The Brentford Rowing Club(s) – Founding Fathers of BFC

Thursday, 21 December 2023 | News, In Focus, Heritage

The founding of Brentford Football Club by the Brentford Rowing Club has been enshrined into the Club’s history but detailed research by Jonathan Burchill has established that it wasn’t quite as straightforward as it seems.  
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The background story of the Brentford Rowing Club….. both of them!

In October 1889 the members of Brentford Rowing Club met at the Oxford and Cambridge Hotel by Kew Bridge to decide which sport to play during the winter months – rugby of football.

STOP … that’s the story we know, but was there more to it than that?

REWIND … back to March 1889, for it was then that a fateful event took place which started, probably, the most significant 200 days in the making of the club.

The Brentford Rowing Club, which had been established for a few years, re-convened after their winter break at their H.Q.

This was at The Bunch of Grapes pub (also known as the Ferry Hotel), which stood on the river, just down from The Waterman’s Arms in Ferry Lane, today.

But the meeting didn’t run smoothly, as there was a major falling out between the members. The exact details were subsequently remembered as being pretty trivial, or to use the word in a newspaper of the time – “pettifogging.” The outcome however was more meaningful as the majority of members left and went to the Oxford & Cambridge Hotel to set up a new rowing club.

The landlord of the new venue, Joseph George Wise, was a Queen’s Waterman (whose role was to row Queen Victoria’s Royal Barge on state occasions from London to Hampton Court or Windsor).

Since he became landlord 20 years earlier, he had actively promoted the hotel’s prominent place on the river for boating activities.

The original Brentford Rowing Club continued to plan for the season ahead at The Bunch of Grapes, although with its reduced membership. The breakaway club did likewise at the Oxford & Cambridge, and they agreed to call themselves the Brentford Rowing Club, as they felt they were true owners of the club and its name.

The breakaway club also saw no reason to change their club colours and opted to continue using claret & blue. They even had a new flag delivered in June, measuring 16 ft x 8 ft, in the club’s colours with their initials “B.R.C.” in its centre.


The colour Salmon?

For years Brentford FC’s history has mentioned a third colour having been used by the rowing club (and subsequently by the new football club). This information came from a report in the Thames Valley Times, which was the first newspaper to be discovered carrying a report of the 1889 meetings, in an era which required visits to libraries, etc, to see their archives. Today we are lucky to be able to trawl numerous digital images of newspapers from our computers. These now provide details from a number of local newspaper and when there is mention of the rowing club colours, they are only claret & blue. Thus, it must be concluded that the one-off report of salmon does appear to be something of a red herring.

The breakaway Rowing Club’s regatta in August 1889 reported that the club was stronger than ever. The headquarters of the club at the Oxford & Cambridge was covered in bunting, with a banner displaying the words “Prosperity to the B.R.C.” and the club flag floating proudly above. The band of the Brentford District Schools provided the musical entertainment, including a piece called “London Pride.”

Involved in various races that day was “Bill” (Henry William) Dodge, then in his early 20s, who would go on to attend the meeting which proposed the formation of the football club, although he was in favour of rugby!

Image from 1893 taken from the Surrey bank, showing the Oxford & Cambridge, with numerous boats.

He remained connected with the Football Club ultimately becoming Club President until his death in 1961, aged 94. That ended a link with the club’s foundation which lasted over 70 years, with Bill having seen over half the club’s history from day 1.





Thus, it was the breakaway Rowing Club who held the initial fateful meeting on 10th October to discuss which sport to play, and where, and then put it to the vote on the 16th.

The rowing club split was probably pivotal to the football club being formed, for had that not happened the discussions around a winter sport may not have taken place. Even if they did, there would have been different, and maybe more, people involved, and the outcome may have gone another way.

Fortunately, 203 days after the split, the round ball sport won by 8 votes to 5, and Brentford Football had its first winning result.

Once established, the football club opted to use The Griffin public house as its H.Q. playing its matches at the Clifden House ground just opposite.

The breakaway rowing club continued to meet at the Oxford & Cambridge, although within four years, the two Brentford Rowing Clubs overcame their disagreements and joined up again, returning to the Bunch of Grapes.

So, it’s really thanks to “pettifogging” and those 200 fateful days in 1889 that laid the foundations for the football club we know and love today!

Jonathan Burchill

Jonathan is the author of the book, A Pub on Each Corner a unique history of Brentford through season-by-season reviews of the events at Griffin Park. Recounting stories and statistics from both on and off the pitch – from fires to floodlights, from abandoned redevelopment plans to multiple missed penalties – Jonathan writes about our club but also the social history affecting those connected with it for over a century