 1921 pupils of Clifton College began to row at Ariel as part of their extra-curricular activities.

In the Second World War, the club was hit in a bombing raid on the strategically important Pumphouse and the railway line that runs behind the grounds. On December 6th, 1940, a first bomb obliterated the teahouse, blasted the roof off Avery’s boathouse and badly damaged the clubhouse. The second hit the Pumphouse and took its roof off. The third ricocheted off the railway tunnel and hit the 4.52pm Salisbury to Temple Meads passenger train, with a great loss of life. With so few active members remaining, the clubhouse fell into disrepair and boats lay abandoned until after the war.

When the clubhouse was first built it was far from any buildings and a lengthy walk from the nearest tram stop, accessible over country paths by bicycle or foot. Until comparatively recently every boat, oar, building material and rower had to come over the winding path from Birchwood. What is now known as the launch shed was Avery’s boathouse – leased to the sherry importers for their pleasure boats. The eights shed that the University of the West of England now occupy was added in 1955, and the big boathouse built in 1971, replacing an older, smaller boathouse.

Bristol Ariel Rowing Club has fostered many rowers at all levels over the years. The one who went the furthest in his rowing career was Nick Birkmyre, who won at Henley and came home with a silver medal from the 1960 Rome Olympics, beaten in the final by the Soviet Union. However hundreds of people have rowed with the club and many committed their time to coaching others and keeping the club running.

We recently refurbished the clubhouse, committee room, coaching room and gym (complete with rowing machines, weight training and boxing equipment) and are in the process of extending our boat launching areas by almost 100% to improve access to the river.  As a club we continue to go from strength to strength and we hope to continue adding to Ariel’s history with our own rowing efforts.