The History of NRC
Apart from the Isles of Scilly, Newquay was the last port in Cornwall to have pilot gigs. Gig racing was a long established sport in Newquay before 1922. During the 1830`s, 40`s and 50`s gig racing had become a popular sport all around Cornwall, often with considerable amounts of prize money going to the winning crews.
By the 1880`s gig racing in Cornwall was in decline, the industrial revolution was under way and engines were replacing sail and oar. Gigs around Cornwall were left to rot or were broken up, but Newquay was fortunate enough to retain some of its gigs. Others like the Teazer (ex Zoe Treffry) being classed as "worthless wrecks" and lost. The Teazer was sold and eventually cut in two and used as chicken houses.
Newquay Harbour in the 1880s. The 3 Gigs in the foreground are Dove, Zoe Treffry and Newquay.
Racing did continue in Newquay up until the outbreak of the First World War with many races held on the River Gannel. During the war years the gigs were left idle and it wasn't until 1921 that men who had rowed gigs before the war felt it was time the sport of gig racing should be revived. The companies who owned the gigs were approached and agreed to sell them for £5 each. At the initial meeting 54 enthusiasts turned up, a committee was formed and Newquay Rowing Club was born. The gigs were brought from the Fly Cellars to the harbour, one by water the other two by wagon as they were in such a poor state. Club members set about making them seaworthy and painted them ready for their first race in 1922.
In 1922 the club was presented with the Silver Gig Trophy, given by Mr. T. A. Reed, a Newquay businessman and great supporter of the rowing club. The Trophy is of a model gig seven inches long, complete in every detail including a set of silver oars. It was and still is the most prestigious trophy that a club member can row for, only the three old gigs are used, with the top eighteen rowers from the club invited to compete.
Treffry at the first NRC Regatta
Around 1929/30 interest waned but some ex-members continued to practice and race gigs, continuing up to the outbreak of the Second World War. Throughout the war the gigs were used by cadets for training which stopped them drying out and kept them watertight.
In 1947 the club was officially reformed. At that time the three old gigs were still in their original colours - black outside with a cream interior. An appeal was made for rowers and in short time the club was under way with a large contingent of rowers and supporters. In 1951 the trustees of the gigs gave permission for the gigs to be changed to their present day colours, Newquay - Red, Dove - White, Treffry - Blue.
In 1952, rowing in Cornwall was increasing in popularity, with clubs being formed all around the county. Rowing was mainly in 15ft skiffs with rowers occasionally visiting Newquay to row in the gigs. This enthusiasm led to the formation of the Cornwall Rowing Association (CRA). In 1953 Richard Gillis received a letter from Tresco in the Isles of Scilly enquiring if NRC would be interested in buying the Scillionian gig Bonnet. Two members of the club later went to Scilly on holiday and made an inspection of the gig and thought she was in fair condition. They also found two others, the Golden Eagle on Bryher and the Slippen on St. Agnes. The decision was made to buy all three, the Golden Eagle and Bonnet were bought for £35 each and the Slippen for £25. They were transported to Newquay during the winter of 1953/4 and taken to Steven Braybyn`s yard in Padstow, where they underwent a complete refit with new timbers and gunwhales.
In 1954, Richard Gillis, George Northey and Tom Pryor made a visit to St. Agnes, Scilly to buy the gig Shah and to record and photograph any remaining gigs before they finally disappeared.
The Shah had a reputation as a very fast gig in her racing days, built in 1873 by Nicholas Peters of St. Mawes. After much haggling she was bought for £35 with a bottle of whisky clinching the deal! Her condition was poor, her keel rotten and most of her timbers broken, she was also taken to Braybn`s yard and given a complete refit. Newquay`s fleet of gigs had now reached seven. The Bonnet and Golden Eagle were not competitive against the Newquay, Dove, Treffry and Shah so in 1956 the trustees of the gigs gave permission for them to be altered. They were taken to Brabyn`s yard, Padstow where all the thwarts were taken out and the top planks taken off. They were then pulled in four inches, whilst this work was being carried out new keels were also fitted.
The first International Boat Show was held at Olympia in 1954. The gig Newquay was taken to London to go on display at the show. She was painted up especially for the occasion, bright red with white bottom, her name in gold leaf. The Newquay was put on display at Olympia with the Oxford eight - the old and the new. 1956/57 saw two visits by the Lady Margaret Boat Club of Cambridge. They raced against six cornish crews from Newquay, Mylor, Falmouth, Par, Greenbank and Truro, unfortunately they were unsuccessful in either race.
During the 1960`s many of Newquay`s rowers were away on national service with the result that gig rowing went into decline, whereas in Scilly it was just beginning to grow in popularity. With seven gigs and not enough rowers the trustees decided in 1963 to send back the Shah and Bonnet on loan to the Scillies. The Golden Eagle was sold back to the islands in 1964. From 1968 onwards the Rowing Club went from strength to strength. 1972 saw work begin on the new club and boathouse at the harbour. Racing had become firmly established in Scilly and by 1972 three new gigs had been built for the islands, the Serica, Dolphin and Nor Nour.
One sad event occurred in November 1972, the death of Richard Gillis whose enthusiasm had got the whole thing started again in 1947. A decision was made in 1973 to sell back the Bonnet and Shah which had been on loan to the Scillies since 1963. With the money a new 32ft gig, copied from the Treffry, was built by Scillonian boatbuilder Tom Chudleigh. She was named Active and launched in 1974. A second gig followed in 1975 named Good Intent , she was paid for by a donation given by Norman Anstis, at that time landlord of the Sailors Arms Inn at Newquay. A third gig, Unity, was launched in 1978. The Slippen, last of the Scillonian gigs bought by Newquay in 1953, was sold back to Scilly in May 1980. Speculation, a fourth new gig arrived in 1987. In 1991 it was decided to sell the Unity to the recently formed Yealm Gig Club where she was renamed Hornet. Newquay replaced her with the gig Fly , built by Ralph Bird in 1993. in 2000, the Hope joined the fleet and in 2009 the Speculation was sold and made way for the Spy which is the current race boat for the club.
The above information was summarised from the book;
'NEWQUAY ROWING CLUB 1921-1995'
by RALPH BIRD.
Available from the Rowing Club
More info on Newquay's current gigs is available on the Gigs page