THE RADLEYS OF THE LEA by CLIVE RADLEY
– self published 2015 firstname.lastname@example.org
This book is a good example of the positive side of the self-publishing industry. In earlier days a niche publisher would have snapped it up. Now there are almost none left and family histories like this fall by the wayside unless individuals are prepared to take the risk and publish themselves.
Clive Radley, a nephew of the College’s first ever boatman Laurie Radley, decided to take the chance having for years been fascinated by the story of one of the leading boatbuilding families in East London. V. Radley & Sons eventually went out of business in 1970 but even now examples of the company’s craftsmanship and skill exist in places as far apart as Hong Kong and Hexham.
In our era the river Lea is in the shadow of Olympic Park. From 1850-1950 it was at the artery of a large industrial community. As many as 150 rowing clubs lined its banks and competition was intense. The Radley family began hiring out boats in 1840 and branched into boatbuilding 15 years later. Laurie was born in 1906. An unpublished memoir he wrote when he was 84 about his early years on the Lea can be found today in the River & Rowing Museum at Henley.
From an early age Laurie helped with the construction of clinker pleasure skiffs and other boats. In his teens he emerged as a skilful oarsman and often rowed competitively in a 1V with his brothers. Until 1928 he worked in the family business but then married and left for a job at a timber merchants. During the Second World War he was a policeman.
After the war he was appointed waterman at the Pengwern Boat Club in Shrewsbury. Two things seem to have lured him south to the Nautical College in 1955 – the chance to be in at the start of rowing at a school; and the promise of spacious living quarters in a flat above a boathouse by the “idyllic” Thames.
For the next 20 years Laurie Radley, as an obituary written after his death in 1992 by Peter Politzer (and republished in the book) underlines, was central to the development of “fine rowing” at Pangbourne. Modest, resourceful and reliable, many fine College rowers of the period owe him a debt of gratitude.
As Peter put it: “Always ready with a helping hand and advice to the novice, he brought calm wisdom to the pressure moments of pre-race preparation of the 1st V111 at Henley and other regattas. His skills as a boatbuilder and repairer were second to none and his willingness to turn his hand to anything was legendary.”
Laurie Radley retired in 1974. Not long before the family firm on the Lea had closed after 130 years, overtaken by social and economic changes. These are well described in what is a fascinating and informative book (now in the College Library). In the words of Christopher Dodd, the leading rowing historian in his Foreword, the book captures “a corner of rowing, boatbuilding and social history as important as the pieces of the mosaic to be found on the Thames into which the Lea drains.”
by ROBIN KNIGHT