In the early days of women’s competitive rowing in the 1920s and 30s Cecil Ladies based on the Lea in NE London was one of the dominant women’s competitive rowing clubs of that era.
Reports from that period suggest that the Cecil Ladies stroke Yvonne Mary Paulet Stuart was a key factor in their success. She was born in 1899 in Middlesex and joined Cecil Ladies based at Radleys boat house soon after the end of WW1. She later fell out with my great Aunt Phoebe Radley who ran the club and formed her own, Stuart Ladies, based at Tyrells at Springhill close by.
Radleys Boat House where Cecil ladies were based on the Lea
In the 1911 census she is shown as living in Surbiton and was 12 years old. Her elder brother was Douglas Rees Stuart a Cambridge Blue who had stroked them to victory in 3 Oxford Cambridge Boat Races. In the 1911 census he is described as a 26 year old barrister living in Surbiton.
The Stuarts were the children of Montague Pelham Stuart, of Stanton, Surbiton and his wife Mary Rees. He was educated at Cheltenham College where he received his boating colours. He rowed for Kingston Rowing Club and in 1903 at the age of 17 was runner up with C M Steele in the Silver Goblets at Henley Royal Regatta. Douglas Stuart went on to Trinity Hall, Cambridge and he won the Colquhoun Sculls and his Trinity Hall crew was head of the river in 1907. He stroked three successive Cambridge crews to victory in 1906, 1907 and 1908. He was the stroke of the Cambridge University boat in the eights, which won the bronze medal for Great Britain rowing at the 1908 Summer Olympics.
He had strong views on rowing and wrote in 1929 in the Times that university crews should practice for only six weeks, given the experience and fitness of the eligible oarsmen and the risk of staleness from more extensive work. “I do not know how it is in modern times, but as rowing was conducted 20 years ago there was not much fun in it, and rowing as a pastime was in reality an infernal bore. Perhaps this explains what appears to be a lack of enthusiasm for this sport at Oxford.”
I assume it was her brother’s influence which led her to join Cecil Ladies which she did when she was about 20 years old after WW1 had ended. At that time there were very few non university women’s rowing clubs in the London area.One option was a club founded by Frederick James Furnivall and known then as the Hammersmith Sculling Club for girls.
The following is from the current Furnivall Sculling Club web site:
The Hammersmith Sculling Club for girls was founded in April 1896, by the 71-year-old Rd. Frederick James Furnivall and was aimed at working class girls initially as members. Having learnt to row in his teens, rowing became a lifelong obsession for Dr. Furnivall. He was admitted to Trinity Hall Cambridge in 1842, where he rowed in the first eight. He also sculled regularly and at the age of 20, he and his friend John Beesley built the first narrow, outrigged single scull to be seen on the Cam.
In 1891 when the Amateur Rowing Association refused to accept working men as ‘amateurs’, Furnivall founded the National Amateur Rowing Association which anyone could join. Given his passionate opposition to discrimination, he wanted to break into the traditionally male-dominated world of river sport, by building a club for women.
Membership of the Hammersmith Sculling Club was extended to men in 1901. It was also in this year that the name was changed to Furnivall Sculling Club for Girls and Men. The captaincy continued to be restricted to female members for the first half of the century, however, in honour of Dr. Furnivall’s original purpose for founding the club.
Dr. Furnivall continued to row regularly every Sunday, to Richmond and back, a habit he maintained throughout his life until he died in 1910 aged 85. Following his death, the club honoured his memory by celebrating ‘The Doctor’s Birthday’ for many years.
Frederick Furnivall 1825-1910
It may be that Yvonne Stuart chose Cecil Ladies rather than Furnivall as she was from a middle class background and Cecil ladies despite being based on the Lea in NE London had a number of middle class members.
After the 1914-18 war, Weybridge Rowing Club included a women’s event in their “Peace” regatta and formed a women’s section, captained by Amy Gentry and in 1926 Amy Gentry founded Weybridge Ladies Amateur Rowing Club. By this time Yvonne was already as member of Cecil Ladies.
Yvonne Stuart must have made an immediate impact in rowing circles as before long she was mentioned in a number of press articles in the 1920s and early 30s. The press coverage implies she was the outstanding rower in Cecil Ladies and was recognised as such in the rowing world. My late uncle Laurie Radley remembers her as being the prime reason for the success of Cecil Ladies had in the 1920s.
Yvonne Stuart front left before the training row in 1921
Lord William Cecil getting into the Cecil Ladies Eight
Training session begins
Another press mention of Yvonne Stuart in 1923
DAILY MIRROR JULY 3RD 1923
Below are some 1925 pictures of Ceil ladies but Yvonne Stuart doesn’t appear to be at stroke. Coincidentally she got married that year.
1925 Cecil ladies Regatta – Yvonne Stuart may be at 5 in Cecil Ladies Eight.
Cecil ladies racing in their 1925 Club Regatta on the Lea
Cecil ladies date unknown Yvonne may be at 6
1926 Aerial View of the Lea with Radleys boat house mid left below the trees
1929 Daily Mirror Possibly Yvonne Stuart at Stroke
A Furnivall four are beaten by Cecil Ladies in 1926
1931 Mirror Article –Bossie Phelps mentions Yvonne Stuart
In 1925 Yvonne married Montagu Latham Gedge a rich chap. They didn’t have any children so I assume Yvonne carried on rowing. The fact that Bossie Phelps mentioned her in an interview in 1931 makes it likely and by then she was only 31 years old. At some point she started Stuart Ladies Rowing Club but so far I don’t know in which year that happened.
In 1939 Yvonne and her husband went on a trip to Canada and returned before World War 2 started.
By 1945 Yvonne Gedge nee Stuart was 46 years old and as I far as I know didn’t take any role in Stuart ladies when it reformed
Yvonne died in 1955, described as a single women although her husband was still alive then.