I joined the school in September 1949 and started rowing in the following January at the age 14½. There was no limit on rowing with sweep oars and I don’t think that sculling was encouraged for juniors. We learnt to row initially on fixed seats and for some years with fixed pins. For those who do not know what I am talking about, the gate consisted of two upright wooden lined posts with a plated string between them, usually omitted on the tub pairs or tub fours. The buttons on the oars were shaped and fixed (no adjusting for gearing etc.) and had to be kept greased. It was important to keep the button against the rigger and more so in the tubs to stop it jumping out altogether. I do not remember when the first VIII changed to swivels but by the time I left in 1954 I think that certainly all seniors had changed and maybe juniors as well. I understood that Eton was the last school to change and that was well into my time. There is an Appendix setting out all the history and arguments for and against Fixed pins and Swivels in R D Burnell’s book “Swing Together” written in 1951 so the matter was still to the fore in my time. Also, there is a video of the CUBC crew training in 1948 with fixed pins (www.britishpathe.com/video/cambridge-crew-in-training).
When I was at the school there was no rowing in the Autumn term, rugger being the main sport, but after Christmas rugger was less formal, no football or hockey, and rowing started with various minor sports filling the rest of one’s spare time. (in my case Gymnastics). Being light and short I didn’t succeed much until my final year in 1954 when Paulo Pontine won the senior fours, rowed in the tub fours. The crew was stroked by Angus Robertson (later for many years “the voice of Henley”) and at bow was John Hockey, then still a junior, both of whom subsequently rowed in the 1st VIII at Henley. I recall that in the final, stroke’s blade was due to enter the water right in the centre of a large ice flow and of course he missed a stroke, however the rest of us kept going as though nothing had happened.